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Is Erdogan The Only Decision Maker?

In this article, I would like to remind you of the chronologic order of the events took place between 2013-2019, when the new regime was formed. I will only focus on these incidents. I will explain under what context, conjuncture, and conditions they were actualized. I will point out what kind of correlation these incidents had with which political decisions.

In other words, I will only show the links between the decisions and the incidents without asserting that these incidents were a result of those decisions. And in conclusion, I will interpret the changes both in the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK), the structure of the state, and the Turkish political system after this process within the scope of these incidents. In order not to allow “approach of a conspirator” allegations, which has been quite popular lately, I will not name these relations under any kind of concepts. I am sure the reader will name these incidents the way they want to perceive. 

Social sciences interpret the incidents which happen in the social universe within the scope of two fundamental approaches; idiographic and nomothetic. Idiographic focuses on the uniqueness- social singularity – of the social incidents and does not set a meta goal towards linking social incidents with each other.

On the other hand, the other concept called nomothetic focuses on linking the incidents with each other and searches a way to generalize them. While the idiographic approach tries to interpret the already finished social singularities and does not try to explain the processes; nomothetic approach tries to interpret the incidents just like linked chains in connection with each other, and thus, this approach reveals a process by believing it actually occurs. Therefore, it tries to discover and explain the “course of events” on a plane of the past and present time and future. While the fields such as history, archeology, art history, and theology benefit from the idiographic approach; fields such as political science, international relations, and sociology draw on the nomothetic approach. 

Since I am a political scientist, I use the nomothetic approach and try to reveal the downfall of the system (democratic collapse) by reviewing the correlation between the parts in detail, which seems to be disconnected at the first glance, through the axis of the evidence I can find and within the scope of empirical observations  

By this means, I reach to some hypothesis (assumptions) and try to either prove them or refute them (meaning I test them). I cannot say that I shed light on the whole process while I do these. Besides, this is nearly impossible in political sciences and would be a preach to the converted. I rather make an effort to reveal the parts of the puzzle all the way possible in order to see the big picture and general course of events. The hypotheses revealed are micro explanation models one apiece.

Although these models could have links with reality, the main truth can partly or completely diverge from these explanation models. If the revealed explanation model (hypothesis) cannot manage to explain the virtual incidents sufficiently or the assumptions of the model contradict with the outcomes throughout the ongoing process; it is necessary to improve the model or study a new one by abandoning the insufficient model entirely. All of these efforts are called social science. 

Let’s get to the point after these theoretical and methodological descriptions,

I focus on two things with broad strokes in my articles. The first one is the question about the reason for the collapse of the established democratic state of law (without questioning the level of law or democracy). This is a matter of comparative politics within this context. The second one is the question about the reason for Turkey’s foreign policy to slide into the orbit of Russia-Eurasia with a 180-degree rotation by suddenly changing its direction as a western NATO member country in negotiations for full membership to the EU in the last six years. We need to provide answers to these two questions with the domestic political incidents took place between the years 2013 and 2019.

Because being scientific requires to build a cause and effect structure (at least a correlation) in nomothetic social sciences. As I have explained above, I will provide a chronological compilation of the incidents I only observed. Humans, by their nature and intelligence, are capable of correlating between the incidents. It is not necessary to be a scientist in order to achieve this. The thing we call logic makes us achieve this automatically. This is called a “pattern”. Everybody is free to build their own “pattern” after I array the incidents. In my opinion, the people, who will build a pattern by using their logic-reasoning, will come to a common conclusion. I am not going to tell you the result. Please try to find it yourself. 

Gezi Park protests started in May 2013. Government of Erdogan started using disproportionate force in order to suppress the protests after they were popularized in the world. These protests scared the government of Erdogan dearly due to the fact that they started shaking their rulership. After this strong earthquake, the corruption scandal broke out on 17 December 2013 (around 7 months after Gezi). The clear pieces of evidence dictated that the government had been involved in corruption. I think everybody listened to the secret telephone conversations and the tapes on the internet where the discussion focused on zeroing the money. This scandal increased the possibility of Erdogan and his entourage to stand trial before the Supreme Court.

The government claimed that it was a coup attempt and pointed out Gulen Jamaat as the organizer (“Parallel State” argument). Public opinion did not focus on this too much and the tapes went viral. Moreover, the leaders of CHP (Republican People’s Party) and MHP (Nationalist Movement Party) brought these tapes forward as the main agenda items. Anybody can easily find and listen to these tapes online. After exactly one week, on 24 December 2013, Prime Ministry Chief Advisor (right-hand man and mentor of Erdogan back then) Yalcin Akdogan claimed that Jamaat conspired against TSK (Conspiracy Against the National Army article) and stated that Ergenekon and Balyoz coup cases were actually an operation of the Gulen Jamaat.

By this means, the ways were clear for (i) asserting that AKP was tricked and actually innocent; (ii) strengthening the parallel state thesis; (iii) establishing a communication channel with the military officers who were Ergenekon and Balyoz defendants by maintaining a stance against the Jamaat. After Akdogan wrote this article on 10 March 2014, 2.5 months after the explanation of Akdogan in other words, tens of Ergenekon convict detainees were released. These detainees included important figures such as Dogu Perincek, Mehmet Perincek, Yalcin Kucuk, Four-Star General Sener Eruygur, Four-Star General Veli Kucuk, Four-Star General Hasan Igsiz. Exactly three years after this incident on 19 June 2014, this time all of the Balyoz convicts were released. There were a total of 13 generals and 70 regular high-level officers including Four-Star General Ozden Ornek among the released. 

After these incidents, the AKP government gradually started to shuffle the Resolution Process carried out with the Kurds. Since there was a serious increase of votes for HDP (Peoples’ Democratic Party) also in western Turkey where Turkish population is high; the party literally pierced through the country’s election threshold of 10% and left AKP unable to come to power alone. KCK (Kurdistan Communities Union) ended the ceasefire which had been ongoing for years on 11 July. Coalition negotiations ended up without any results. It was claimed that a group of people in AKP, who wanted to form a coalition with CHP, were stonewalled.

Erdogan announced on 17 July that he does not recognize the memorandum called the Dolmabahce Agreement. Exactly three days after this announcement on 20 July 2015, there was a suicide attack in Suruc. Consecutively, two police officers were attacked in Ceylanpinar on 22 July and they lost their lives. The Resolution Process was officially terminated on 11 August 2015. A curfew was declared in Cizre on 5 September 2015 and tens of civilians were killed during the attacks. A terrorist attack was carried out on 10 October 2015 in Ankara during a Peace Protest that supported the Resolution Process and 102 people were killed. Reelection for the general elections took place on 1 November 2015 and AKP considerably increased its votes this time. Thus, AKP came to power alone. 

A Russian S-24 fighter jet was disputatiously taken down on 24 November 2015 near the Syrian-Turkish border. One of the Russian pilots were killed by the jihadist fanatics. A group of soldiers made an unsystematic and unorganized military coup attempt on 15 July 2016 together with a very small party of TSK personnel. Aleksandr Dugin, one of Putin’s advisors, was in Ankara during this coup attempt and stated that he had shared the intelligence of this coup attempt with the Turkish officials by meeting with the high-level officers of AKP. This was not denied by Turkey. Many strange things happened contradicting the nature of a coup attempt.

For example, the government, which stated that the Gulen Jamaat was behind the coup attempt even before the coup attempt had started, slipped Adil Oksuz through its fingers, namely the most important evidence of the claim. Oksuz being released by the court is still one of the most serious uncertainties of the coup attempt. Another irregularity broke out when it was stated that TBMM (Grand National Assembly of Turkey) was bombed by F-16 fighter jets but while the blast effect of the bombs should have damaged the building from outside to inside, it was understood that the damage was actually from inside to outside. Because of this and other similar contradictions, the coup attempt on 15 July was described as a very shady one and it still is. A global custody operation started right after 15 July.

This coup attempt, which was full of irregularities and contradictions, was easily suppressed; half of the generals and admirals and the majority of the officers in TSK were arrested, tortured, and discharged. From jurisdictions to foreign affairs, academies to law enforcement, bureaucracy to national education, around 150 thousand public officers were purged. Majority of them had been taken into custody and the majority of the ones who had been taken into custody were arrested. Russia’s Ankara Ambassador Andrey Karlov was assassinated by a police officer on 19 December 2016. 

The military officers, who had been convicted because of the Ergenekon and Balyoz coup planning investigations and released after 17 December, were appointed to the key vacant positions after the astronomic purges in TSK. Turkey adopted hawkish-military policies instead of political methods such as initiatives-resolutions with the Kurds in domestic politics. Negotiations with YPG (People’s Protection Units) in Syria were terminated. The relations with the Kurdish regional government in Northern Iraq were nearly zeroed. 

Furthermore, the US was announced as the main perpetrator of 15 July. The European Union process was terminated entirely. Turkey started to abandon its own constitution and stopped providing the guaranteed human rights and freedoms to its citizens. The relations with NATO and the US were virtually terminated.

Although Turkey was seen as a NATO member on paper; it was excluded from all of the collaborations with NATO. NATO started to perceive that Turkey was not a regime to share intelligence with. Moscow’s effect over Turkey was increased. Turkey completely entered into the orbit of Russia in Syria. Even the most civilized and prestigious newspapers and magazines started to publish articles that Turkey was no longer an ally. The allied countries started to point out in their evaluations that pro-NATO officers in TSK were purged after 15 July and personnel with anti-Western opinions were appointed to the vacant positions.   

The opposition in Turkey accepted the regime’s domestic and foreign tendencies without questioning them despite all of these rooted and radical policy changes and turbulences. Especially the matters of “purge of FETO” and Russia favoring foreign and security policy tendencies turned out to be a greatly approved matter by all of Turkey independent of Erdogan. It was observed that there were no groups left that adopted a pro-NATO discourse about a vital matter such as the purchase of the S-400 weapon systems from Moscow. It was also observed that no political party brought the re-establishment of the constitutional freedoms into their agenda. The leader of CHP, who used the term “controlled coup” for 15 July, abandoned this statement. While he made the “justice walk” and requested freedom for all of the prisoners, this matter suddenly left the agenda of the leader of CHP. 

It is thought-provoking to see Kilicdaroglu, who called 15 July a controlled coup, to embrace the main discourses of the regime, and come to a point from claiming that Erdogan was “the prosecutor of the Ergenekon case” to “conspiracy to the national army”. “Is Erdogan the only decision maker?” is an important question which must be answered. Before this, it is a must to try understanding what the regime is all about. I hope that my article will provide some help for the readers who want an answer to this question. 

Turkish version of this article appeared at tr724.com.

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Dr. Mehmet Efe Caman is a Scholar of Politics at Memorial University of Newfoundland (MUN). Dr. Caman’s main research focuses on Democracy, democratization and human rights, Turkish politics, the Middle East, Eurasian politics and post-Soviet regions, the European Union. He has published a monograph on Turkish foreign policy, numerous book chapters and scholarly articles in English, German and Turkish about topics related to his research areas.

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