“Gulen Movement did not perpetrate the July 15 coup.” This confessional came from Suleyman Soylu, one of the most influential figures in the cadres of the Erdogan regime, four years – or 55 months or 1665 days – after the July 2016 failed coup attempt. What exactly happened so that Erdogan regime initiated such a change of discourse? Should we be irked in line with the unsettling denotation of the Turkish folk saying (with a tad of distortion), “Well, we see it’s not a time of celebration, so why on earth does the brother-in-law blow us a kiss?” What prompted the Minister for Interior to ‘come up clean’ this way? The answer to this question may enlighten the sudden changes in day-to-day Turkish politics.
Suleyman Soylu is not an ordinary politician and has a strong relationship with the so-called ‘the most influential statesman of today’s Turkey’. Soylu had his own party – Demokrat Party – before joining Erdogan’s AKP. In those days, he occupied the front rows in bearing the banner of strict and angry opposition against Erdogan. When he was ousted by the old boys of his party following his ‘yes’ stance in the 2010 Constitutional Referendum, Soylu flashed out the greenlight to Erdogan’s invitation to join the AKP. Hence, it was plainly realized that Soylu had neither been sincere nor an opponent.
True to the ‘horse trading’ tradition, the transplantation of politicians among political parties is an ordinary practice in the Turkish political sphere. A prominent horse trader himself possibly after that watershed July 2003 accident when the (now-late) horse named ‘Cihan’ (World) got disturbed and bucked him rodeo style during the inauguration of a park in Istanbul, Erdogan has used this strategy effectively at every opportunity to oust any strong political figure who may challenge him.
After joining Erdogan’s party, Suleyman Soylu was gradually promoted to coveted positions in the Cabinet of Ministers, and was appointed the Minister for Interior Affairs right after the bloody failed coup attempt. Since then, he has been chief helmsman of the brutal operations against the participants and the institutions of the Gulen Movement. He supervised the detention of 600.000 and imprisonment of 100.000 of the participants and sympathizers of the Movement, shuttering of more than 3000 schools, dormitories and universities in addition to 189 media outlets, imprisonment of more than 300 journalists, and dismissal of thousands of academics, judges, prosecutors, military officials, police officials, and several other civil servants from different state departments.
Many people suspiciously died in Turkish prisons, while hundreds lost their lives drowning in the Maritsa River or the Aegean Sea during their escape from Soylu’s tyranny. Tortures in detention centers and prisons across Turkey have skyrocketed during Soylu’s reign, condemning Turkey to the league of the countries where torture is standard practice. It is further frustrating to have learned now that even though he knew the facts from the first minutes of the dastardly coup attempt, Soylu did not take action to stop anything but waited for the exact instant to start purges and witch-hunts turning the lives of millions into hell and building a state of fear.
Once Suleyman Soylu was considered a young shot in the aged arm of Turkish politics and was expected to invigorate the scene with his dynamism and ‘democratic stance’. Immediately after joining Erdogan’s AKP, he transformed himself into the operational henchman of Erdogan’s dirty politics. A day came – February 3, 2021 – and Soylu said on a HaberGlobal news show, “Do you think the perpetrators of the July 15 coup will ever leave you alone? Did the FETO (derogatory expression used by the current Turkish regime for labeling the Gulen/Hizmet Movement with its participants and the institutions) perpetrate the coup? July 15 was not perpetrated by the FETO; they (the perpetrators) will never leave you alone unless you stand tall and resolute. Only then you may breathe easy and remain relaxed. Pure and simple!”
Surprisingly, this confession came right after Can Dundar’s documentary titled “Köprü” (The Bridge) which was broadcast two weeks ago. Beaming with visible excitement, Can Dundar gave the news of his documentary claiming that, as a result of a year-long investigative journalism, he and his team revealed how the Gulen Movement had plotted the coup against its ‘old friend’. I had written my views about this documentary and you may read it here. How sad: With his latest confession, Soylu dampened Can Dundar’s enthusiastic remarks about his evidently-biased documentary laden with critical factual errors and serving to the state-engineered disinformation.
If Turkey were a working institutional democracy, the Interior Minister’s confession would cause a strong storm in the capital, and the government would most likely be fallen. What happened? Nothing! Has the judiciary taken any action and summoned the Minister for an official testimony? Simply no. Could any journalist or media outlet dare to ask the reason why the current regime continued to purge and punish innocent people since the coup attempt regardless of the fact mentioned by the Interior Minister himself that the Gulen Movement was not to be blamed for the attempt? No.
When Suleyman Soylu made the confession, he did not say, “After investigation, we have reached to a conclusion that the Gulen Movement was not behind the coup,” but he said, “They did not do it.” This is a manifest evidence that the state officials including himself knew this fact right from the very first minutes of the bloody attempt; they chose to keep silent so that they could initiate witch-hunts against innocent people across the country. Once Turkey is normalized, Soylu’s confession will shed the initial light on all illegalities, murders, kidnappings, tortures, and many more illicit practices conducted throughout this darkest period in the contemporary Turkish history.
When Soylu said the Gulen movement had not perpetrated the coup, he implied that the United States was behind the attempt. The US authorities immediately denied these claims through the Department of State spokesman. It should be remembered here that Suleyman Soylu and some other ministers remain blacklisted by the United States on October 14, 2019, in response to Turkey’s military operations in Syria.
The increasingly polarizing discourse of Erdogan rule changed Suleyman Soylu, radicalizing him to the extent of criminalizing all opposition in the country. With his latest decisions on critical security issues and social upheavals, Soylu acts more like a militia leader but not like a government minister. He openly threatens the opposition groups and dispatches special operations squads to the homes of civillians, university students, or senior people to conduct dawn raids. A university student’s parent placed a note on the door to their flat, “Please do not smash the door open, we are at home. Please ring the bell to enter.”
Suleyman Soylu did not only purge and silence the opposition; he also disseminated hatred among different social segments. Twitter removed his hateful tweet against the LGBT community three days ago and also started monitoring Turkish government officials’ tweets for hate crime. University students or anyone who protests the government or criticizes its policies are immediately branded as terrorists with the four-letter deragoratory label used by the current regime for the participants of the Gulen Movement.
Let me revisit my question: What has happened now that the Government seems to have changed its discourse and now states that “The Gulen Movement did not plot the coup”? No doubt, Turkey in 2021 is not stable in financial and social terms with increasing number of people from all walks of life having started to raise their voices against the current regime. It is also obvious that Erdogan’s presidential government wishes to go for a snap election but it fears backlash even from its own voter base due to the economic upsets.
Whenever a storm looms on the horizon, Erdogan steers his ship to evade any disaster; he does so by creating a new enemy to help him – willingly or unwillingly – stay in the navigating bridge. During his political career so far, Erdogan never envied two enemies at the same time; each time, he used one side to destroy the other. Now, he knows he and his associates have painted themselves to the corner within a crisis they have not witnessed before. While the Turkish Statistics Institute releases rose-pink economic growth reports one after another, people are aware of the ground realities as their pockets are drained in the face of deteriorating power of purchase. Street interviews teem with criticism and laments that pots and refrigerators are empty in kitchens. This is something new for the Erdogan regime, who has built a fool’s paradise on presumed economic growth and an Ottoman revival, and the solution to this problem will not be that easy.
According to an aged taxi driver from Erzurum, Turkish voters brought governments to their knees (of course, until the arrival of Erdogan to the scene) when they experienced blows to two Cs: to their ‘can’ (lives) and ‘cep’ (pockets). As a matter of fact, this formula holds valid. People in Turkey nowadays do not care whether the country is run as per the rule of law, enjoins the human rights, or if it has eradicated much-hated corruption. People only react when a stranger hand reaches to their pockets. Considering that Turkey had witnessed 11 on-again-and-off-again governments between 1971 and 1980 only because of economic and social unrests, Erdogan has considerably managed to extend his rule as his reign has overlapped a young generation not themselves but their parents had experienced hardships in the past. Nowadays, Erdogan’s ship cracks under the hefty cargo of bad governance. With his government’s consecutive nightmares, he looks forward to having a straw to cling and steer clear from the whirlpool of collapse right ahead.
Come 2021 and the Erdogan regime opens the Pandora’s Box once again for handling the Bogazici University with lights and thunder. Appointing a 2-in-1 trustee rector with the purpose of politicizing a world-class university by inciting student protests against the unlawful appointment and thus instigating a second Gezi Park protest to sideline the bleak socioeconomic condition of the country and give a new lease of life to his government, Erdogan does not want to loosen his grip on the governance and estate management of the country with or without an election. The last presidential election placed the seal of approval in his hands to shift a weakened democracy to a fully totalitarian regime. No matter how hard they tried to acclimatize the public to this stifling mode of governance which they have proudly labeled as ‘the New Turkey’, Erdogan and his associates still feel the need to increase the dose on the public for utter submission and antagonizing a brand-new enemy. In the second decade of the 21st century, Erdogan and his regime train their sights on the secular and Kemalist circles as the new enemies of the state.
Even though the current regime used its entire apparatchik to portray the Gulen Movement in negative light for the last seven years, it failed to completely override public opinion against the non-violent nature of the Movement. This time, the government is neck-deep in a financial crisis and religion has always been conducive for them to manipulate people. As it has failed to raze the Gulen Movement off the face of the earth, the Bogazici University protests are a perfect opportunity for the regime to implement its new strategy with a new enemy on board to deal the last card in this vicious game.
It is hard to fathom why Kemalists have never acted truly democratic during this time of challenge and opted to describe the origins of the current crises in the country as the repercussions of a so-called fight between two former allies, which they contendedly observed and not saw. Kemalists deeply wanted the Erdogan regime to ‘do the dirty work’ and finish the Gulen Movement, and so to make it happen, they closed their eyes to everything. They must have thought, “If Erdogan manages to annihilate the Movement, he and his party will later become bite-sized to be removed by us. We will wait and see who will attack first and finish the other.”
When Suleyman Soylu said, “Gulen Movement did not do it,” he added, “we need stand tall and be resolute against the real plotters.” It shows that Soylu and his government know the identity of the real putschists but have kept silent to serve both sides’ interests in a timely manner. A tangible clash between the Erdoganists and the Kemalists looms on the horizon. Neither I nor others helpless like me have any means to thwart such a confrontation. Yet, one thing is sure: The survivor is to lead Turkey towards darker days. Turkey has been caught in a mosh with Islamofascists at one side and Kemalofascists (a nod of courtesy to political scientist Prof. Dr. M. Efe Caman for coining this phrase) on the other. None of these parties, with their associates in all sizes, has an interest in bringing democracy to the country. Rather, they favor their own flavor of totalitarianism. With no emergency exit for democracy, any other option will mean dead-end for modern Turkey.