Yavuz Baydar
May 20 2018

Gül was elected president despite - not because of - Erdoğan - former chief advisor

Ahmet Sever, journalist and chief advisor to former Turkish president Abdullah Gül, released his second memoir on Thursday called "Political Secrets Behind Closed Doors - This is My Testimony," striking a nerve in Turkey’s political scene.

The release of the book comes just five weeks before the country’s snap parliamentary and presidential elections. In April, President Erdoğan announced the elections would be held on June 24, almost a year and a half before the scheduled November 2019 date. The polls will cement the changes made in the April 2017 constitutional referendum, which led to enhanced executive powers.

“Political Secrets Behind Closed Doors” is the second memoir written by Sever, who was part of Gül's close political circle from 2003-2014. Gül, who was a founding member of the incumbent far-right Justice and Development Party (AKP), was president of Turkey in the 2007-2014 period. Sever’s first memoir is called “12 Years with Abdullah Gül” and explores what he witnessed in office and shed light on the ins and outs of the AKP administration, which has been referred to as a “closed box.”

Gül and Sever
Sever (far right) pictured with former president Abdullah Gül and his wife Hayrunnisa.


Sever spoke with Ahval about the timing of the book’s launch, the evolution of the AKP throughout the years, and criticism of President Erdoğan and his inner circle.

Your new book starts and continues from where the previous one left off.

Some things were missing in my "12 Years with Abdullah Gul" memoir published in 2015, which needed to be addressed. Secondly, there was a massive attack, reaction, and criticism against the first book from the administration. These things couldn't be cast off unanswered. And finally, it was necessary to add the developments that have taken place since 2015. And some of the facts had been so incorrectly misconstrued that I felt it was my job to remind people of the truth.

A lot of people are wondering why you haven't written this book before.

[The topics on] Turkey's agenda develops so quickly that we have to update it continuously. Even this is a little late.

Why publish the book just before the early parliamentary and presidential elections, which are scheduled to take place on June 24?

I was already planning to release the book this month. I finished it, and as soon as I was ready to send it to the publishing house, the decision for snap elections was made. No one had expected that the polls would be this early. Moreover, President Erdoğan kept saying that the elections would be held on time [in November 2019]. In other words, it was not my design for the book to coincide with the election campaign.

Still, some people that the release of your book coincides with the campaigning period of the upcoming June 24, which might lead some to stay the release is “intentional timing.”

The first book was published and ready for distribution before the June 7th [2015] elections. I left the release of the book until after the election after Abdullah Gül said "one could speculate" on whether the book was released to affect the elections. But nothing changed. They still called it "intentional timing." There is no time in this country when there are no intentions.

Your book explores the development of the AKP, a party that has won every election since 2002. This is a story full of deep sadness and frustration.

We can call this the story of a traveler's journey that began on the right road and step-by-step ended up on a dead end. I tried to explain this with concrete and striking examples. I compared the first period of AKP rule (2002-2007) with the present. I tried to show how the credit and capital accumulated in the first era of rule were sacrificed to the insatiable power and authority of one person. For starters, I reflected on the psychology of wrongdoing, frustration, and disappointment experienced by the liberal and left-wing segment.

I worked to draw attention to the first era [of AKP rule], which evoked excitement among the West and the Islamic world, and how much Turkey has normalized and lost this added value in front of both of these worlds. In short, I wrote that of Erdoğan is stuck and worn out.

"Family secrets" also hold an important place in the book, particularly during the 2007 general elections when there was a threat of a military coup.

Yes. In the AKP camp, the "it stays between us" mentality is predominant. There is this obsession of "don't let anyone hear of the scandals or mistakes we've made, or they will be used against us and could become fodder to wear Erdoğan down. I tried to lift this cover a bit. For instance, the perception that "Erdoğan made Gül president" is widespread. As a first-hand witness to the elections in 2007, I explained the inner workings of it as: Gül became president despite Erdoğan.

Yes, he [Erdoğan] at first called him "my brother Abdullah Gül." But later, he stopped worrying that there might be a coup or tension. He started searching for a candidate whose wife did not wear a headcovering. Gül broke the script by announcing his presidency. I explained what happened behind the scenes.

And I included [in the book] the accusations of treason directed at those who didn't stay by Erdoğan's side: In the example of Gül, you are afraid of the military in 2007 and stop supporting the presidential candidate, you impose a ban on being reelected in 2012, in 2014 you gather the AKP Congress a day before his [Gül's] post ends and kick him out automatically, you get AK trolls and the partisan media to attack him, and then you blame him for not coming back to the party and not staying by Erdoğan's side.

Moreover, you blame someone who never agrees with the policies you implemented.

A court case was opened against you after your interview with the secular Cumhuriyet daily when you said that Mustafa Varank, an advisor to Erdoğan, was in charge of the ‘AK trolls,’ which refer to a team of people who create fake social media profiles to carry out online attacks against the opposition.

Yes, Erdoğan's chief adviser Mustafa Varank filed for libel and damages lawsuits. In both, I was unjustly sentenced. In the damages suit, he requested 50,000 TL from me. The judge ruled on 5,000 TL. He immediately objected, but said little.

So I found a way out by declaring all my assets. More precisely, I reported all my assets from when I started working with Gül, and I emphasized that I have no property and no possessions and I became poorer as I left the top level of government in 12 years. And then I called on the other 36 chief advisors [to Erdoğan] including Varank and said, "Come on, now you have to explain yourselves, too."

Of course, I won't get an answer, but I thought I would let it out.

In your book, you say that Erdoğan is burnt out and exhausted. So then are these elections the beginning of the end for the AKP?

I think it's like that. The capital has been used. There's no forward-looking vision or discourse. All that is talked about are issues that are old and stale. So it's a deadlock. Being in power or the possibility of winning the elections on June 24 does not change this fact.

The engine isn't moving the car. The engine grumbles and screeches, but the car cannot move. This cannot continue.

What comes after this depends on the attitude of the opposition parties, and their ability and capacity to solve problems. 

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Ahval.

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