Institutional breakdown, the Mongol invasion and the Ottoman civil war

In this piece, I am going to touch on three topics that permeated Turkey’s news agenda last week.

I have previously reiterated that a state is only as strong as its institutions. If these collapse, so does the state.

Before coming to today’s topic, I am going to cite the example of a relatively older subject. Turkey’s top judicial body, the Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSK), appointed the chief public prosecutor of Istanbul to the supreme court, an appointment that should have come from within the supreme court itself.

Likewise, the supreme court held an election to appoint one of its members to the constitutional court. All 107 judges chose a member who had not yet sat a single hour as a supreme court judge.

This picture is clear: The country’s highest appeals court is, for the most part, facing erasure as an independent judicial institution.

I said that the issue of the supreme court was a relatively old development. The truth is that not even two months have passed since it happened. But so many similar examples have occurred since, that it feels like a great deal of water has passed under that bridge.

No snow can withstand this kind of heat.

Now, let us arrive at the three different breakdowns that occurred in Turkey last week.

First, a new rector was appointed to head Boğaziçi University, one of the country’s most prestigious academic institutions, on the recommendation of the Higher Education Council (YÖK) and a presidential order.

The appointment process was legal, there is no doubt about that. But if you know of recent developments in Turkey, you know that a decision based on a presidential decree in the aftermath of the July 2016 coup attempt has no democratic, judicial or academic legitimacy.

Developments continue to unfold at Boğaziçi, but the new rector, Melih Bulu, has been accused of plagiarising parts of his doctoral thesis and is not allowing the YÖK thesis archive to be opened for reexamination (an error message appears when searching the website). Nor is Bulu responding to these plagiarism claims with a counter application to the YÖK ethical committee.

Turkey’s academic institutions are being broken down.  

Second, it recently emerged that in 2014 state-run Ziraat Bank provided a loan of $1.6 billion - approximately 12 billion liras in today’s money - to an offshore company in the British Virgin Islands owned by Turkcell, Turkey’s largest network provider. None of the loan instalments have been repaid since.

The bank’s officials have taken a strange attitude regarding this report, deeming the matter a “commercial secret’’. But the fundamental reality is that, if public money has been used, the issue cannot be considered as such. If the loan defaults, taxpayers will be forced to cover the loss.

Following Boğaziçi University, we have witnessed the downfall of Ziraat Bank.

Third, a presidential decree published in the Official Gazette on Jan. 7 announced powers to change the forestry status of lands previously labelled as non-arable and therefore closed for development.

The decree claims the zoning decisions will be taken by the ministry of forestry and agriculture independently of the presidency…

It appears there will be no limit to the forestland that will be open for development in Turkey.

One begins to wonder if there is a new Mongol invasion taking place in Asia Minor.

Let nobody find this piece, and the given examples, including the analogy to the Mongol invasion, too harsh.

The aim of this article, and others, is to convey a concern for protecting legitimate state institutions, thereby protecting the state itself from irreparable corrosion.

But perhaps fear and legitimate concerns are of no help.

Turkey is under a Mongol invasion, just as it was following Sultan Yıldırım Bayezid’s defeat by Tamerlane in 1402. The invasion could very well be followed by a civil war akin to the Ottoman Interregnum.

In the Ottoman Empire, the civil war lasted 11 years.

Our hope is that it will not last that long this time around.

Let’s see how it plays out.

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