Bihter Okutan
Jul 02 2018

Turkey blurs the lines between laws and Mafia rules

How precious it is to be independent and to be in opposition.....

After fighting for a common cause together with the ruling power for so long, the price to pay when those in power say “we are done with you” might be too high.

Think about a leader -- Recep Tayyip Erdoğan - - who covertly or overtly tries to attribute all supreme titles such as “caliph”, “the chief” or “the founding father of the second Republic of Turkey” to himself…

A leader who intends to use all titles associated with religion and nationalism to his benefit, as such epithets are seen opportune tools in establishing more control and power over an entire nation; over both friends and foes; supporters and adveseries alike.

When the conservative nationalists unsuspectingly called him “Reis” -- the Turkish word for “Chief”, almost exclusively used by nationalists to refer to leaders-- no one could see that it would come to this.

No one could imagine that the state/Republic could both be shattered into pieces..

But it didn’t take long to see the implications of this nationalist rhetoric as Erdoğan decided to walk together with the head of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), Devlet  Bahçeli, following the 15 July coup attempt.

Since then, Erdoğan allowed the resurrection of Turkey’s organized crime leaders, who were widely believed to have been eliminated.

Just prior to the election of June 24, the MHP’s  Bahçeli paid a visit to organized crime leader Alaattin Çakıcı who is serving a prison term and who is now serving his time at a hospital due to multiple health conditions.

Çakıcı is known for being a suspect in several trials related to the murders of a number of people during the ‘80s and the ‘90s, allegedly at the behest of the Turkish state amid claims that Turkey’s intelligence agency used him in numerous dirty operations both at home and abroad against opponents.

Following the visit to Çakıcı,  Bahçeli demanded a pardon for inmates in prisons except those convicted of “terror related crimes”, a definition which mostly refers to coup-related arrests.

Once  Bahçeli’s comments, which saw the MHP revert back to the nationalists’ former style of affiliation with the crime world, were covered widely in the media, Çakıcı made a public statement in which he threatened a group of journalists and columnists working for the pro-government Karar daily.

Despite the fact that the newspaper seems to have adopted a pro-AKP editorial policy, some of its columnists such as Etyen Mahcupyan, Elif Cakir, Akif Beki, İbrahim Kiras, Ali Bayramoğlu – all of whom Çakıcı threatened with death -- have warned Erdoğan of the side effects of ‘one-man rule’ and the possible risk of damage to Turkey under these more authoritarian tendencies.

The death threats hit the headlines and even caused panic among other pro-government daily columnists and journalists. Yet a couple of days prior to Çakıcı’s very public comments,  Bahçeli had himself placed an ad in newspapers in which he criticized and defamed dozens of journalists and opinion leaders by name, accusing them of discrediting his MHP.

Çakıcı’s bold death threats are the terrifying result of that!

In this poisoened letter against journalists, Çakıcı wrote, “I always give a heads up to those whom I am going to cause harm.

“They will be punished in Turkey or abroad by those who support me. I call on those who always say to me, “tell us to shoot and we shoot, tell us to die and we die” to now act”.

Two of the columnists -- Mahcupyan and Cakir -- announced that they would take a break from writing.

The next step in the incident was that the state assigned bodyguards to protect the threatened journalists.

However, Erdoğan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) government was yet to make a single statement regarding the threats issued by Çakıcı.

The state of the silent.

As the government continued to keep its silence, Çakıcı issued another statement, saying that he had suspended his “punishment” for the next three months. He said that the sanctions might be frozen indefinitely so long as the writers “do not repeat the mistake” over the next three months”.

The silence of government-led commentators too led many to conclude that the administration was condoning Çakıcı’s message. The government has usually shown no remorse towards its critics.

The Ankara Chief Prosecutor’s Office since announced that it has launched an investigation into Çakıcı for “spreading fear among the public”.

In the meantime, those Karar columnists were ironically criticizing Erdoğan and his AKP, warning them so as they do not cross any limits, but they always kept their faith in the ‘Chief’ and his AKP.

It obviously seems that they touched the soft belly of the AKP government.

Although the government is used to receiving all sorts of criticism from the opposition, its own ‘children’ haven’t even dared to direct criticism at Erdoğan and the ruling party. Even mildly suggesting that the ‘Supreme Leader’ and his party might be making a mistake couldn’t go unpunished as it entailed the risk of‘waking up’ pro-AKP people and having an ‘eye-opening’ effect among the masses. Some journalists at pro-AKP publications who have dared to speak out were eliminated for fear that this would set a precedent for other pro-government writers; a warning to ensure that they don’t even think of criticizing Erdoğan, not even for a single second.

Still, a group of pro-government columnists did on this occassion defend their colleagues out of concern that they too might be targets of a similar threat in the future.

Among them were Conservative columnist Nevzat Çiçek, Yeni Safak contributer Ismail Kilicaslan and Nihal Bengisu Karaca, a columnist for Haberturk.

Threatening the government’s opponents, even moderate and smaller groups, has become an unfortunate pattern in Turkey. Most recently, Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu hurled threats against the country’s pro-Kurdish HDP Co-Chair Pervin Buldan over the murder of a store owner in the eastern province of Agri, which local Kurds blamed on AKP figures.

Later, Soylu publicly admitted to having threatened the Kurdish leader.

The story doesn’t end there. Previously, another organized crime boss, Sedat Peker, had threatened the country’s academics with ‘spilling their blood into streams and taking a shower in it’ after they signed a petition calling for peace and an end to security operations in Turkey’s Kurdish regions, where recent clashes between the Turkish Armed Forces and the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK) had caused civillian deaths and displaced thousands of locals from city centres in the southeast.

Now the only question that remains is why the need for such illegal figures?

The answer is obvious: Fear!

Erdoğan will never feel safe even if he garners 60 percent of the vote. There will be people who will always tell him when he does wrong.

The problem is that this fear leads the state to adopt a mafia-type characteristic, blurring the lines between a state ruled by laws and mafia rules.

The role of Turkey's national intelligence organisation (MIT) in shaping this direction should not be overlooked. It may even be playing the greatest role in creating such a ‘monster.’

So, the risk of adding illegal non-state actors into the sphere of the state, which is supposed to be subject to laws and uphold them for the country, may further damage Turkey’s already fragile dynamics when one considers the uncontrollable nature of these persons.