Cengiz Aktar
Dec 05 2017

After Zarrab

The testimony of Reza Zarrab to a New York court provides more information about a corruption scandal that erupted in Turkey in December 2013.

In that incident, dozens of people, including Turkish-Iranian gold trader Zarrab, the relatives of serving ministers and others close to the ruling party, were arrested on suspicion of bribery and corruption in a complex scheme to bypass international sanctions on Iran.

But just as the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government succeeded in suppressing the 2013 allegations – by arresting the police and prosecutors involved – it will most likely succeed in discrediting the charges made in New York. The exasperation and acrimony of a minority of the Turkish society will not shake the AKP regime.

One of the most obvious reasons for this is that the media followed by the overwhelming majority of Turks will not cover the proceedings in New York in detail.

We are also talking about a parliament under the AKP's hegemony: for years the body has not been able to conduct investigations – for example the commission established to look into the attempted coup -- and when it has done, the findings have been censored.

Another reason is the subservient judiciary. Turkey does not have an independent judiciary to investigate a case like that in New York.

Prosecutors will not, for example, look into documents released by the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) that it says show relatives of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had funnelled money to into offshore accounts.

Government spokesman Mahir Ünal was brimming with confidence when he said: "The documents do not prove the claims. We consider them fake. The court will decide."

Right now, Turkey lacks a free press, an independent parliament and judiciary to investigate its rulers. These are the official and unofficial forces that should be acting as checks and balances within the system.

The government are propped up by a pervasive culture of voluntary servitude and allegiance, and reinforced by the ineffectiveness of the opposition.

 

erdoğan

Erdoğan has a considerable fan base. At least half of the Turkish population do not hear the facts. If they do, they merely rebuff them. And when they do not reject the facts, they refuse to react to them.

There is a culture of submissiveness. For hundreds of years, philosophers like Plato, de la Boétie, Hobbes, anti-fascist German and Italian thinkers, as well as sociologists, psychologists and even psychiatrists have questioned why people have voluntarily submitted to authority. Clearly, submissiveness, obedience, servitude is not just a Middle Eastern thing.

After the revelations of December 2013, many in the media exclaimed: "Yeah, they're stealing, but they are also doing good work." This attitude still remains.

Academic Yahya Madra wrote about this particular topic for Ahval recently and questioned the limitations of the 'politics of exposure':

"Some may indeed want to believe that these accusations are fabricated. But many probably would not contest the accusations while remaining unconvinced that these deeds (mainly about corruption) warrant pulling their support from Erdogan." {LINK}

Madra said Erdogan would use the trial in New York both to energise his own base and to appeal to the anti-imperialists both from the right and left sides of the political spectrum.

Fethullah Gülen, the man Turkey accuses of masterminding last year’s failed coup, and U.S. support for Kurdish forces in Syria will be masterfully interweaved into his narrative.

I came across an article by journalist Cemal Tunçdemir about the potential of the masses to exculpate their leaders.

I would underline three social practices pointed out by Tunçdemir that create the potential for the masses to forgive their leaders' conduct.

Tribalism is the first. "Tribalism is actually what (14th century Arab historian) Ibn Khaldun calls 'asabiyet'. In the Encyclopaedia of Islam, 'asabiyet' is defined as 'a sense of solidarity that allows people to act together against opponents,” Tunçdemir wrote.

The second "is to find a way to believe what the group believes, no matter how ridiculous it is". In psychology, there is a concept explaining this behaviour called motivated reasoning. People seek information and news to support their convictions and avoid information that contradicts them; an emotion-based decision-making process.

The third form of social practice is what we see among supporters of U.S. President Donald Trump. They only occasionally admire Trump, but they hate immigrants, Muslims, Jews, the media and leftists. They think blacks and women should be kept in their place. Trump is an unashamedly politically incorrect interpreter of these emotions. Replace Trump with Erdoğan and include the hatred AKP followers have for the CHP.

Another major reason why I am not holding my breath for a revolt is the lethargy of the main opposition party and its ineffective strategies. The opposition has two main venues of protest.

Firstly, to describe every misdeed since the 2013 Gezi Park protests as "illegal” and to continuously repeat the same sentences "no more", "enough" and "impossible to comprehend”.

Or to disengage from the political mess entirely in a fatalistic way, in the way writer Perihan Magden described her emotions in an interview with Ahval, like “a Jew in Nazi Germany...”

Unresponsiveness would therefore not be not exclusive to Erdoğan’s followers.

Yet there have been many protests against corruption and injustice in developed countries and elsewhere, mostly non-violent protests and various acts of civil disobedience. But not here in Turkey. Nothing.

The only solution seems to be for Erdoğan’s followers to abandon him because of some sort of economic and moral collapse. But in an earlier article, I discussed the inadequacy of such a pragmatic approach.

Maybe this kind of 'covetous' behaviour works for some. But is it not also failing to acknowledge that the masses' support is not merely due to their lack of knowledge, or them being 'brainwashed'? Does that not support stem from a totalitarian regime that, by religious affiliation, has legitimised the anticipation of the masses?

As a result, it seems that the court case in New York is alleviating the stress of some Turks. But that is pretty much it.

What remains is the possibility of a palace coup. Or the emergence of the 'İttihatçı' (Young Turk), Eurasianist Good Party. However, neither is very likely and most importantly, these alternatives are far from being viable solutions to the problems Turkey is facing right now.

Hence, we are left with international repercussions.

The outside world will keep hearing the voice of Erdoğan’s Turkey; all the anti-Semite, anti-United States and anti-Western discourse.

They will continue to see widespread support for a regime that is proud of stealing millions of dollars.

They will hear the voice of a developing country that boasts of an imaginary war against an imaginary foe while some of their domestic banks are shamelessly involved in illicit activities.

They will see a mafia state, a banana republic, a rogue state and maybe even a failed state.

A continued loss of Turkey's moral, political, economic reputation - that is the cost of this vile and immoral scandal.