Turkey Analyst
Last updated: 29 February, 2012

What the columnists say

What has been called the “civilian coup” attempt of February 7, when a special prosecutor summoned the undersecretary of the Turkish National Intelligence Agency and two of his predecessors as “suspects” has been widely interpreted as a direct challenge to the authority of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan by the Islamic brotherhood of Fethullah Gülen. The unprecedented crisis within the Turkish state has brought to attention the conflict that has been simmering for some time between the two erstwhile allies. It is generally expected that Erdoğan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) will prevail in the power struggle. Commentators in pro-AKP dailies have called for abolition of the special courts and of an abrogation of the extraordinary powers that the police and the prosecutors have been equipped with, while the media flagship of the Gülen brotherhood, Zaman,has persisted in acting as a mouthpiece of the police and the judiciary.


Etyen Mahçupyan in Today’s Zaman writes that Turkey as a country is becoming increasingly difficult to understand. The reason for this is the emergence in the public sphere of societal dynamics that were previously invisible. These dynamics have begun to gain more and more political influence. At the same time, this particular development took place during a period when the country’s most important political power, the bureaucracy, was going through an enormously turbulent period. In fact, we are really talking about a period and a process during which societal actors are searching out places for themselves within the bureaucracy and, at the same time, expanding their arenas while doing so. In the past, it was possible to get an idea of where Turkey stood by simply focusing on the military and scrutinizing the relations between the elected government and the military. But our world is now filled with multiple actors. And then there is the presence of many sub-groups — either trying to forge alliances with one another, or which are at odds with one another — within the state and society.

The general situation means that new analyses are necessary on a daily basis now, because it is nearly impossible to predict what tactical steps these sub-groups might take. The reality is, however, even more complicated than this because it is only an assumption we are making when we say these sub-groups are homogenous. In fact, a more realistic approach calls for us to base our calculations on the presumption that these sub-groups are not fully in control of their own inner structures, and that their political ventures overlap at many critical junctures. In the end, we are forced to consider that we inhabit a country whose legal foundation is in fact very weak, a country crumbling under the force of a wave like that of the Kurdish issue, a wave strong enough to shake the state itself.


Kadri Gürsel in Milliyet writes that the coalition that governed Turkey, the alliance between the Gülen movement and the AKP, has now to all intents and purposes broken up. There is now a de facto state of war between the two erstwhile coalition partners. The AKP had given the Gülenist cadres full access to the judiciary, the police, the bureaucracy and the administration of the education. In return, the Gülen movement had offered the AKP the support of its media, its societal organization, its global relations and the activism of its cadres, which were all crucially important in the purge of the military tutelage. Now we understand that the only door that was not swung wide open for the Gülenist cadres was the door of the National Intelligence Agency. That is the reason why this war broke out. In order to hide from attention the fact that it is a power struggle both sides feign that it is about the Kurdish problem.


Ali Bayramoğlu in Yeni Şafak writes that an earthquake is shaking the state. What has happened is that the policies of the government have been questioned by the prosecutor. This earthquake has made visible the power struggle that had been raging in the palace for some time. There is a clash between two approaches to the Kurdish issue. One side represents the “Oslo process”, or in another word “politics”, while the other side represents the mentality behind the KCK operations, that is “law and order”.  One mentality attempts to open up political venues in the Kurdish problem, establishing contact with Öcalan’s lawyers, while the other mentality arrests those lawyers, fears the doors that the others have been trying to pry open, and is shutting them. But this dimension can only partly explain the matter. This is so because what is decisive in the power struggle within the palace is the attempt to secure a favorable position and to secure influence within the state, more than differences of political opinion.  In fact, political views are shaped with a view to secure power positions.


Ahmet Altan in Taraf observes that the Kurdish problem has defined Turkey’s internal and foreign policies during the last thirty years. Those who refuse to accept the equality of the Kurds in the name of nationalism oddly enough prefer that the state putrefies. And those who either want to hold on to power or get their hands on it, exploit the Kurdish problem, so every power struggle is shaped by the Kurdish issue. What we are now experiencing is no exception, as the Kurdish problem is once again at the center. On one side there is the police and the judiciary, on the other side we find the government and the MÄ°T. It is said that the police and the judiciary is under the control of the Gülen brotherhood, the “cemaat” as it is simply called, and no one is denying it. It looks as if the police and the judiciary are after the MÄ°T undersecretary Hakan Fidan, but the moment they accuse Fidan they have automatically accused Prime Minister Erdoğan as well, since he has appointed him.

Should this continue, the logical outcome would be that Erdoğan himself would be put on trial. It is obvious that this fight, which will determine the future of Prime Minister Erdoğan, will be a fierce one. It is also certain that one of the protagonists will suffer a devastating loss of power and prestige, even in the case that the parties happen to reach an accommodation at some point of the struggle. Either Erdoğan and his followers or the brotherhood and its members are going to be purged from the state. That is why this is a fight to death.


Ali Bulaç in Zaman writes that the Muslims have had a division of labor among themselves. The “political Islam” was represented by the National Outlook movement, while brotherhoods and fraternities have made up “social Islam”.  Up until the beginning of the 21st century, social Islam did not interfere directly in politics. What forced the brotherhoods and fraternities to more directly participate in politics after the 2002 election was not that they were seeking power, and were enthusiastic about politics, but the deep pain that was inflicted by the military coup of February 28, 1997; the continuing threats of the military bureaucracy that was in control of the state and which behaved like a “sectarian brotherhood”. What enabled the AK Party to march toward power, after it had revised its traditional National Outlook ideology, was the societal endorsement it received from the brotherhoods – not from just one brotherhood.

At the point where we stand now, we need to stick together in cooperation and solidarity, refraining from all kinds of strife, “fitna”. We need to look at current events, not from a narrow perspective, but from a 300-year perspective. The strife that is provoked by the third parties is directed toward the whole of the country and the future of the Middle East. We all share a great responsibility. “Fitna is worse than murder”. We have no other alternative but to proceed on our road in a spirit of brotherhood, justice, sharing and sacrifice.

This article was first published in the Turkey Analyst (www.turkeyanalyst.org), a biweekly publication of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Program Joint Center.