We are going through dark times. The situation we are experiencing is akin to a mafia film – albeit a poorly written one – in which the evilness of the actor is a matter of suspense.
What I’m referring to is the Gezi Park trial. What we experience during that trial was the latest iteration of a series of nonsensical events that have unfolded for the past few years. The detention of civil society leader and philanthropist Osman Kavala cannot be grasped by logic.
From its onset, the abnormal aspects of the trial were a constant source of debate. It was said to be revenge.
The court did not release Osman Kavala though 70 days passed after the ECHR called on his “immediate release.” The board of judges accepted the murderer of a Gezi protestor, Ali İsmail Korkmaz, as an “injured party.” The same board rejected all the demands of the defense. After the tension in the court hearing room reached its peak, it suddenly decided on acquittal.
The head of the board of judges read the verdict from a piece of paper. This text could not have been possibly written physically during the very short break. The acquittal was based on the fact that “there was no concrete evidence relating to the charges.” In other words, the judge said just the opposite of what he had said for years, namely “the strong evidence presented by the prosecution” that explained his continued arrest.
The ECHR ruling – which the judged had previously refused to implement on the grounds that it was not finalized – was included in the verdict this time. The judge was the same, the case was the same, the defendants were the same but the verdict had changed. It came as a real surprise for those present at the courthouse.
For those who believed the case was always political, the explanation lies in recent developments in Syria. The acquittals were a sign that Ankara is turning to the West. It was a sign that the cracks within the governing alliance are deepening.
German Councilor Angela Merkel has promised euros for houses in Idlib to be built by TOKİ, Turkey’s Mass Housing Administration. Hence, economic elites push for a detente with the West. This can be interpreted as the Turkish government’s search for new partners as it faces mounting pressures on all fronts.
The search for a new route or partner while the government is facing failure in every field. It is likely an attempt to salvage the image of the judiciary or ease the pressure of the ECHR, or to have a better position in coup attempt and “FETÖ” debates.
Is this happening with Erdoğan’s blessing or despite him? This is a question that is asked repeatedly at many levels, from the economy to cabinet reshuffle discussions, to foreign policy and judicial verdicts.
In fact, like with everything else, it does not matter whether the cause of Osman Kavala’s re-arrest is the result of an actual dispute or a constructed scenario. It does not change the characteristics of the process or its results. There is a consistency in the nonsense.
A telling sentence came from President Erdoğan on Wednesday. “They attempted to acquit him with a maneuver,” he said. The chosen verb “attempt” refers to a process that has not been completed. Erdoğan called on people to respect and acknowledge judicial decisions. He urges people to respect the re-arrest decision but, as he has done before, actually he himself does not accept the acquittal decision. He does not say he wanted him out or that the judiciary was independent, but instead that “he will follow up the case.” This goes against the hypothesis that the acquittal was an attempt to seduce the West.
Erdoğan also supports the “Gezi coup” assumption that is frequently used in the pro-government social media campaigns.
Advisors to the president, loyal columnists and social media accounts have recently conducted a campaign to promote the idea that “a new coup could soon be staged.” Yet Erdoğan brushed them off by saying, “they are distractions from our target.”
In fact, every event in this country is followed by the perennial question “What will he do next? And for what motive?” No other actors are truly considered.
The state in Turkey treats its people as tenants without rental contracts. The people of the land are vassals who must obey. Minorities are expected to comply and there are dangerous crowds who are never to be trusted.
The new source of debate in Turkey is not whether the government would fall with elections; rather, it is whether the opposition alliance will endure. Instead of merely discussing the possibility of early elections, the opposition should push for the holding of actual elections.
National causes and many of the “existential threats” against Turkey have to do with foreign policy. Public opinion is sharp on “what is wanted from us and what is spared from us” though it cannot exactly pinpoint what it wants itself.
Erdoğan government’s ability to expand its repression and go further with ever more assertiveness without facing any resistance has to do with the haplessness and perhaps deficient aptitudes of those who could check it. Cynical pundits, eager to crush opposition figures, say “you’ll see what comes next,” and they are always proven right.
With regards to all protest movements, from the Gezi movement of 2013 to the “Justice March” of 2017, the government fears the prospect of people taking to the streets.
Today, the ruling AKP government is seeking a new consolidation formula that does not rely on voter support. Instead, it shall rely on a survival rhetoric spearheaded by MHP leader Bahçeli and based on the alleged “local and national” majority.
The resignation story of Interior Minister Süleyman Soyl, confirms that a political and managerial mistake occurred, and that responsibility arose from this error. This responsibility for the mistake is something that won’t be able to be written off by accusing “fools” or “ignorant” group.
Turkish government is frequently referring to the failures of the responses of European countries and the United States in tackling with the coronavirus outbreak. Turkey is truly in a “better position” in the sense that we can predict what our rulers are capable of doing. We can predict that our rulers will say only their views about an issue, without feeling the need to hide their opinions or stay completely objective.
The government has no strategy to deal with the coronavirus crisis. It is also clear that scientific evidence and models are not being followed. Those patterns of behavior already prevailed with regards to Turkey’s economic crises, to the Syrian fiasco, the refugee crisis and to the its failing presidential system.
More than two weeks have passed since the first corona case was publicized in Turkey. As very few tests are being carried out, the number of cases remains artificially low. The government is forcing this unfounded optimism upon the public. As usual, it accuses those who dare raise doubts of ‘national treachery’ and ‘ungratefulness.’
The MHP is the losing side of the government alliance. When it gets too close to the AKP, the two parties sink together. Recent poll data shows that the decline in the AKP has also started to pull down the MHP.
Amid successive foreign policy and economic fiascos, President Erdoğan needs his sycophants to convince him all is well so his stature remains unchanged. Yet when they cease to convince him, his leadership will crumble.
In 2011, the AKP came up with a new strategy which became official in 2015. The party scraped its connection with the poor, referring to it only in an identity-focused discourse. As it rapidly slid into authoritarianism, the government instrumentalized its relationship with the poor, in line with right-wing populist practices.
While Erdoğan's government emphasizes unchangeability, resilience and sustainability, it is further moving away from its bid to solve problems and prospects for the future. The difficulties of the opposition, which has been engaged in a long-term quest to find ways to change the political landscape, have now been replaced by the government’s crisis.
Lately there has been an intense debate from both within and outside of the AKP in terms of whether or not anything will come out of the party initatives arising from within the AKP. However, what most likely should be argued is whether anything will come out of the AKP at all at this point.