Presidency and AKP leadership should be separated, former AKP official Arınç says in an interview with Duvar

In an interview with Duvar, AKP heavyweight Bülent Arınç talked about his party’s local election defeat, the Sinan Ateş case, and his suggestions for the party’s future. He also criticized Presidential Adviser Mehmet Uçum over the Can Atalay case, and former Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu over the increase in criminal organizations and drug trafficking.

Can Bursalı / DUVAR

Bülent Arınç was in the top three of the founding cadre of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). He served as the Parliament Speaker, Deputy Prime Minister, and Government Spokesperson. 

In an interview with Duvar, he talked about his party’s local election defeat, the Sinan Ateş case, and his suggestions for the party’s future.

He also criticized Presidential Adviser Mehmet Uçum over the Gezi case prisoner Can Atalay, and former Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu over the increase in criminal organizations and drug trafficking.

“I would like to say this to the self-unaware person who brought the word ‘national judiciary’... every court in Turkey represents the national judiciary. It is very wrong to deprive people of their personal freedoms in Turkey, especially in the case of Can Atalay,” Arınç said, referring to Uçum.

Arınç also called on President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to separate the office of the Turkish Presidency and the office of the AKP Presidency.

The translation of Arınç’s interview is as follows.

Before evaluating the local elections, there was a crisis between the Court of Cassation and the Constitutional Court regarding TİP MP Can Atalay. Although there were serious objections from within the AKP at the time, the result did not change, and in a way, the result emerged according to the understanding of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), the partner of the People's Alliance. I would like to know your assessment of this process as a lawyer.

From the beginning, I have always defended politicians when it comes to the immunity and prosecution of MPs. I cannot accept that a member of parliament who represents politics, who is elected with the votes of the people, should be kept away from parliament. The whole problem here is the vague phrase in Article 14 of the Constitution that completely removes immunity and leads to the prosecution of that person. In fact, it is necessary to specify categorically, in a catalog, which crimes these are by law. But they refused to do so. There are many reasons for this. According to some, this article will work, according to others this article will not work, they left it to the conjuncture.

First, in the case of Enis Berberoğlu, I posted tweets defending Berberoğlu. I made these speeches both on television and in the necessary places. Then, in the case of Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu, I said that the crimes attributed or attributed to him were very wrong and that the Constitutional Court and the Court of Cassation should be more careful in this matter. The Constitutional Court did its part in the case of Enis Berberoğlu. Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu was taken away by the police while he was protesting in the Parliament. It was as if something similar had happened in 1994 when DEP MPs were put in a police car and taken away after their immunity was lifted. I also said that this was wrong.

Can Atalay was a deputy candidate, his candidacy was accepted, he was elected, his election was accepted, his name was read out in the Turkish Grand National Assembly as a deputy, and he took part in a commission. But due to certain accusations, he was arrested, as you know. I think the decision of the 3rd Criminal Chamber of the Court of Cassation is a very wrong one. While the binding nature of the Constitutional Court is obvious, it is not befitting of the Court of Cassation to challenge it by saying that the members of the Constitutional Court who made this decision should be put on trial.

I won't dwell too much on the reasons for this. Unfortunately, a person with the surname Uçum (Presidential Adviser Mehmet Uçum), who directs legal policies, has introduced a very absurd thing into the literature by making a distinction between the national judiciary and the non-national judiciary. The Court of Cassation is the national judiciary here, the Constitutional Court is supposedly another judiciary. If there is a Constitution, it is implemented. If problems arise during its implementation, it can be changed if you have the power.

I would like to say this to the self-unaware person who brought the word “national judiciary,” as a lawyer for 30 years and as a friend who has received the 50-year plaque from the bar association, every court in Turkey, except the ECHR, represents the national judiciary. Because at the beginning of its reasoned decision, it says “on behalf of the Turkish nation.” There are many mistakes. It is very wrong to deprive people of their personal freedoms in Turkey, especially in the case of Can Atalay. This needs to be corrected quickly.

Creating something called a national judiciary in our country is the same as Bekri Mustafa becoming the imam of Hagia Sophia. When I was Deputy Prime Minister, I was also responsible for community (cult) foundations. We returned some real estates of minorities in line with the decisions of the European Court of Human Rights. When the decisions were given, I asked the Prime Minister. He asked, “Do they have rights?” When I said they had rights, he said, "Let's just give it to them." Now, when such a person is the President, those who are authorized to speak on his behalf can say different things. But hopefully, it will get better.

Can Atalay was elected as a member of a parliamentary commission with the votes of MHP members. At that time, there were also developments in the Sinan Ateş murder. Do you think that the murder of Sinan Ateş played a role in the MHP's change of position on Can Atalay?

I wouldn't make such a comment. But Sinan Ateş is a very sad incident. We are all saddened. The fact that a person who had shown great loyalty to his leader, who was well-read, thoughtful, and well-liked around him, fell victim to a despicable conspiracy and was the target of a planned murder made us all personally very sad. As a criminal lawyer, I can say that his family will perhaps become hopeful for justice with the verdict that will be rendered against the main perpetrators as well as the instigators and intermediaries. His wife and two children visited all parties except the MHP, told them their problems. Our President in particular, with his promise to his little daughter, will do what he can. I hope that the judicial process will not be like some previous judicial processes. 

For example, the Hrant Dink incident happened during my term as the Parliament Speaker. However, the judicial process regarding Hrant Dink cannot be considered 100 percent complete. The perpetrator is walking around now. This hurts the public conscience. There is a murder committed with the naked eye after Friday prayers. Personally, I am a religious person, a person who strives to be a Muslim. I prayed a lot for him (Dink).

Back to politics. Did you feel a sense of defeat with the March 31st local elections?

The result was not what we wanted. The AKP did not succeed, let me state that clearly. But none of the people in the AKP, especially our President, want to express the word defeat. We are losing the biggest provinces, and we have been losing them many times. And the places we win, we win with a decrease in our vote shares. If there is a big loss, it needs to be compensated. It is necessary to analyze this as soon as possible, to do analytical work, and to find answers to the questions of where this result came from and how we can overcome this result and become the first and the strongest party again. Our President has been at the forefront of this work for 22 years. Especially since 2018, he has been both the chair of the party and the President, the head of the executive. I think he will make the best evaluations. And he will take measures in time. When you look at it in general, it seems that the successful party is another one (the CHP).

For a long time, there have been discussions about a return to the founding codes of the AKP. For a while now, the AKP has been in favor of more security policies, and at times it has shown images that are a bit more distant from its 'conservative democrat' identity, as you call it.  Do you think that an AKP that returned to its founding codes can be successful again in the elections?

AKP can become a strong party again. This party started with 34.5 percent. It won two-thirds of the parliament in 2002. It got 50 percent in 2011. It faltered for the first time in the June 7, 2015 elections. It was the leading party again, but its number of deputies decreased. In the election six months after that, it got 49.5 percent again. So the AKP’s body is solid. And out of 100 citizens living in Turkey, 70 of them have voted for AKP at least once in their lifetime. You will not find such a feature in any other party. Unfortunately, the AKP has unfortunately moved away from that conservative democratic identity. Therefore, we cannot find the political atmosphere during the foundation. It cannot be said that we should reappoint the people from the foundation.

For example, one of our founders passed away, Mr. Yaşar Yakış. A funeral was held in the Parliament. He was an exceptionally polite gentleman I knew. He was a well-equipped ambassador. When he was offered to be a founder, he retired without any hesitation (from his post). He became one of the official founders of the AKP. He even received criticism from those around him, 'What are you doing in these reactionaries?’ He was our first Foreign Minister, God rest his soul, he passed away at the age of 85. 

But today I heard that he was expelled from the AKP in 2016. I honestly couldn't believe it when I heard that, I must not have been following the developments. Such a person was expelled because of his writings in a newspaper, which at one time was a prestige job, both to write in that newspaper and to be a reader of that newspaper. He was expelled because of that. The fact that a person who gave life to the AKP was dismissed because of his thoughts hurt me a lot. I would like to take this opportunity to say that I hope Mr. President in this regard will overturn this decision and give him back his dignity and I will convey this to him as well.

Is it possible for the AKP to return to its conservative democratic identity as long as the People's Alliance continues?

Very possible indeed.

What’s the formula?

I have the formula. 

Have you presented this formula to relevant people?

Partly we are talking, and partly, if they ask me to help, I will go and tell them everything I have. As long as they have the intention.

Are you making a request right now?

Not on my behalf. I’m saying this. Every party has an identity. Those parties not having identities are having problems now. There are parties that broke away from the AKP. We see how many votes they got in the elections. It is not very clear whether they are alive or not. Same with the parties that broke away from the CHP.

The things that make AKP AKP are being just, being against unjust gains, being against corruption, being against poverty. Because I remember a hadith that says there is a very thin veil between poverty and blasphemy. We must not be poor, we must save our people from poverty. We accepted them and our votes never dropped below 50 percent. We entered 20 elections, we were successful in all of them. I don't mean the most recent ones. We held 10 referendums on our own. While the MHP and CHP were against us, we won the referendum with 58 percent. We need to have all these again.

If the MHP's stance is a nationalist one, we respect that. Turkey also needs such a party. But we are conservative democrats. As AKP, we have to live within our own identity. We cannot be more nationalist than someone else. Our identity has been determined, we still have these in our charter and program. There has been an erosion in these areas, but of course, this also depends on the events we are going through in the country.

What do you think is the main reason for the local election results? Is it the economic crisis or some other reason?

I go to the market with my wife. Let's say the things that I bought for 70 liras a year ago, now it is more than even 170 liras. The price of meat has skyrocketed.

When you go to the market, do you see a reaction from citizens because of the high prices?

They don't react to me. They know me as one of their own. Because I defend them. We are in Hamamönü right now. I am close to all the shopkeepers here. I always heard them when they complained, “What will happen to us?” I always heard them, I told the ministers. The ministry said, “There is no high cost, it is a psychological complaint.” Can you imagine? The last time I went to the market with my wife, my purchases cost 609 liras. There is no meat or cheese in it. There is cost inflation in Turkey. Unless costs are reduced, inflation will increase even more.

As long as the economy is like this, is it possible for the AKP to return to its glory days?

Even if it does not improve, the AKP would play a leading role. Because people think, “They did good things, now some things are not working. But there is no one else but them to fix it.” In the last general elections, everyone was on Mr. Kılıçdaroğlu's side, but we won with 52.5 percent. Why? Because the people are angry, but they see no other power to fix it except Mr. Tayyip.

In the last general elections, would the result have been different if Ekrem İmamoğlu or Mansur Yavaş had been the opposition’s candidate?

Mr. Kılıçdaroğlu received around 48 votes. Apparently, this was a success. Do you know why? Because at least 25 percent of the CHP did not vote for him. At least. This is a very clear fact. They overthrew the man. However, Kılıçdaroğlu made an effort to turn the CHP into a party of the people. He did things like making amends, the Justice March, and getting together with other segments of society. But if the CHP didn't vote for its own candidate, if the İYİ Party didn't vote... When you look at it like this, Kılıçdaroğlu's 48 percent of the votes he received means perhaps 55 percent.

I am not a CHP member, but I also appreciate what Mr. Kılıçdaroğlu has done. I think Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu's work is the basis of the success Özgür Özel has achieved today. They should also avoid anything that could hurt or offend Kılıçdaroğlu. This transformation of the CHP has been very beneficial for Turkey.

After the local elections, there was talk of a process described as "softening, normalization." What do you think is abnormal that needs to be normalized?

We once received 50 percent of the votes, but the other 50 percent looked at us with love, not hatred. They looked at us with admiration. They said we were doing very good work. Liberals, social democrats, democratic leftists, writers, illustrators, and artists were voting for us. But now we are even up against a part of our own base. We have already lost the extra votes. We were actually a revolutionary party. There is revolutionism in the person of Tayyip Erdoğan. For example, what was achieved during his 11-12 years as prime minister has never been achieved by any prime minister in the world. I see his time as prime minister as another golden page. 

When Interior Minister Ali Yerlikaya was first appointed, you gave him the biggest support. You issued a statement and visited him. The AKP ruled Turkey between 2016 and 2023, but since last September we have seen that many national and international criminal organizations have entered Turkey. Was there a security weakness in the previous period or was it a conscious choice?

It cannot be a choice. In a state of law, we cannot define it like this. But it's not just local and national criminal organizations... The most notorious mafias and barons of the whole world have set up camp in Turkey and they are killing each other. Murders have been committed. This is a worrying and even shameful event for Turkey in terms of internal security. When the AKP came to power, the first thing we did was to establish a commission to investigate corruption and as a result of that work, 55 criminal organizations were disbanded. We thought that this was the end of it. 

At the point we have reached, some people are really running amok in Turkey. I thank Mr. Yerlikaya from the bottom of my heart and if he needs any support behind him, I think I will always provide it. Someone will somehow have to pay for what happened before that. It is not only a matter of such criminal organizations, Turkey has become a drug paradise. Such a picture has never been seen before.

AKP is 23 years old, it has been in power for 22 years. If we include the People's Alliance period, it has always been in power alone. What is your party's first task?

Justice should be prioritized before everything else. The economy and social peace will be reconciled. But justice is the foundation of everything. A judiciary and an understanding of justice that will eliminate all unjust arrests and violations of rights should be announced immediately. For example, if I were Mr. President, tomorrow I would say, “We have problems in the country. I have been here for so many years, I have done many right things, but I have also done wrong things. I promise you, I have as many complaints about justice, law, and the judiciary as you do. From now on, what I want from these institutions is that only justice should prevail. Do not follow any instructions.” If he says this, the judiciary is already ready for it. I think Mr. President should reassure the public in this respect.

My final opinion is this. The office of the President and the office of the General Presidency (of the AKP) should be separated. Even the day he announces this, we will gain 5 more points on our vote share.

(English version by Alperen Şen)