corruption

Why has the world given up on Turkey?

Turkey accession talk cheating elections

I can’t help being surprised of how little that has been reported about the development in Turkey after the elections. Before the Gezi protests, Turkey was perceived as a promising, developing democracy. But now, one year later, Turkey undoubtedly has more similarities with Russia than any European country.

The problem is not only extensive pressure on the media and heavy censorship of the internet. It is not only the fact that judges and prosecutors cant do their job without approval from higher authority – meaning, well, Erdogan. Now, the very core of democracy, the elections, have been taken away as an opportunity for citizens to decide about their country’s future.

After YSK, the board responsible for organising the elections, denied a recount in Ankara, despite a very tight race, and obvious indications of cheating, I have a hard time seeing that things will get better in the short- or even in medium-term. The reason why Turkey will not quickly return to the right track, is because the man in power, Erdogan, have no incentives to steer in that direction. Rather the opposite. He has too much to lose.

Still, the foreign media rather focuses on the strong support that Erdogan still holds, almost baffled by the fact that a politician can be corrupt and still win elections.

In my opinion they should rather focus on the election fraud, and the increasingly impossible situation for the opposition parties. If the elections had been truly fair, it is likely that Turkey would be in a completely different situation at this point. To run a country with the capital belonging to the opposition, is not an easy task. Not the least would the loss of Ankara, also have been perceived as a punishment for corruption and other misdoings.

Maybe western journalists are just generally tired of reporting about a country in which punishment and reward do not follow a western logic.

Or, has Turkey for them just become another of these countries, to which democracy came, before it’s politicians and citizens learned to understand and respect it?

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Part 3: Victory?

Erdogan victory akp

The day after the local elections I stood on the sidewalk with my bags waiting for a taxi. I was on my way to a friend where I would stay during my last days in Istanbul. It was clear that AKP had won, even though the votes were still being counted.

After putting my luggage in the backseat, I sat down next to a smiling taxi driver, who immediately, as most strangers asked about my nationality, after wrongly assuming I was from Germany.

The radio was playing loud. Every second minute, parts from Erdogan’s victory speech, in which he promised to crush all his opponents, was aired. Now and then, the radio station also played pieces of the song specially written for the local elections with the simplistic but telling refrain “Reeeecep Taaaaayyip Errrrdooogaaaaan!”

“How is it going in Ankara?” I asked the driver. “Have they counted all the votes yet?”

“AKP won!” he answered while taking his right hand off the steering wheel, raising his thumb up in the air.

“45% percent they got” he continued.

“So what do you think will happen to Fetullah Gülen now?”

He again lifted his right hand from the steering wheel, this time imitating a razor blade cutting against his throat.

“He is finished!” he said.

We continued to talk about other things, but as the taxi came closer to my final destination, I wanted to ask him one last question.

“So, do you think there were any corruption? Do you think Erdogan is corrupt?”

He did an upwards nod.

“No! There is no corruption!” he said with certainty in his voice.

I sat in silence for a while, watching the expression on his face. He looked friendly.

“But…” I started, discretely smiling. “… This is Turkey. Aren’t most politicians corrupt here in some way? The CHP also, I mean.”

His face changed somewhat like he was preparing to say something, but he remained quite.

“Do you really believe he is not corrupt?” I continued and smiled.

At this point his facade broke down.

“You are right. He might be! He might have taken some money” he said almost in a whispering tone.

“So what do you think about that?”

“Well, he is the best we have!” he continued after a while. ”I like him! He is doing great things for people like me!”

As I stepped out of the taxi, grabbed my luggage and said god bye to him, I thought about the fact that AKP has had constant wind in their sails since they came to power in 2002. And when they were faced with their first real challenge, the Gezi protests, they managed to ruin their entire worldwide reputation as a progressive democratic party in less than a couple of weeks. After the corruption allegations, they now only have the poor and uneducated people left to vote for them. This is enough to win the elections under todays political circumstances, but is Erdogan able to provide another ten years of economic success and reforms, that these poor voters hope for?

That is the burning question.

Part 2: Three gentlemen

Three gentlemen Turkey

One day before the elections I went to a classic Turkish fish restaurant together with some friends. The restaurant was located in one of the more wealthy parts of Istanbul. This is an area, where the main opposition party, CHP, always gets a very high percentage of the votes and where people on average aim for a westernised lifestyle.

But this night I would learn, that the political life still had its own distinguished features, specific to Turkish culture.

After ordering a bottle of Rakı – the national drink before AKP replaced it with the non-alcoholic Ayran – and after the first mezes had arrived to the table, I spotted three older men sitting a bit away from us in a corner. They were well-dressed, in suits, and with friendly faces. As our eyes meet, I raised my glass towards them and they saluted back.

“Where are you from? Are you from Germany?” one of the men said in broken English as I passed their table returning from the restroom a bit later.

I answered them and we started to chat. Soon they asked me to sit down with them.

“What do you think about the food? Delicious, isn’t it?” one of the men said.
“Excellent, It was very good. We are waiting for the main course. Do you know the owner?”
“Know the owner!” he exclaimed. “He is the little brother of my childhood friend. We go here all the time. We grew up not far from here.”

As the discussion unavoidably entered in to the area of politics, it turned out that one of the men, was senior local politician, working for the main opposition party, CHP. Glad to make his acquaintance we continued to talk, and after discussing the economic development of Istanbul, my mouth slipped – it must have been the Rakı – and I told them about a idea for a business based in Istanbul.

The politician immediately turned rather serious.

“We should talk” he the said. “We should exchange numbers and meet!”

I looked at the other men and they nodded.

“You should meet him, he can make anything happen” one of them said.

“Everything is possible.” the politician continued. “You can talk to me, and we can make a deal!”

He was saying all this in the way any old and powerful man in Turkey would do. But since he was a politician, there was no doubt about the meaning of his words.

From many friends I knew and heard stories about how knowing the right people, especially within politics and municipality, could mean the difference between bankruptcy and success. If someone within the system saw that your business was successful, they often wanted a cut. They would try to get it by pointing out problems of different kinds, mostly technicalities that at first seemed ridiculous. However, such a situation could quickly grow into a nightmare. Licenses could be withdrawn, deliveries could stop, police could come visit. The solution was always compensative one, meaning money under the table.

What the politician now offered me, was a shortcut. But of course it would not be a free one.

And I came to think: Even though he represented the opposition party, there was, in essence, little difference between him and e.g. Erdogan. They where of the same generation and in terms of attitude to corruption, they were soul mates.

No wonder why the voters did not punish Erdogan for being corrupt!

Is Kayseri worried about Erdogan’s corruption?

I came up with the idea of trying to find out where the sound recording between Tayyip Erdogan and his son Bilal were watched the most in Turkey. Where there any districts that stood out?

To learn more about this I use Google Trends. This is a tool that makes it possible to find out the relative amount of searches in Google in the different districts of Turkey. Since the search term “erdoğan ses kaydı” (erdogan sound recording) was the one most commonly used to find the clip, that was also what I used as an indicator. So, where did people search the most for this term?

Screen Shot 2014-03-04 at 17.47.59

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The map above is an illustration of the search incidents for the search term reported by Google Trends for the period February 5 – March 4. The same is shown in the first column of the table and in the second column the districts numerical order in population size is shown. This is to give some baseline in order to compare the search frequencies. A high number in the second column thus means that the population is relatively small, and therefore, since it is on the top ten list of searches, it means that the district sticks out with a high incidence of searches.

The most interesting deviations from what population size would predict is found in the districts of Kayseri and Samsun. These are both AKP strongholds. In the 2011 election, AKP got 65% of the votes in Kayseri and about 61% in Samsun. There is also something extra curious with the fact that the district of Kayseri is on this list, since this district is regarded as the one bringing Erdogan to power, because of the support from its many rich businessmen.

Does this mean that Erdogan should be worried? I think so.

Leaked sound recording might determine Erdogan’s future

The heat has turned up on Turkish Prime minister Tayyip Erdogan. With about one month left to local elections, five phone recordings were leaked on Youtube yesterday. In just a couple of hours, the video with the recordings had over one  million views. Why? It exposes that Tayyip Erdogan and his family are bathing in enormous amounts of unaccounted cash.

Most of the conversations on the leaked recordings allegedly took place between Tayyip Erdogan and his son Bilal Erdogan on the 17th of December, the same day as a graft probe was unexpectedly initiated against ministers and sons in Tayyip Erdogan’s own government.

Tayyip Erdogan, who is in Ankara, calls his son, who seems to be sleeping and unaware of the turmoil created by the corruption investigation. Its 08.00 in the morning:

R. TAYYİP ERDOĞAN: Are you at home?

N. BİLAL ERDOĞAN: I am, father.

RTE: This morning they did an operation, this Ali Agaoglu, Reza Zerrab, our Erdogans son [another Erdogan], Zafers son, Muammers son, their homes are being searched.

NBE: Tell me again, father.

RTE: I am saying Muammers son, Zafers son, Erdogans son, Ali Agaoglu, Reza Zerrab, 18 people right now, the are doing a big corruption operation and their homes are being searched.

NBE: Yes

RTE: Ok? Now I say, whatever you have at home, take it out! Ok?

NBE: What would I have, father, there is your money in the safe.

RTE: That’s what I am saying! I am sending your sister now. Ok?

NBE: Who are you sending?

RTE: I am saying that I am sending your sister!

NBE: Eh, ok!

RTE: Then the same way, she has that information, ok? Talk to your brother!

NBE: Yes!

RTE: Lets do that things, talk to your uncle too, he should also take it out the same way, talk to your brother in law, he should also…

NBE: What should we do to it, father, where should we put it?

RTE: To specific places, do it!

In the other, following recordings, Bilal Erdogan calls back to his father and report how the work is proceeding. After a day of collecting enormous amounts of cash, allegedly about USD 1 billion from 5 different houses and making it disappear by buying flats and paying in advance for projects to businessmen they work together with, he still haven’t been able to hide it all.

At 23.15 the same day this call takes place:

NBE: Hi daddy, I am calling to… we almost did it. Eh, did you call me father?

RTE: No I did not, you called me.

NBE: I was called from a secret number

RTE: By saying mostly, did you fully dissolve it?

NBE: We did not zeroized it yet father. Let me explain. We still have 30 million Euros that we could not yet dissolve. Berat thought of something. There was an additional 25 million dollars that Ahmet Calik should receive. They say let’s give this to him there. When the money comes, we do something, they say. And with the remaining money we can buy a flat from Sehrizar, he says. What do you say, father?

Tayyip Erdogan accepts his son’s ideas about how the last 30 million Euros should be hidden. The next day, on the 18th of December, Bilal Erdogan calls his father and says that all the money has been “zeroized”.

How the leaked recordings are going to influence the upcoming local elections March 30 is hard to say at this point. The opposition parties, naturally, immediately called for Erdogan to resign, while the prime minister himself claimed that the over 11 minutes long file of conversation was a montage, adding that he was going to sue the ones behind the “dirty plot” against him and his family.

However, its certain that the voter’s reactions to the recordings is going to be crucial for Turkeys near future. If these recordings can’t harm Erdogan considerably in the upcoming elections, I am afraid that nothing can.

Diyanet – a state within the state

Diyanet – a state within the state

Mehmet Görmez, the president of Diyanet, the ministry of religious affairs.

Erdogan has accused the Gülen movement of forming a state within the state. However, a majority of the Turkish people  believe that this is an exaggeration. About 60 percent of people asked in polls think that Erdogan instead is trying to cover up the corruption within his own government by blaming the Gülen movement.

But something that could be called a state within the state actually exists in Turkey, sponsored with the tax payers money. Its name is Diyanet, The Ministry of Religious Affairs. It serves directly under the prime ministers office.

Ataturk founded Diyanet in 1924 as a replacement for the caliphate, that was managing the religious affairs during the Ottoman era.  Diyanet’s role thus became to support the building and management of mosques and to teach citizens about religion in different ways.

Since AKP came to power in 2002, the size and influence of Diyanet has increased dramatically. Its personnel has doubled to almost 120 000 people, and more than 2000 people from the Diyanet has been positioned within other state ministries, without clear reasons. The ministry’s tone against other religions has also become more harsh; it publishes propaganda books against christianity as one example. 

But the most jaw-dropping thing with this ministry is its budget. During the AKP rule, it has skyrocketed to an astonishing TL 4.6 billion in 2013 and it is going to increase to TL 5.4 billion in 2014.

To get the impression of how much money Diyanet is given each year by the AKP, lets compare its budget to the budgets of other ministries in 2013.

A budget of TL 4.6 billion is:

1.6 times larger than the budget allocated to the Ministry of the Interior

1.8 times larger than the budget allocated to the Ministry of Health

1.9 times larger than the budget allocated to the Ministry of Industry, Science and Technology

2.4 times larger than the budget allocated to the Ministry of Environment and Urban Planning

2.9 times larger than the budget allocated to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs

3.4 times larger than the budget allocated to the Ministry of Economy

4.6 times larger than the budget allocated to MIT – Secret Services

How this enormous amount of money is spent is far from known. In 2009 it was reported that only  TL 3 million went to support the building of mosques. The rest seem to be put into religious education, religious services towards families and providing each mosque with an Imam. But its hard to find any reason how this can add up to TL 5.4 billion. If you don’t consider corruption, that is.

In short, Diyanet is a discriminative, religious institution, employing 120 000 people with a jaw-dropping budget that is not properly accounted for.

From my point of view it is the closest you can come a state within the state in Turkey.

Erdogan’s twist a’la turka

Erdogan's twist a'la turka

Fatih Mayor Mustafa Demir was among the AKP politicians arrested on the 17th of December 2013.

In this post I would like to make two things clear regarding what happened in Turkey the 17th of December 2013. My mayor points are marked in bold.

First, let me state that corruption is widespread among Turkish politicians.

All Turks know it. And especially they know that Erdogan’s government is corrupt. If someone would tell you otherwise, it is a Turkish way of saying: Ok, he is corrupt but I still support him, I accept that he takes bribes because all politicians do.

Thus, what surprised people on the 17th of December, was not that they found out about corruption within the government, but that prosecutors and the police did something about it.

Erdogan’s way of dealing with the graft probe has famously been to blame the Islamic scholar Fetullah Gülen for having ordered it against his government.

I will admit that Erdogan probably has a point about the loyal followers of Fetullah Gülen in the state system, that they might be somehow influenced by the Islamic scholar’s opinions. But Erdogan’s twist of this reality should be clearly understood:

Any crime that this “gang within the state” might have committed took place during the years before 2013, when they did not investigate the government’s corruption, despite clear evidence of it.

(e.g. read this article about how the corruption in the municipal district of Fatih in Istanbul was discovered.)

Thus, Erdogan has fired and replaced hundreds of police officers and prosecutors, not because they where doing anything wrong, but because they started to do things right!

It can only be described as a twist a’la turka!

Democracy is just a tool: Erdoğan in 1996

I stumbled across this video of a speech Erdogan held at the Muslim Arab Youth Association Conference in Tuledo, Ohio in 1996 when he was the mayor of Istanbul. Considering the last events in Turkey, his attempts to take full control over the Turkish judiciary system, this video makes you wonder if Erdoğan has ever been a true democrat?

At 2.08 minutes in the video, Erdogan says that those who will be a part of the building of the Islamic state will be richly revarded – is he talking about his own involvement in corruption?

At 4.15 minutes he starts explaining his view that democracy is just a tool to build that islamic state.

Don’t forget to put the subtitle-track on!

Three Ministers Allegedly Took 63.5 Million Dollars in Bribes

According to the newspaper Cumhuriyet, the three ministers that were recently fired because of corruption charges, have received a total of 63.5 million dollars in bribes. Former economy minister Zafer Çağlayan allegedly received a total of 52 million dollars at 28 occasions. Former interior minister Muammer Güler recieved 10 million dollars on 10 occassions and the EU minister Egemen Bağış 1.5 million dollars on three occasions. 

To put 63.5 million dollars in perspective, an average Turkish household has a disposable income of about 12 000 dollars. Consequently, the bribes correspond to the yearly income of 5292 families!

Three Ministers Took 63.5 Million Dollars in Bribes

Three Ministers Took 63.5 Million Dollars in Bribes

A Gezi protest within the AK Party?

It is easy to forget that the AK Party is a political unit that most likely would function without it’s leader Tayyip Erdogan. The way that Erdogan rules the party, reminds more of a military commander directing his troops on the battlefield than a democratically elected leader that listen, learn and argue. Those who question Erdogan are immediately expelled from the party. Given that, it is natural that Erdogan takes all criticism personal. Criticizing AK Party means criticizing him.

Lately, however, we have witnessed some interesting signs of resistance against Erdogan in a way that was unthinkable just one year ago. It started with the former famous football player and deputy Hakan Şükur, who resigned December 16, publicly slamming Erdogan for his plan to close down the prep schools, seen as an direct attack on the Islamic scholar Fetullah Gülen, who Hakan Şükur stands close. And after the graft probe was initiated one day later, additionally eight deputies resigned, as a protest against Erdogan’s way of interfering in the ongoing probe, trying to obstruct the justice. Even the finance minister, Mehmet Şimşek, criticized the sacking of police officers initially, but suddenly became very quite on the issue. Most likely, these objections are the tip of an iceberg, and if the political unrest continues, we might witness a Gezi protest within the AK Party. Such a protest would probably erupt equally unexpected as the Gezi protests that took place in Taksim in June 2013. That’s the way it works in Turkey. People are friendly and patient, but there is always a limit. I know that not least from personal experiences.

The critical point that has to be reached for this to happen is that members of the party start to see Erdogan as more of a liability than an asset. Because of the way Erdogan dominates the party, it is easy to forget that not all leading members are corrupt and democratically blinded by a will for power. The AK Party is not the problem. Erdogan is! His response to the graft probe clearly signals that he is more interested in saving his own family than developing Turkey into a true democracy. If he continues along that path without managing to stabilize the political situation, that critical point might be reached much sooner than anyone would guess.

So, what is Erdogan afraid of? Is it to lose the money he has stacked away? Most likely! But even if it weren’t for the corruption charges against his family, he would still be deadly afraid of losing his political immunity. Considering the amount of enemies he has created over the years, not the least within the military because of the Ergenekon trial, staying in power is the only way to survive in a country like Turkey. Thus, Erdogan stepping down voluntarily is not a likely scenario. Excluding the opportunity of an enormous failure for the AK Party in the upcoming elections of 2014, a Gezi protest within AKP is the most likely way forward for democracy in Turkey!

A Gezi protest within the Ak Party

A Gezi protest within the Ak Party