Reflecting on Ergenekon lead prosecutor Zekeriya Oz's removal from the Ergenekon investigation, Turkish expert Gareth Jenkins points to a rift in the AKP. From Jenkins:
On the afternoon of March 30, 2011, Zekeriya Öz, the chief prosecutor in the controversial Ergenekon investigation, was abruptly removed from the case by the Turkish Justice Ministry. The decision came after a month in which allegations of links to Ergenekon had once again been used to try to silence critics of the exiled Islamic preacher Fethullah Gülen. On the morning of March 30, 2011, police acting on Öz’s orders had raided the homes and offices of seven theologians opposed to Gülen. On March 3, Öz had triggered domestic and international outrage by ordering the arrest of eleven journalists and academics who had been critical of Gülen and subsequently attempting to erase all copies of an unpublished book about him.Jenkins notes that just how the Gulen movement will react is yet to be determined. It is conjectured that Erdogan pushed for Gul's presidency in 2007 in an effort to push him out of the party's decision making. Though Gul is often seen by foreigners as more pro-Western, even more democratic than Erdogan, it is not difficult to find Turks opposed to the AKP who view Gul as the larger threat since he is thought to be allied with Gulen, who many view as the ultimate bogey man. On rifts within the AKP, the party's falling away from Erbakan's National Outlook Movement, as well as the rift between Gulen and Erbakan, become relevant here. It is a long history, but in short, the AKP represents a broad coalition, and the Islamists/former Islamists in the party are a diverse grouping.
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There have long been allegations that not only the media coverage but also the Ergenekon investigation itself is being run by Gülen’s supporters. In August 2010, Hanefi Avcı, a right-wing police chief who had once been sympathetic to the Gülen Movement, published a book in which he alleged that a network of Gülen’s supporters in the police were manipulating judicial processes and fixing internal appointments and promotions. On September 28, 2010, two days before he was due to give a press conference to present documentary evidence to support his allegations, Avcı was arrested and charged with membership of an extremist leftist organization. He remains in jail. On March 14, 2011, Avcı was also formally charged with being a member of the alleged Ergenekon gang.
On February 14, 2011, four employees at an anti-AKP internet television channel called OdaTV were arrested as they prepared to broadcast footage showing police officers involved in the Ergenekon investigation apparently planting evidence at premises associated with one of the accused. All of the arrested staff from OdaTV have now been charged with membership of Ergenekon.
On March 3, 2011, eleven suspects, nine of them journalists, were detained in police raids ordered by Zekeriya Öz. The journalists included Nedim Şener, a reporter for the daily Milliyet who had won international press awards for his work on the alleged involvement of the security forces in political assassinations, and Ahmet Şık, a reporter for the daily Radikal. Şık had recently completed the first draft of a still unpublished book on the activities of Gülen’s supporters in the police force entitled İmamın Ordusu (“The Imam’s Army”).
Şener, Şık and the others arrested on March 3, 2011, are now in jail facing charges of belonging to Ergenekon. On March 25, 2011, the police raided the offices of Radikal and Şık’s prospective publisher. They deleted every digital copy they could find of Şık’s manuscript and displayed a court order warning that anyone found in possession of a copy would face prosecution as a member of Ergenekon.
Prosecutors refused to allow Şık’s lawyers to see a copy of the manuscript they had taken from his computer on the grounds that it had been produced by a “terrorist organization”. But this did not prevent them from leaking a 49-page police report on the book, including copious quotations, to pro-AKP newspapers, including Zaman, which duly published details on March 27, 2011.
However, Şık or someone close to him had already taken precautions. On March 31, 2011, a copy of Şık’s manuscript appeared anonymously on the internet. It immediately went viral, recording over 100,000 downloads in the first 48 hours.
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In this context, the removal of Zekeriya Öz from the Ergenekon case represents the most serious setback for the Gülen Movement since the AKP came to power. Publicly, the AKP insists that the judiciary is independent and that the decision to dismiss Öz was taken by the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK), which oversees all judicial appointments. Privately, officials report that the decision was taken by the government.
Although the Gülen Movement has always been broadly supportive of the AKP, its relationship with Erdoğan has often been problematic. This is partly because Gülen is a follower of the idiosyncratic Kurdish Islamist Said Nursi (1876-1960), while Erdoğan is a member of the much older, and highly institutionalized, Naqshbandi Sufi order; and partly a simple question of power. Erdoğan is aware that the support of the Gülen Movement provides considerable political benefits, both domestically and internationally. Its vast network of NGOs, businesses, schools and media outlets have made the Gülen Movement arguably the most powerful non-state actor in Turkey. Internationally, its schools and NGOs have laid the foundations for Turkey’s recent attempts to expand its influence in the Balkans and Africa. The movement has also been very active in the U.S., running more than 120 charter schools in 25 states, establishing NGOs in Washington, D.C., organizing conferences and providing funding to U.S. think tanks.
Erdoğan has always been wary of a power he cannot control. He has publicly supported the Ergenekon investigation, which has intimidated and weakened his political opponents. But he has not been driving the case; often only learning of arrests after the suspects have already been taken into custody. However, in recent months, what was once a political benefit has become an embarassment; particularly as the increasingly blatant persecution of critics of the Gülen Movement has coincided with mounting international criticism of Erdoğan’s growing authoritarianism. More urgently for Erdoğan, the most recent arrests came as the AKP was preparing its campaign for the June 12, 2011 general election, in which the party will attempt to emphasize its commitment to democracy and freedom of expression.
rdoğan has invested too much political capital in the Ergenekon investigation to allow it to collapse before the June 12, 2011 election. However, after the removal of Öz, prosecutors are likely to be under pressure from the AKP to avoid any more high profile arrests in the run-up to the polls.
Öz’s dismissal may also mark the beginning of a trial of strength within the AKP as Erdoğan begins to finalize the list of the party’s candidates for the June election. Erdoğan has already announced that he will attempt to introduce a new constitution after the election, replace the current parliamentary system with a presidential one and have himself elected president in place of the incumbent Abdullah Gül. Gül, who has the support of the Gülen Movement, has publicly opposed the change. As a result, Erdoğan is aware that, in order to push the new constitution through parliament, he needs a clear majority not only in the assembly but also within the AKP parliamentary party; which means reducing the number of AKP deputies who are sympathetic to Gül and/or the Gülen Movement.
For more on Sik an Sener's arrests, both of whom are still in prison, click here.