Sunday, February 12, 2012


PHOTO from Cumhuriyet

Sadrettin Sarikaya, the specially-authorized prosecutor at the center of the recent probe into MIT, has been removed from the MIT case after he boldly proceeded to issue arrest warrants on Friday for four top intelligence officials.

Chief Prosecutor Turan Colakkadi said Sarikaya had withheld information from from his superiors and violated the secrecy of the investigation he was conducting. The allegations stem from a leak to the media last week that Colakkadi was planning to interrogate MIT head Hakan Fidan, his predecessor, Emre Taner, and two other top officials regarding alleged participation of the intelligence organization in PKK terrorism (see posts from earlier this week).

Meanwhile, speculation continues to boil as to what forces are behind the apparent conflict within the state. According to Cumhuriyet, the current conflict is between Erdogan and forces loyal to Fethullah Gulen and the large Islamic community. Though the two groups have experienced serious tension in the past year, this is the first time in which the two groups appear to be openly challenging each other.

Based in Pennsylvania, Gulen leads "the Cemaat," which exists of perhaps up to 6 million supporters and even more sympathizers. The Gulen movement, or Hizmet movement as its followers refer to it, is critical to the electoral support the AKP has enjoyed over the years, though the organization avows to eschew political affairs. Yet an easy review of its website speaks to the contrary.

Two recent developments might explain this recent bout of in-fighting:

First, Prime Minister Erdogan, who in many ways shares a view quite different from Gulen, has recently cleared his way to accede as president in 2014 (see past posts). With Erdogan as president and many top AKP lawmakers unable to serve again in parliament due to the AKP's three term limit, there will be a major shuffle within the party in which the Gulen movement -- as a major component of the AKP coalition -- will play a part. Between 2014 and 2015, Turkey will experience presidential, parliamentary, and municipal elections, and so opportunity for major transformation within the party, the dominant force in Turkey, will have profound implications for the future. Asserting its power now could well be a way of firing the first shot, perhaps a warning signal to the prime minister and other elements in the party of the movement's prowess.

Second, the prime minister may well be preparing to re-open negotiations with the PKK, a move that is opposed by the Gulen movement. Gulen and his followers take a harder-line stance on making peace with the PKK, adopting the view that Turks and Kurds might come together based on a Sunni Islamic supra-identity. My interviews in Turkey's largely Kurdish southeast attest to Kurdish nationalists, including those who are PKK-affiliated, being more afraid of the Gulenists than traditional Turkish nationalists.

For years, the Gulen movement has accused the PKK and the Turkish state of working in cahoots with one another (see the litany of Zaman articles from the past five years), and the Ergenekon investigations, led by Gulen-friendly prosecutors, have routinely featured accusations that the Turkish deep state and the PKK worked frequently in tandem with each other. These accusations, in addition to the largely successful co-optation of many disempowered Kurds thanks to Gulen/AKP-led charities and social services, have put serious pressure on Kurdish nationalists while earning their furor.

Yet in 2009-2010, the prime minister seemed to take a different tack. Instead of aiming to defeat Kurdish nationalism through Islamist bananas alone, Erdogan began to rely increasingly on the MIT and direct negotiations with the PKK. As Avni Ozgurel discusses in an interview with Nese Duzel in Taraf, the MIT underwent a major transformation under the leadership of its former director Emre Taner. Under his leadership, a groundbreaking analysis was issued that articulated the Kurdish issue as the major obstacle to Turkish democratization and the latter as the means to solve the former. In this context, MIT officials began to call for political solutions for the conflict, including a re-working of Kurdish citizenship (see former deputy director Cevat Ones's statements as early as 2007), Kurdish language and other minority rights, and in some instances, even an amnesty for the PKK and direct negotiations.

The former director is now subject to an arrest warrant issued by Sarikaya, and Hakan Fidan, now at the center of the current imboglio, was his deputy director. Fidan, close to Erdogan, no doubt brought the prime minister closer to the MIT paradigm, and the AKP government's strategy began to shift. In 2009, when the government released its so-called "democratic opening," many of the steps taken were in line with what was MIT policy at the time. Yet the opening went awry soon after it started when the likely MIT-negotiated return of PKK rebels at the Habur border gate between Turkey and Iraq resulted in what appeared to be PKK victory celebrations. The spectacle largely angered the public, cost the AKP and its proposed initiative a great deal of political capital, and left Erdogan feeling seriously betrayed.

Though talks with the PKK continued and despite an upsurge in terrorist violence throughout the next year (the worst since PKK founder Abdullah Ocalan's capture), Erdogan halted negotiations soon after last June's elections and talks have not picked up since. Yet news did break of prior negotiations when audio recordings of negotiations between MIT agents and PKK representatives in Oslo were leaked to the press last September. Erdogan, who had previously denied that negotiations were taking place, came forward and defended the MIT, including Fidan, whose voice was presumed to be a leading one in the tapes. At the time, Erdogan made a distinction between "the state" and "the government," arguing the former was able to negotiate with whomever it pleased if the ultimate aim was peace.

It must be said that the democratic opening was also supported at the beginning by forces friendly to Gulen, and the Police Academy, which is chalk full of Gulenists, played a leading role at the beginning of the public initiative. All the same, at some point, and likely after Habur, attitudes changed and a conflict that is not at all public could well have emerged between those supporting the negotiations and those who did not. The source of the leaked audio tapes, which might also be interpreted as targeting the prime minister, is still not known.

According to Ozgurel, there is yet another dimension to the possible Gulen-Erdogan conflict -- the tension between the MIT, which has remained largely free from Gulen influence, and the police, over which Gulen is widely seen to assert a considerable degree of influence. The police have felt largely left out of the government's dealing with the PKK whereby the MIT has taken the lead. In this way, the conflict might be seen as one between institutions, though both institutions can also be interpreted as proxies for different groups/paradigms competing for power.

UPDATE I (2/14) --  Thickening the plot a bit, PKK political spokesman Zubeyir Aydar has said that police officials are responsible for the leaks of the audio tapes. The PKK might also have had reasons to leak the tapes and embarrass the prime minister, but the accusation certainly makes the recent row a bit more interesting.

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