[OPINION] Erdoğan, a modern-day Don Quixote, fights millions of monsters in Turkey

Abdullah Bozkurt


Just like in the novel by Spanish writer Miguel de Cervantes, who created a fictional character named Don Quixote who jousts with windmills as if they were monstrous giants, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been battling against his own boogeymen for some years now.

Living in constant fear that somebody might topple him despite the fact that he has consolidated so much power that the regime in Turkey effectively qualifies as a dictatorship, the Turkish president believes he is locked in a never-ending struggle for survival. Towards that end he can’t let go of his government’s relentless persecution of critics from all walks of life and is in desperate need of fighting against windmills. He lives in a strange universe constructed in his mind and often seems to be unmoved by the realities dictated by the turn of events around him.

The numbers of the pervasive crackdown on Turkish society tell the tale of the scope and extent of this fictional monster saga that has taken the entire structure of the government hostage due to the whims of one man while deeply rattling the 81-million-strong nation. If one doesn’t see these figures in official counts, it would be easy to discard them as the fictional products of imaginations that belong to the dark ages. But they are the bitter facts of today’s Turkey, and I don’t think the world has a real grasp of what is going on there. Members of the Gülen movement are the windmills to Turkey’s Don Quixote leader Erdoğan, who does not even have a pal like Sancho who tries to dissuade him from charging and explains the reality. All men (and a few women) around him are yes people and simply utter what he wants to hear.

Members of the Gülen movement, inspired by US-based Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen, who has been a vocal critic of the Erdoğan regime’s actions, from corruption to the government’s aiding and abetting of armed jihadist groups, have borne the brunt of this crackdown. Perhaps they are the modern day’s Jews of Nazi Germany and black Africans of the apartheid regime in South Africa. They have been stigmatized, marginalized, demonized, vilified and thrown into jail, where they face torture and ill treatment. Whatever goes wrong in governance under the Erdoğan regime, be it economic difficulties or foreign policy blunders, Gülen members are the usual scapegoats.

They were cast out, purged from the government and declared infidels whose assets and even wives and daughters were at times considered to be war spoils at the mercy of rulers with a jihadist mindset. Every day Erdoğan inches towards a full-scale genocide, with most precursors to that terrible path already put into motion, setting the stage for a bloody specter that we erroneously thought belonged to the past and the history books. A frightened Turkish society is mum on these massive human rights violations; opposition political parties have been cowed into silence; the free and critical media has been decimated; and the independent judiciary has been destroyed.

Here are the official numbers to put a face on this unrelenting witch-hunt against members of the Gülen movement in Turkey. According to the 2017 Performance Report issued in February 2018 by the General Directorate of Foundations (Vakıflar Genel Müdürlüğü, or VGM), nearly 8 million people were investigated by judicial and administrative bodies that asked the VGM to check its database to see if these people served in any capacity in 145 shuttered foundations that were established by people affiliated with the movement. In other words, one in every seven people in Turkish society was investigated, when you discount the under-17 population of 23 million. It shows 8 million men and women were profiled by the government as participants of the Gülen movement, or terrorists, as the government calls them.

Nobody in their right mind could believe that 8 million people in Turkey became terrorists overnight unless they live in Erdoğan’s Don Quixotic fictional reality. That’s why the rest of the world does not believe Erdoğan’s claims and dismisses the false narrative. The Turkish government wants us to believe that 239 journalists who were thrown in jail and 148 journalists who were forced to flee the country are all terrorists. It also claims one-third of all diplomats (over 500) including senior ambassadors who served presidents and prime ministers with distinction are terrorists. Not only did these diplomats become terrorists overnight, but 30 percent of all judges and prosecutors (over 4,000) are also terrorists, and they have been purged and/or jailed.

As for the military, half of the generals (some 150) are coup plotters and terrorists, when in fact only 1 percent of the army was involved in a false flag mobilization during a failed coup on July 15, 2016, and most of them were cadets with no guns. There is simply no chance of the government suppressing the attempt if this had been a real coup bid. Even if one-tenth of the jailed generals had been involved in the mobilization, the coup would have succeeded given the might of the troops under their command. Most had nothing to do with it and played no role whatsoever, yet they were summarily arrested because they were profiled by the government a long time ago and their exit was needed for Erdoğan to create an army in his own image, i.e., a military hostile to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) alliance.

Another jaw-dropping official figure on the persecution of the Gülen movement comes from Turkey’s Savings Deposit Insurance Fund (TMSF), an instrument in the arsenal of the Erdoğan government for unlawfully seizing companies on charges of terrorism. The government started flexing its TMSF muscles against Gülen when it seized Bank Asya, the largest Islamic bank in Turkey, seen as affiliated with the movement, in February 2015. The bank was one of the country’s best performing banks with strong liquidity and sizable assets. The government shut the bank down a year later. However, owning an account at the bank, which used to be perfectly in compliance with all regulations and laws when it was operating under the authority of regulators, was later considered evidence of terrorism.

As a result, the bank’s 1.5 million customers were flagged by the government as potential terrorists, defying the principles of legality and non-retroactivity, which are fundamental to the rule of law. According to the TMSF’s 2017 Performance Report published in March 2018, the government investigated 1,859,211 state employees to determine whether they had accounts at Bank Asya. Shockingly, the figure also included the employees’ spouses and children. The government investigated and unlawfully profiled children and spouses on account of their parents, husbands and wives who worked for the state. This resembles Nazi Germany’s abhorrent practice of collective punishment (Sippenhaft or Sippenhaftung in German) for the entire family because of one member. The TMSF also received queries from courts and prosecutor’s offices that asked for information about 260,395 people with respect to Bank Asya. In total, 2,111,606 people were investigated in 2017 with the caveat that there might be some overlap of the figures that were provided to the executive and judicial branches of the government.

The number of people who were investigated for Bank Asya connections between August 2016 and March 2017 was announced as 2,606,597 by the TMSF in its report published in March 2017. Combining figures from both 2016 and 2017, the government investigated 4,718,203 people with the caveat of some overlap between the two years’ reported figures. Even with the more conservative figures, the numbers are astonishing, and it is quite difficult to fathom what the Turkish government was trying to achieve with such a huge number of people profiled as terrorists.

Since the government cannot simply handle the processing of millions of people on dubious terrorism charges in one shot, unless they adopt Nazi Germany’s tactics of setting up concentration camps, the detention and arrest of Gülen members are being done in stages due to overcrowded prisons that cannot accommodate such a large influx. On average, some 500 real or imagined members of the Gülen movement are detained every week according to numbers reported by Turkey’s Interior Ministry that give the tally for the past week to show their performance. The number of people who have been investigated for alleged ties to the Gülen movement reached 402,000 in March 2018 according to a report by the state-run Anadolu news agency dated March 15. Legal proceedings (meaning criminal prosecutions and detentions) have been carried out against 445,000 members of this organization, Turkish Justice Ministry Deputy Undersecretary Ömer Faruk Aydıner said on July 19, 2018.

These numbers mean that the crackdown we see in Turkey only represents the tip of the iceberg and that the worst is yet to come. It shows that only 5.6 percent of people profiled by the government according to VGM figures have faced the legal wrath of the Erdoğan government. If we take the account from the TMSF as a base, this amounts to 9.4 percent. In the former projection, it would take 18 more years for the government to clear the backlog of profiled suspects and 10 years for the latter estimate provided that no more profiling is conducted by the government. These are not exact statistics, but they give a rough estimate of what is going on in Turkey based on reported figures from the government.

No country can survive such a tumultuous period, and Erdoğan cannot simply win the war against his own citizens in Turkey but can very well destroy the country in the meantime. This would have far-reaching ramifications beyond Turkey as has already been seen in diaspora groups all over the world. Perhaps it is a cliché to say this, but I mean every word of it: The worst is yet to come for Turkey. Those who expect Turkey will return to normalcy once Erdoğan deals with the Gülen movement are dead wrong. We have not even talked about projections with regard to the Kurdish political movement, which has already suffered a great deal under a similar crackdown, as well as liberals, leftists and other critical groups.


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