Turkey: Erdogan’s AKP in deep trouble

The Turkish PM is exposed over Syria, embroiled in a corruption scandal, and now faces challenges from communist and progressive forces in the upcoming elections.

Proletarian writers

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Proletarian writers

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The last year has been a decidedly turbulent one for Turkey. The country has witnessed mass demonstrations by workers and progressives against war, and an uprising last summer that shook the political status quo to its foundations. Now that imperialism’s plans for the speedy occupation of Syria lie in tatters, it seems as though the would-be thieves’ accomplices in Turkey are falling out amongst themselves.

December and January saw a spectacular series of accusations and arrests centred around the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) amid numerous charges of corruption and scandal.

Increased political infighting amongst Turkey’s political ruling classes, and a crisis of supreme proportions for the government are no longer brewing but rather are in full motion. Prime Minister Erdogan’s AKP and its highest echelons have come under fire from a wide-ranging corruption investigation and Erdogan himself has hit back by arresting the investigating officers, dismissing ministers and throwing out claims that he is the victim of forces that seek to undermine Turkey.

The AKP government, and its plans for a ‘new Ottoman empire’ were built upon a coalition with powerful business forces and a particular section of Turkey’s rising bourgeoisie who did not share the outlook of the then rather dated and weary Kemalist Republican People’s Party (CHP).

Since every class needs an ideology with which to justify its actions, this aspirational, resourceful section of Turkish bourgeois society subscribes to a particular selection of conservative cultural attitudes that are shaped by a supposedly moderate islamic right whose leadership is firmly in the pay of US imperialism.

A myriad of islamic charitable and religious organisations – with connections to some of the most reprehensible and murderous servants of US imperialism in the region – have been significant backers of the AKP and Erdogan, both before and since their rise to power. This group has worked to position Turkey at the heart of the operations to topple both the Libyan and Syrian anti-imperialist governments, and it continues to obstinately push for a return to power of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.

All this whilst a myriad of organisations, trusts, cartels and individuals – closely linked to Erdogan – have lined their pockets in the years since his election in 2003, during which time Turkish GDP has nearly quadrupled.

Accusations of corruption

The latest accusations of corruption stem from a police investigation into the financial dealings of Erdogan and many of those closest to him, and reportedly focus on bribery, corruption and gold smuggling.

Of the high-profile resignations and arrests, two – the economic minister Zafer Caglayan and interior minister Muammer Guler – have sons who are also in jail awaiting trial on corruption charges. Incredibly, Mr Guler, as the interior minister (and therefore also head of the police), was ultimately responsible for investigating his own son! Guler Jr was discovered to have a number of strong boxes in his home, along with a telling machine similar to those found in banks – apparently to enable him to count the vast quantities of cash he has been accused of appropriating.

The Financial Times of 26 December wrote that the Turkish prime minister has finally lost his “aura of invincibility”:

The prime minister’s troubles started just over a week ago when prosecutors launched a raid on the homes of prominent civil servants and businessmen. Among those taken in for questioning were the sons of three prominent cabinet ministers – two of whom are still in detention. The most startling arrest was the head of the state-controlled Halkbank, who was allegedly discovered with $4.5m in cash tucked away in shoeboxes in his library.

The revelations were a shock for a government accustomed to getting its way. Since Mr Erdogan came to power in 2003, he has succeeded at taming the country’s powerful military while sidelining dissenting newspaper columnists …

After appearing caught off-guard, Mr Erdogan has since gone on the offensive. He dismissed the investigation as a political vendetta against him. Meanwhile, police were taken off the case, new prosecutors were appointed and the ministers who were in the direct line of fire were asked to step down. Like trees in the forest, these dismissals were concealed in an overall cabinet shake-up in which ten new ministers were installed.

In the past, Mr Erdogan has been able to rally his political base as a champion of public morality, talking up his opposition to abortions and caesarean sections and even opposing male and female university students sharing the same flat.

But it is not clear that this lockdown strategy will have the intended effect. One public prosecutor, Muammer Akkas, was in open rebellion on Thursday, issuing a press statement accusing his superiors of a dereliction of office by refusing to carry out a new wave of search and seizures.

‘All my colleagues and the public should be aware that I, as a public prosecutor, have been prevented from carrying out an investigation,’” Mr Akkas said.

In a later report, the FT noted:

The resignation of [a] third cabinet member, urbanisation and environment minister Erdogan Bayraktar … may prove most damaging. Mr Bayraktar, a political ally of the prime minister since Mr Erdogan became mayor of Istanbul in 1994, made clear he would not go quietly.

He said he was under pressure to resign and, furthermore, to issue a statement that would not put pressure on the prime minister. He added that everything he had done had been with Mr Erdogan’s knowledge.

‘I declare my resignation from parliament, and as a minister,’ Mr Bayraktar said. ‘However, I also believe that to make the people more comfortable, the prime minister should also resign.’

Mr Bayraktar’s comments must have caused Erdogan some considerable pain, “With friends like these …”!

War in Syria

Readers may well ask themselves how on earth the situation has spiralled so far out of control for Erdogan. But while it is true that an alliance between the AKP and various right-wing organisations has remained seemingly strong since 2003, with the abject failure of the plans for Turkish involvement in the occupation and looting of Syria, is it to be wondered that the various members of this unholy alliance of reactionaries are now going for each other’s throats?

The AKP received support and funding precisely because it was able to package itself as a force that was capable of delivering Turkey on a plate for finance capital. And, true to its word, since coming to power the AKP has eroded workers’ rights, sold off publicly-owned utilities, companies and services, and been at the centre of a number of attempts to topple legitimate governments, including that of Muammar Gaddafi.

All this has been justified under the cover of a supposed ‘moderate Islam’, based on conservative attitudes that are used as a cover for imperialism’s dirty role in the party’s shenanigans.

Whilst attacking workers at home, the AKP has been attempting to position Turkey in a pivotal regional position, so as to serve imperialism better by being able to decisively influence affairs of international significance – not least in Iran, Libya, Egypt and Syria, as well as even further afield.

But all this has been brought to naught as a result of two converging forces: first, the heroic Syrian people’s resistance to imperialist interference in their own country; and second, the courageous resistance of the Turkish masses to such brazen and reckless warmongering and craven and corrupt manoeuvring on the part of Erdogan and his backers.

Much credit must be given to the role played by the progressive and revolutionary workers’ organisations in Turkey, who have not gone the way of their less-worthy European counterparts in capitulation to revisionism and class collaboration (of which more anon).


One organisation in particular appears intrinsically linked to the AKP and its plans for the ‘new Ottoman empire’; all the recent articles and press stories on Turkey document the power struggle that is presently raging between the AKP and a group known as Cemaat.

Cemaat (a colloquial name meaning ‘the community’) is led by Turkish islamic scholar Fetullah Gulen. The organisation – if it can called an organisation, for its structure is very loose and indistinct – possesses a considerable portfolio of outlets around the world: schools, businesses, charities and real estate, including here in Britain, where it operates a number of ‘faith schools’.

In Turkey, alongside all its other holdings, Cemaat reportedly controls Zaman, one of the big national daily newspapers. Cemaat’s leader, spiritualist and overall mover-and-shaker is Fetullah Gulen, who lives in self-imposed exile in the United States.

An article in the New York Times neatly summarised what are now being portrayed as ‘differences of principle’ between Fetullah Gulen and Cemaat on the one hand, and Erdogan’s faction within the AKP on the other:

Following much the same strategy he employed as he battled thousands of mostly liberal and secular-minded anti-government protesters this summer over a development project in a beloved Istanbul park [It is worth noting that one very significant part in the current crisis is the corruption scandal that links Erdogan and his close allies with powerful construction bosses in Istanbul – Ed], Mr Erdogan is portraying himself as fighting a ‘criminal gang’ with links abroad.[i/]

That is an apparent reference to Fethullah Gulen, the Pennsylvania imam who adheres to a mystical brand of sufi Islam and whose followers are said to occupy important positions in Turkey’s national government, including the police and judiciary but also in education, the news media and business.

Mr Erdogan and Mr Gulen have disagreed on a number of important issues in recent years, although the tensions were kept largely silent.

Mr Gulen was said to have opposed the government’s activist foreign policy in the Middle East, especially its support of the rebels in Syria. He is also said to be more sympathetic to Israel, and tensions flared after the Mavi Marmara episode in 2010. That was when [a href=”http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/01/world/middleeast/01flotilla.html” target=”_blank” title=”Times article”>Israeli troops boarded a Turkish ship[/a] carrying aid for Gaza and killed eight Turks and one American of Turkish descent, leading eventually to a rupture in relations — since patched up — between Turkey and its onetime ally.

Mr Gulen’s followers ‘never approved the role the government tried to attain in the Middle East, or approved of its policy in Syria, which made everything worse, or its attitude in the Mavi Marmara crisis with Israel,’ said Ali Bulac, a conservative intellectual and writer who supports Mr Gulen.

The escalating political crisis, experts say, underscores the power Mr Gulen has accumulated within the Turkish state. That power threatens to divide Mr Erdogan’s core constituency of religious conservatives ahead of a series of elections over the next 18 months.

Erdogan has now accused Cemaat of seeking to create a “state within a state”, whilst Gulen has declared in a video recording: “Those who don’t see the thief but go after those trying to catch the thief; who don’t see the murder but try to defame others by accusing innocent people – let God bring fire to their houses, ruin their homes, break their unities.”

Quite clearly, the powers that be are reconsidering who is best able to take forward imperialism’s programme in the region. Such suspicions were all but spelled out in a report by Daniel Domby and Piotr Zalewski in the Financial Times shortly before Christmas:

In comments that appeared aimed at Francis Ricciardone, the US ambassador to Turkey, Mr Erdogan warned foreign envoys against meddling, adding: ‘We do not have to keep you in our country.’

In response to a campaign in the pro-government press linking Mr Ricciardone to the investigation, the US embassy has strongly denied any connection, adding: ‘No one should put Turkey-US relations in danger with unfounded claims.’

The embassy has specifically denied pro-government media reports that Mr Ricciardone discussed Halkbank’s links with Iran at a supposed meeting last week with EU ambassadors – a meeting that both US and European officials say never took place.

An article in the July 2013 edition of Lalkar, which specifically dealt with the question of the Syrian situation and the Gezi Park uprising, gave an appraisal that gathers more weight with each passing month:

Animosity towards Erdogan’s Syrian policy threatens to bring together many of the forces which had previously been divided and picked off one by one.

Where is Turkey’s national dignity if she is to be reduced to no more than a crude tool of imperialist policy in the Middle East? Where is Turkey’s secular tradition if her foreign policy is to be tailored to the needs of islamist rebels dedicated to the jihadist overthrow of Syria’s own secular state?

The urgent arrival of such burning questions has confronted the government with the horrendous possibility of seeing all its enemies – Kemalist, socialist and democratic – out on the street in a common front of resistance, unravelling all Erdogan’s worst efforts to keep his critics divided amongst themselves.

It may have seemed to Erdogan a couple of years ago that he could pull off a cheap foreign-policy coup by offering Turkey’s services to the counter-revolution in Syria, backing what his imperialist masters confidently assured him would prove to be the winning side and paving the way for a much-touted ‘post-Assad future’, in which Ankara (and in particular the islamist AKP) would have a greatly inflated role in the Middle East.

Two years on, with the rebels and their backers retreating and splitting whilst the Syrian army advances in firm defence of the country’s sovereignty, he might be forgiven for entertaining doubts.

It is Ankara that has conspired to destabilise Turkey’s progressive and anti-imperialist neighbour. In so doing, however, it has destabilised Turkey itself, threatening to bring the whole house down around Erdogan’s ears.”(‘Turkey: war and economic crisis destabilise Erdogan’)

Communists and progressives prepare for the polls

Fortunately for the Turkish working class, a militant and well-organised proletarian movement exists in the country, and has done a very real and tangible job of defending the Turkish workers and their class interests since Erdogan came to power in 2003 – and over the past year in particular.

Large, militant demonstrations against the positioning of patriot missiles and against war with Syria were held last year, and the wholesale rejection of the AKP was very clear in the spontaneous uprisings that resulted from the Gezi Park protests.

Rather than decrying these protests and the violence that ensued, the Communist Party of Turkey (TKP) and its members threw themselves into the fight alongside other revolutionary, patriotic and progressive forces, and against the reactionary AKP government.

This year and next will see a number of important elections in Turkey, and progressive forces will be going to the polls in an attempt to bring down the current corrupt regime of Recep Tayyip Erdogan and expose the entire sham of the Turkish bourgeois dictatorship.

In the little town of Defne, which is near to Reyhanli and close to the Syrian border (Reyhanli was the town which was the victim of a bomb attack in 2013, and which Erdogan tried to blame on President Assad), Sevra Baklaci, a journalist originally from Hatay but reporting from Damascus for the newspaper Sol (Left), will stand as a candidate firmly opposed to Erdogan’s warmongering in Syria, with the support of the TKP and local peace activists and progressive forces.

A statement issued by the TKP in January makes the following observations on the Cemaat–AKP rift, and puts forward a programme of action based on a clear appraisal of the current crisis:

It has become clear that Turkey cannot be contained within the AKP regime. The AKP regime’s anti-people, religionist, pro-capital and collaborationist character has been rejected by all the dynamic sections of Turkish society.

The rejection of the AKP regime by our people, the failure of AKP’s Syria policies, which relied on the overthrowing of the Baath government by foreign intervention, have pushed the imperialist powers and the bourgeoisie of Turkey into a pursuit for an alternative to Erdogan, whom they had supported from early on.

The fight between Gulen’s movement and Erdogan is the result of that pursuit, and it is part of a much wider political crisis.

Led by the US, the imperialist countries and the capitalist class, while looking for an alternative to Erdogan, are also trying to find a formula that will guarantee the continuation of the main characteristics of the AKP regime, which have been beneficial for their interests.

The political future of Turkey will be determined by that quest of the international and local monopolies and the struggle between the main actors of the AKP regime on the one hand, and the position to be taken and the subsequent struggle to be waged by the popular and political forces against the AKP regime on the other.

Instead of trying to guess what will be the result of this complicated and chaotic process, we need to take steps to put more weight – in the name of Turkey’s working class and by fostering the power of the organised people further – to shift that power onto the political scene.

The idea that the liquidation of the AKP at the hands of the Gulen movement or an AKP without Erdogan will solve the problems of Turkey should be fought against in order to stop its spread among the people.

The future of Turkey can’t be left to the result of the competition between two reactionary religionist camps.

Any strategy that relies on the thesis that Erdogan or the Gulen movement can be preferred over the other should be rejected …

The collaboration of the AKP regime with imperialism, its religious reaction and market fascism is a totality which cannot be handled or struggled against piece by piece.

This clear and concise statement by the TKP goes on to list a number of demands to which the popular, progressive forces of Turkey should be won. The demands include the dismissal of the government and all the prosecutors and judges who have over the last few years prepared indictments for political trials, as well as the release of all those incarcerated as a result of such political trials.

The statement makes clear throughout that the Turkish masses have absolutely nothing to gain from imperialism’s criminal adventure in Syria, and that their problems at home can only be dealt with in a resolute fight against the forces of monopoly capitalism.