Since last year, things have been tough for the Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Recep Erdogan. After brutally suppressing a nationwide protest against what many in Turkey saw as his autocratic rule, Erdogan might have thought his troubles were over.
Not so. They had just begun.
On December 17, in coordinated operations Turkish police raided the homes and offices of the sons of several cabinet ministers. It was the final phase of a corruption probe that Erdogan nor anybody at the top had the slightest inkling about. Despite Erdogan’s AK party having near total control over what is printed or reported, the reports of the corruption scandal sent shock waves throughout the country. The news was especially shattering to a party that had once prided itself on having clean hands.
Reports disclosed that the police found shoe boxes with millions of dollars and Euros, allegedly coming from bribes paid by corporations. In addition to that, there were claims of illegal gold smuggling to Iran, despite an international embargo. The police investigation, which had been ongoing for over a year and kept top secret even from the highest levels of administration, threw the government, the whole nation into a frenzy. Seven cabinet members resigned and are now under indictment for various corruption charges.
One of the departing cabinet members called upon the Prime Minister to resign as well. Speculation at that time was rife that the scandal would eventually implicate the Prime Minister and his family. With three elections scheduled this year, the timing could not have been worse.
The solution? Erdogan simply claimed that his administration was the victim of a plot by an unnamed outside super-secret organization that had infiltrated the police and the entire judicial system.
There may be some truth in that allegation. But not a lot.
Erdogan’s party, AKP, has had strong ties with a Islamic scholar who lives in the US named Fethullah Gülen. That relationship is reportedly turned as sour as lemon curd. Nevertheless, as Erdogan’s critics point out whoever might or might not have been behind the investigations, it doesn’t necessarily mean the charges aren’t true.
In his own defense, the Prime Minister and his party leaders claimed that the investigation was merely an attack on the nation by outsiders who wanted to destroy Turkey’s progress.
In a bold move, he ordered a shakeup of the entire police force. He ordered the reassignment to different regions of thousands of police officers and supervisors as well as prosecutors. Through hastily-drafted laws, the newly-appointed Justice minister was given unchallenged authority over the investigation. This, in turn, led to fist-fights on the floor of parliament which resulted in one member being hospitalized with a broken snout.
With that, it might have seemed things would return to business-as usual. But the Prime Minister was in no mood to stop. Taking the offensive, Erdogan pushed through new laws on the Internet using the usual “child-protection” excuses. From now, no judge would be required to erase a website from the Net.
Exactly why it was done was something of a mystery. In a speech the Prime Minister defended the censorship as defending the right of privacy against slander. Nobody knew what he was talking about and there were a lot of theories floated. Such as some kind of sex tape.
Two weeks ago, the other shoe dropped, as the saying goes. An audio tape emerged seemingly recording the Prime Minister calling the editor of a news channel, giving his strict instructors on what he wanted broadcast. (“Yes, sir. Right away, sir.” was the editor’s reply.)
That leak, however, turned out to be only the first salvo. Late last week, a taped telephone conversation was leaked on the Internet. This conservation was supposedly occurring at the same moment that the police raids were taking place. On this one, Erdogan was allegedly warning his own son to remove sums of money from the family home and hide it.
A classic smoking gun, if true. Given the amount of detail, many who have heard the tapes found them to be extremely convincing.
But not many have been allowed to hear them.
The tapes have been effectively suppressed in the mainstream media though some have mentioned them abstractly. Without hearing the actual tapes, the public has no real way to measure the validity. And many Turks – but by no means, all Turks- are willing to take the Prime Minister’s word for it.
In reaction to these developments, thousands of demonstrators crowded the Taksim square– site of last year’s protests-yesterday night and had to be dispersed with water cannons, paint bullets and tear gas.
Prime Minister Erdogan has claimed- not unexpectedly- the latest recordings to be “treacherously” faked and “montaged.” In the past few days, it has been a game of gopher clubbing, with online sites that feature the incriminating tape appearing and disappearing as the government closes them now under the new Net laws. That attempt at suppression hasn’t stopped tax drivers from playing downloaded copies of the conversations.
Yesterday, in an address to his party, the Prime Minister made his strangest claim yet. He accused the “robot lobby” of targeting his administration. Nobody seems to have understood what he was referring to. Robots? However, some assume now that he was probably talking about automated twitter accounts – bots- which, he claims, are being programmed to slander him. In other words, it was an attack of the tweets.
“The robot lobby that they set up on social media hits with tweets. They tell them to increase the number of tweets.”
That’s what a Turkish word salad looks like.
Erdogan’s use of the term “lobby” has been used in the past to explain all things that have gone awry. When the economy took a plunge- as many emerging markets have done recently- he blamed it on the “interest rate lobby”- meaning investors who were manipulating the markets in order to destroy the Turkish economy. He eventually blamed this lobby on the Gezi Park protests that swept the nation.
Today he is speaking out the “robot lobby.” In yesterday’s speech, for the first time, Erdogan mentioned his arch-nemesis, Fethullah Gülen, as being behind the entire smear attempt. He called it a “preacher lobby.”
“They prepared a flawless scenario. The preacher’s lobby would hit through the police and judiciary. The media lobby would hit with headlines and broadcasts. The interest rate lobby would make a fuss that the economy was deteriorating. The international lobby would hit by condemning and criticizing.”
(Lobby this, lobby that. It’s hard to keep up with all of the Prime Minister’s enemies.)
If that wasn’t hard enough for skeptical voters to swallow, he also mentioned “salt-shakers” a term which referred to parliament members from his own party who were secretly working with his enemy in the US. “Saltshakers” is a coded term allegedly used by Gülen in a recently leaked phone conversation.
“Instructions would be given to saltshakers within the AKP who would stab in the back. They thought the plan was flawless. They took action on Dec. 17. Everyone played their part. But they forgot one thing. The people also have a part, and if they have a plot then God has one too. Their whole scenario was turned upside down.”
(Don’t blame me if it doesn’t make much sense. It’s not a translation problem. It goes a lot deeper than than.)
Interestingly in yesterday’s speech, the prime minister used this latest event as an excuse to reform the Scientific and Technological Research Council, which is the leading agency for developing science and technology known as TÜB?TAK. Why now? It’s hard to know but another duty of this agency is to conduct research for the government. Critics fear that it is a veiled attempt by the administration to pressure scientists who work there to support the claims that the recordings are not authentic.
However, according to Erdogan, that’s not the reason at all. He told his audience that it is a matter of national security: the enemies of the state have the capability to tap even the crypto phones of government officials.
In any case, as his opponents point out with some amusement, Erdogan’s statement about taping phones inadvertently confirms the authenticity of the recordings.
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