Turkey's AKP government is looking for a scapegoat for the anti-government demonstrations. The protesters, the foreign media, the Jews -- anyone will do, so long as it is not the government.
By Robert Ellis, from Gatestone Institute International Policy Council, July 8, 2013.
When it comes to explaining the widespread protests against the Turkish prime minister and his authoritarian rule, Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party [AKP] has apparently decided. It is everyone else's fault.
The first target for Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's wrath was naturally the demonstrators, who were called looters and vandals, terrorists and marginal. When opposition leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu from the Republican People's Party [CHP] declared his support for the demonstrators, Erdoğan accused him of behaving like a militant from a terrorist organization.
Erdoğan also repeatedly alleged that the protesters had shown disrespect for Islam by entering the Dolmabahçe mosque in Istanbul with their shoes on and carrying beer bottles. Video clips, however, circulating in Turkey show that the mosque had been turned into a first-aid station to treat some of the 7,000 injured in the clashes with the police.
Erdoğan has said he would show a 20-minute video to prove that protesters had been disrespectful to Islam, but this video has not yet materialized. Instead, the muezzin has insisted that he did not see anyone consume alcohol within the mosque or hold a bottle containing alcohol. As a man of faith, he explained, he could not lie.
On his return from North Africa at the beginning of June, Erdoğan widened his scope and launched an attack on an "interest rate lobby," which he claimed was threatening Turkey with speculation in the markets. Early last year he had lashed out at the same "lobby" for trying to stifle Turkish growth, but this time he threatened to "choke" stock market speculators. At neither time was the Prime Minister specific as to who this lobby consists of; but according to Turkish daily, Sabah, owned by Çalık Holding, where Erdoğan's son-in-law is CEO, Bloomberg News is the main culprit. In another speech, Erdoğan also criticized three Turkish conglomerates -- Koç, Doğuş and Sabancı -- which own three major Turkish banks.
The AKP government's reactions, in a search of scapegoats, have become increasingly paranoid. In an address to his parliamentary group, Erdoğan has said that the anti-government demonstrations were part of a deliberate attempt by internal and external lobby groups to damage Turkey's image and economy; consequently, he called on activists to "see the big picture" and "understand the plot."
Mass rallies were held in Istanbul and Ankara, as well as AKP strongholds in Kayseri, Samsun and Erzurum, under the theme: "Let's spoil the big game and make history." Eleven foreign nationals, accused of helping to provoke the Gezi Park protests, had earlier been detained, an action that caused Erdoğan to ask the rally in Istanbul, "What are the foreigners, coming from various places of the world, doing in Taksim?"
Furthermore, he claimed the demonstrators were responsible for attacking the AKP building in Ankara, and even for the car bombs in Reyhanlı near the Syrian border. In Kayseri, in Central Anatolia, he said that the demonstrations aimed at sabotaging the Kurdish peace process and that the demonstrators were being played like puppets.
In Samsun on the Black Sea coast, Erdoğan alleged the same game was being played over Brazil with the same symbols, the same posters, the same Twitter and Facebook, and the same international media. Moreover, he said, the protests were being led from the same center. Three days later in Parliament, he repeated his accusations against the foreign media, in particular the BBC.
At a meeting with the chairman of the Confederation of Turkish Tradesmen and Craftsmen [TESK], Prime Minister Erdoğan went one step further: "Those against whom we said 'one minute' are now delighted," referring to his confrontation with Israel's president, Shimon Peres, at the World Economic Forum in Davos in January 2009.
Erdoğan claimed to have received intelligence reports about a series of conspiracies three months earlier, and, in a television interview, his cup-bearer, EU Minister Egemen Bağış, said that the Gezi Park protests were planned six months ago in an effort to trigger regime change in Turkey.
Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Beşir Atalay has also blamed those who envy Turkey's growth, together with the Jewish diaspora, for the Gezi Park unrest, but his press office has since issued a denial: "In his speech [Deputy PM Atalay] has never intended, uttered or indicated anything to offend Jewish citizens of Turkey or Jewish communities around the world."
In addition, the Islamist daily Yeni Şafak has reported that the protests are an anti-Erdoğan plot concocted in February by the American Enterprise Institute and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.
AKP deputies have submitted a resolution to Parliament, calling for an investigation into the Gezi Park protests. The Ankara Police Department has also submitted a summary of the proceedings of the events to the public prosecutors, in which it claimed that anti-government media networks, journalists, NGOs, supporter groups, artists and marginal groups have incited and guided the demonstrations, and for which it held foreign media outlets -- such as CNN, BBC and The Economist -- responsible.
Moreover, the Ministry of Education has reportedly requested from provincial education directorates lists of the names of school administrators and teachers who participated in the protests.
Between May 20 and June 19, the Istanbul stock market, two-thirds of which is foreign-owned, fell by nearly 20%; accordingly, Turkey's Capital Markets Board [SPK] has opened a detailed investigation into financial transactions in this period. Brokers have been requested to provide telephone records, written instructions, orders sent over the Internet and all chat-logs related to instructions from foreign clients.
The Union of Turkish Bar Associations [TBB] has warned against a witch-hunt, but no matter: someone must be held responsible.
Robert Ellis is a regular commentator on Turkish affairs in the Danish and international press.