The climate of political polarisation has long been unhealthy in the neighbouring country. Now it is becoming poisonous as well. Contaminated by the brutal threats, even death threats, that opposition leaders receive.
“As I was continuing my schedule normally, I noticed that there was some concern. I was told: ‘limit, as much as possible, your personal life’, ‘do not go to the barber alone’. As the warnings intensified, I asked, ‘Is something wrong?’ No official informed me. Then I saw the reports in the media.”
The Kemalist mayor of Istanbul, Ekrem İmamoğlu, a fierce critic of Erdoğan’s policy and a possible opponent in the 2023 presidential election, said that he was left in the dark in terms of official information (an administrative investigation is already underway against him for his campaign against the plans to create the controversial “Istanbul Canal” [editor’s note: A canal connecting the Black Sea to the Sea of Marmara]). The media reports, quoted by him in a statement in the newspaper Sözcü, refer to an assassination attempt by terrorists.
These reports were first broadcasted on Tuesday by a website close to the opposition (Odatv) and later, citing sources in the Turkish police and the Interior Ministry, by the news website T24, Sözcü and the also Cumhuriyet – also close to the opposition.
According to Odatv, the assassination attempt against İmamoğlu was prevented “at the last minute” on 23 November. He claimed that the would-be assassins had been instructed by the upper echelons of the “Islamic State” and that some of them had been arrested. The report was half-refuted by the General Directorate of Security, which is part of the Ministry of Interior.
“There is nothing of the likes of attempted murder, nor of arrests,” the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Süleyman Soylu, later said. Distrust, however, was evident in the statements of İmamoğlu’s spokesman, Murat Ongun. The security of the mayor of Istanbul has been strengthened in the last few days at the suggestion of the General Directorate of Security, he said, emphasising that officially (and somewhat mysteriously) no further clarifications were given.
Since then, the Kemalist mayor seems to be continuing his programme as normal – he toured the Princes’ Islands recently – but the climate of alarm remains. This may not even be the first time that the Turkish authorities have tried to marginalise İmamoğlu, leaving him in the dark. However, the general feeling is that a climate of deep fear is being established, artificially or not, in Turkey.
According to Soylu, recently there is a lot of “information being assessed” about threats to the lives of various persons. Conveniently for the Turkish government, it put Islamic State (IS) next to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) as suspects. He did not, however, say a single word about the systematic targeting of opposition leaders in public – in some cases – with the primary example of the leader of the Kemalist Republican People’s Party (CHP), Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu.
A few days ago, pro-government Türkiye columnist Fuat Uğur devoted an entire article to presenting a detailed plot to assassinate the leader of the Turkish opposition. “One of the secret suicide bombers of FETÖ”, he wrote, referring to the Gülen movement, “will shoot Kılıçdaroğlu, just as happened with Karlov’s assassination,” the Russian ambassador in Ankara, who was executed in cold blood in 2016 in the Turkish capital.
The result, Uğur said, would be the rise of İmamoğlu to the leadership of the CHP, bringing additional instability to the country, as “the unsolved murder of Kılıçdaroğlu”, he said with suspicious certainty, “will put Alaattin Çakıcı in the frame, a relative of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) leader and government partner Devlet Bahçeli”. “In simple words”, the pro-government columnist concluded, “the impression will be created that it was a murder ordered by the government”.
Çakıcı is no babe in the woods. A member of the Grey Wolves, part of the deep state, once a collaborator of the intelligence services, of the National Intelligence Organisation (MIT) and a notorious mobster, he was sentenced in 2006 to life in prison for multiple charges, including murder. Nevertheless, he was released last April, at the request of Bahçeli and in the name of decongesting Turkish prisons, due to coronavirus. Meanwhile, in MHP cycles, they consider him to be a national hero, as the great killer of the Kurds.
His attempted “whitewashing” by Uğur was obviously not accidental. Çakıcı’s name had been in the public debate for some time, and it caused a stir because of his public threats against Kılıçdaroğlu. The latter had publicly and strongly criticised Erdoğan’s regime for its anti-democratic practices.
“You release mafia bosses and drug smugglers from prison,” while you “keep in custody prisoners of conscience,” the CHP leader protested in mid-November, blasting Ankara over the continued detention of Selahattin Demirtaş, a former co- leader of the pro- Kurdish/ leftwing Democratic Party of the Peoples (HDP) on charges of “terrorism”.
Without hesitation, Çakıcı threatened Kılıçdaroğlu with a handwritten letter, which he himself posted on Twitter: “Be careful, if you equate Bahçeli with the traitors whom you serve as a dog, you are making the biggest mistake of your life”. “In a place where there is no rule of law, the state itself can be turned into a state of organised crime,” Kılıçdaroğlu replied, just to receive a second threatening letter from the overbold Çakıcı, again via Twitter.
The mobster at the helm
The statements of the deputy head of the parliament group of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), Bülent Turan, that the Prosecutor’s Office launched an investigation into the threats of the mafia boss, could not actually allay the suspicions that Çakıcı is acting as an extension of the Turkish regime or that it is the far-right government partner Bahçeli who is pulling the strings in the government coalition.
MHP has already filed a lawsuit against Kılıçdaroğlu, giving the Ankara Prosecutor’s Office the right to initiate proceedings, which in turn could even lead to the lifting of the opposition leader’s parliamentary immunity for “praising a crime and a perpetrator”. Demirtaş that is.
The Grey (old) wolf even went so far as to characterise the CHP as a “national security issue”, following the Kemalists’ public criticism of the government’s foreign policy, with allegations of a “sell-out” of Turkey and its armed forces by Erdoğan to Qatari invaders-allies. CHP lawmaker Ali Mahir, who first jumped in on the public criticism for the controversial bilateral agreements, is also now the subject of a judicial inquiry.
Meanwhile, AKP officials rushed to adopt Bahçeli’s allegations that the CHP is standing “with the enemies of the country”. Ruling party spokesman Ömer Çelik publicly described Kılıçdaroğlu as “Democracy’s problem”. The explosive atmosphere was fuelled further by two articles in the pro-government Hürriyet newspaper about possible “provocations”: potential assassination attempts against prominent figures in Turkey, using similar methodology to that used in the execution of the leading nuclear scientist of Iran, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh.
As for the rest, as he is now in the throes of threats of sanctions from the EU and the US for his maximalist foreign policy, the Turkish President Erdoğan is preparing to make major announcements on the 10th of the month. On the day of the World Human Rights Day, that is, but also on the day of the opening of the two-day, crucial summit of the EU27 in Brussels. Theoretically, the announcements will be about significant reforms that will be implemented in Turkey from 2021, mainly concerning the – seriously “sick” – sectors of Justice and Economy. And through them, Ankara will obviously try to signal a nod to its western allies, to foreign investors, but also those watching inside the country.
After all, Erdoğan’s goal was and remains his political survival. He had said it clearly, in a crude and threatening tone, when he announced the reforms a few days ago. “If the AKP loses,” he said, “Turkey will fall into a pit of uncertainty and instability.” The omens for our neighbouring country are getting worse and worse.