06/01/2016, 19.31
TURKEY – EUROPEAN UNION
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With Erdoğan tightening his grip on power, the Gülen movement is set to be treated as a terrorist group like the PKK

by Pierre Balanian

Human rights, visas, and migrants are becoming a wedge between Ankara and Brussels. Tomorrow the German Parliament is set to vote on the Armenian genocide. At home, Erdoğan is tightening his grip on power, going after followers of exiled leader Fethullah Gülen. His goal is to establish a "presidential regime" by eliminating all critical voices.

Istanbul (AsiaNews) – Tensions between Turkey and the European Union are escalating. In Brussels, EU authorities are increasingly irritated and embarrassed by Turkish President Erdoğan’s authoritarian drift at a time when they have to deal with him over the migrant issue.

For weeks, Europe and Turkey have been engaged in tug-of-war. Ankara wants free movement for its citizens in Europe, but has not fulfilled its part of the bargain, pushing the European parliament to delay ratification of the agreement. In return, Erdoğan has threatened to tear up the migrant agreement to flood the Greek coast with refugees. 

Increasingly, the EU is also concerned by Erdoğan’s tightening grip on the Turkish state, Turkey’s human rights violations, and the lifting of parliamentary immunity on some lawmakers who are critical of the president.

Tomorrow, the clash could get uglier, as the German parliament is set to recognise the mass slaughter of Armenians in 1915 as a genocide. So far 20 countries, including Russia and France, have recognised the genocide. The Bundestag’s decision could create an insurmountable wedge between Berlin and Ankara, as well as between Turkey and Europe.

Despite Europe’s call on Turkey to "review" its anti-terrorism laws before lifting entry visas on Turkish nationals, Ankara is going in the opposite direction.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is pursuing a scorched earth policy to strengthen its absolute power and is using the country’s anti-terrorism laws to go after his opponents rather than use the traditional means of any democracy in the world. The goal is to eliminate political rivals not through the ballot box, but in the courtrooms.

Erdoğan ’s steady march has been inexorable, made of small steps but all leading to the same objective: change the Constitution to become the first head of state in his "presidential system" without any important protester around.

The first step was to reshape the judiciary through the High Council of Judges and Prosecutors by sending "into exile" prominent independent judges, reassigned to smaller courts, often in remote places of Anatolia, without much impact on the country, replaced by “trustworthy” judges opposed to the exiled billionaire Fethullah Gülen, who had paid for the exiled judges’ studies.

Since he failed to hide behind a moderate Islamic façade – as if one could ever call the Muslim Brotherhood moderate – to win over Gülen’s followers and the Kurds in opposition to Turkey’s military, Erdoğan has turned his back on them and has allied himself with the military. The latter is very sensitive to the anti-terrorism struggle and the "Turkification of all citizens". The military know that terrorism is the "magic word" to unlock the doors to further advancement in their careers.

After succeeding at home and abroad in depicting the fight of the Kurdish people as nothing but terrorism and the PKK as a terrorist organisation, as well as getting the parliamentary immunity of “critical” lawmakers, especially if they are Kurds, lifted, Erdoğan is now preparing to use the same weapon against the Fethullah Gülen movement.

The billionaire, once Erdoğan’s Pygmalion, close to the FBI and the CIA, is now living in exile in Philadelphia, US, but still maintains a strong influence on Turkish communities around the world, especially in Europe and the United States, as well as within Turkey in some key areas.

Turkey’s National Security Council (Millî Güvenlik Konseyi, MGK), chaired by Erdoğan, has decided to qualify the Gülen movement as "terrorist group on par with the PKK", and sent “the request to the Turkish cabinet,” as the president said.

Reacting to this, Turkish law professor Izzet Özgenç and co-author of the country’s 2004 Penal Code, said on his Twitter account that "the existence of a terrorist group cannot be established by the Council of Ministers."

Hizmet, a religious and social movement connected to Turkish Islamic scholar and preacher Fethullah Gülen, has become Erdoğan ’s bête noire following a series of corruption cases in 2003.

Many of the prosecutors involved in the nationwide judicial investigation into corruption had completed their education thanks to scholarships from Gülen. This led Erdoğan to believe that Gülen sympathisers in the judiciary and in law enforcement were out to get him.

Erdoğan’s power at home has been shaken by a series of foreign policy reversals, especially in Syria, Libya, Iraq, Lebanon and Egypt at a time when he has been working at eliminating all forms of domestic political, military and judicial opposition.

Yet, Turkey’s strong influence on the international press has helped hide its horrendous crimes, perpetrated on a daily basis, against Kurdish civilians in a war that has fallen below the radar, whose censured images are reminiscent of what is happening in Syria.

For Erdoğan, it is double or nothing, and everything is fair game. The latest move took place at Hagia Sophia a couple of days ago, where the president played the chords of imperial nostalgia, highlighting the Sublime Porte’s triumph over the West, symbolised by the taking of the basilica of Saint Sophia,

So far, 700 are civilians, ordinary supporters of Gülen, were arrested and detained across the country, and are awaiting trial. Police have raided Hizmet-linked organisations, and journalists close to the movement have been subjected to constant intimidation.

The most extreme case involves journalist Can Dündar, chief editor of the opposition Cumhuriyet (The Republic) newspaper, and Erdem Gül, Cumhuriyet s Ankara bureau chief. Both are set to go on trial after their newspaper published footage showing State Intelligence officials sending weapons to Islamist fighters in Syria.

"The current situation is worse than that of February 28," said Mahmut Tanal, a human rights lawyer and Member of the Turkish parliament for the Republican People’s Party (Cumhuriyet Halk Partisi, CHP).

The date Tanal refers to is 28 February 1997, when the National Security Council forced then Islamist Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan to shut down religious schools. At the time, both Erdoğan and Gülen were among the victims of these "Kemalist" measures.

Now one can expect that Hizmet’s name will be added to the secret ‘Red Book’, Turkey’s “concealed constitution”, the National Security Policy Document first drafted in 1972 for undercover operations against potential, real or imagined, enemies, like Russia, Armenia, Greece, Syria, Iran and others.

In the book, threats from Islamist groups led the military to make a “clean sweep” in 1997. So far, events in Turkey continue to evolve in favour of Erdoğan.

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