Because I have to read about turkish politics for my copyediting job, I think about this stuff constantly. I have puzzled over things and tried to figure things out for a while now, and I have finally located the appropriate articles written by people who are paid to figure this stuff out. Ok.
So I work for Bugun (Today), a newspaper affiliated with Zaman (Time), the largest newspaper in Turkey. Our take on things is that the government is basically cracking down on any forms of organized dissent. You may have heard about the raid on Zaman and other press outlets in December of last year, for instance. The government is systematically replacing members of the police and judiciary all around the country, seemingly in an attempt to remove any ability to disagree with them. They are searching for traces of the "parallel state," a state-within-a-state apparatus which was allegedly seeking to control the Turkish government from the inside, an Islamist organization/cult run by Fetullah Gulen from his Pennsylvania exile. Or, perhaps they are seeking revenge for a corruption investigation in 2013, which went all the way to the prime minister (Erdogan, at the time) and resulted in three ministers resigning, and they found a bunch of boxes of money stuffed into the closets of the CEO of the state bank, which he said he was holding and planning on donating to charity. Either way, it sounds insane.
So imagine you’re like me, and reading this news every day, and you’re like, either my newspaper is right and the government is trying to consolidate its authoritarian power, or something weird is going on. Also, my newspaper is kind of tabloid-y, and I frequently have to smooth out some of the more inflammatory statements. So what the hell is going on? What is a parallel state? Who is lying and who is slandering whom, and eh????
Eh, I’m gonna run through this as best I can, but it’s pretty messed up. Here we go. Basically there are three players all vying for control of the Turkish state. Why do these people want to run Turkey so bad? I do not know. It is the turkish military, the fetullah gulen Hizmet (Service) organization who are like I dunno think of them like the Islamic version of Mormons, and the Islamists in the AK Party, which is President Erdogan’s party.
So the military has for a long time been the safeguard to the secular Turkish republic. If anyone gets too religious, they stage a coup and push em out. This has happened as recently as 1980.
In order to prevent soviet occupation, the military trained a bunch of normal army dudes in covert ops and gave them additional secret responsibilities. These army dudes were a group of decentralized cells. This came in handy during the years of war with the PKK, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, and these normal army dudes killed thouuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuusands of Kurdish militants and sympathizers. These guys in popular consciousness were called the "deep state," since the army was trying to run the country covertly.
But when Erdogan’s party, the more islamist AK Party, was coming into power into the early nineties, the military knew that throwing them out would cause way more of a problem than the other three or four coups of the past seventy years. (The Ottoman Empire fell during world war one, and the turkish republic was established soon after.) This is because of economy and money things, and military coups are bad for you know your own economy and the world economy and blagdiblagdiblaghhhh. Erdogan was afraid the deep state would throw him out. He turned to Gulen for help.
Gulen is a seventy-something Imam living in the US and has a worldwide empire of charter schools, hospitals, newspapers (like mine!) and nonprofits. It seems kind of nice, really. There is a definite hierarchy to the whole thing, though–if you want to move up in any of these organizations, you have to demonstrate your devotion to Gulen. Anna worked for one of those schools (and they have crazy expensive tuition) last year and all the teachers (except the native english ones) had to like come in on saturday and read his books about iIlam. Gulen has a couple of creepy sermons in with the more benign ones where he encourages his followers to infiltrate the system and take over covertly. Most weirdly, many of the highest-ranking police officers were gulen followers. Especially those in like intelligence offices. This journalist Ahmet Sik wrote a book called The Imam’s Army which purported to lay out how the followers of Gulen controlled the police and the media for sinister ends, except the guy was arrested and then the cops deleted or burned all copies of his book. (While he was in jail, some of his supporters published a recovered draft online.) This is not like… conspiracy theory stuff. Like a man actually wrote a book about how the police and biggest media mouthpieces in Turkey were controlled by Gulen followers, and that man was actually arrested for "spreading terrorist propaganda" and then the cops actually tried to destroy the book.
So Erdogan and Gulen were tight. They were both sort of Islamist and the AK Party clearly needed the help of the police in the intelligence offices, plus the journalists. Please understand that I mean this pretty loosely, and I think Erdogan’s people met with Gulen’s people, and so on. Like the chief of Istanbul police was a prominent Gulen sympathizer, and he was like top dog. Of the Hizmet movement.
The tequila has settled into my head now, so I have to kind of sum up the last ten years really quick. The Gulen-controlled police and prosecutors created this vast case called "Ergenekon" which, on the surface, seemed to be seeking justice for those thousands of unsolved kurdish murders the army covertly performed back in the eighties and nineties. But! Instead, the prosecutors turned in this 2,000+ page monstrosity of an indictment which alleged that "every act of political violence for the last twenty years" (that’s the Garenth Jenkins link below) was the actions of a mysterious deep state organization trying to overthrow the government. And like…this meant they could sweep up journalists and lawyers and professors and basically anyone critical of the rising tide of the AKP and the Gulen movement. The evidence was either made up, unrelated, relevant!! or just included for fun. The newspapers Zaman and Bugun (probably, I don’t know, but definitely Zaman) praised the investigation and were like, it’s dope! This is because they were on the same team.
Follow me so far? Deep state number one, aka those traditionally anti-islamist army guys who ran death squads against the kurds, was getting defanged by deep state number two, aka the gulen police, aka the parallel state.
Fast forward to now, when Erdogan and Gulen are no longer buddies, and this sort of explains what’s going on. Erdogan is definitely pretty autocratic obsessively witch hunting for "Gulenists" of the parallel state, and I definitely am paid by Fetullah gulen to publish stories about how Retullah Gulen is not trying to influence anything, at all, and how all of Getullah gulen’ts organizations are all totally normal and not bad.
This is today’s conflict and what you should take away is that in Turkey, there is no neutral force. Even decentralized actors have an agenda. And there is literally no way to not be a part of this, because team A will label bystander X as part of enemy team B just because they resist team A even a little. FUCK