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Turkish police caught in PM’s war on ex-ally 10 février 2014

Posted by Acturca in Turkey / Turquie, Turkey-EU / Turquie-UE, USA / Etats-Unis.
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The Guardian (UK) Monday, February 10, 2014, p. 12

Constanze Letsch in Istanbul

Erdogan turns on influential cleric Gülen after shadowy network exposes corruption. Turker Yilmaz* was not long into his police training when he realised how the system worked. The good jobs, better pay, promotion prospects all depended on your dedication to a shadowy Islamic network based in Pennsylvania.

« They kept tabs on every recruit, had a grading system from zero to five – five being the ones who prayed, fasted, never drank alcohol, » the policeman said, referring to the movement founded by the Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, who lives in exile in the US.

« Everything starts in the police schools, » said Yilmaz. « They came to me once, I said no. But it’s very subtle. One day a friend will ask you to go to breakfast at a certain friend’s house, to read a certain book, go for dinner. When you’re in school, you have very little money. They organise a few things to make it easier. Free meals, for example, free accommodation. Once you’re inside, they organise your life; you just get sucked in. And once you graduate, you can start working in whichever unit you like. »

The power and the influence of the elderly cleric is the defining issue of Turkish politics. Recep Tayyıp Erdogan, the prime minister, has declared war on Gulen – previously a key ally of his conservative, Islamic ruling party – after the eruption of a corruption scandal in December that has implicated the government, the prime minister’s closest associates and his family.

Erdogan responded ferociously, purging the police of thousands of officers, transferring prosecutors linked to the investigation and tightening control over the judiciary. Last month, he told EU leaders that his fight with Gulen was a matter of political survival. « He was gripped with this obsession of killing the parallel state, as he called it, » said a well-placed EU official.

In Turkey it has long been assumed that Gulen’s network exercised unaccountable influence inside the judicial and security apparatus. The investigative journalist Ahmet Sik was jailed for writing a book about it, as was Hanefi Avcı, a former police chief. But that was when Erdogan and Gulen were allies.

In 2009 the then US ambassador, James Jeffrey, wrote to the state department: « The assertion that the Turkish national police is controlled by Gulenists is impossible to confirm but we have found no one who disputes it. »

Yilmaz and other police officers who spoke up confirmed the scale and degree of penetration by adherents of a movement that is religious, cultural and educational as well as political.

Oguz Gun* has been working in the Istanbul police for more than seven years. « Such opaque groups are very dangerous. And [Gulen’s] is a group that discriminates against those who don’t share the same values and lifestyle. I have seen how they started to mistake sins for crimes, » he said.

He sought transfers to other units to no avail. Gun was never affiliated with the Gulenist movement. « Sometimes they openly asked for a reference. Without it, I didn’t stand a chance. »

Yilmaz said: « If you asked someone how did you manage to get into the secret intelligence unit, they would answer: I prayed and got in. We had friends who spoke six languages, were top of their class, and were standing guard outside police stations. And others who were a lot less qualified got the top jobs only because they were connected with the Gulenists. »

The assumption in Turkey and abroad is that the corruption allegations against the Erdogan administration originate with Gulen, and that they are likely to be well-founded because of the quality of the intelligence the movement commands. Erdogan is seen to be trying not only to destroy the cleric but also to bury the corruption allegations.

Sık, the journalist jailed in 2011 for writing a book on Gulen’s penetration of the police, said: « There is a real witchhunt going on. We have massive corruption but the investigation against it also violates democratic and judicial principles. It’s a choice between pest and cholera. »

The officers welcomed the backlash against the network inside the police but stressed that it should not serve to legitimise corruption. « I am not defending corruption at all. But these purges were long overdue, » said Yilmaz. « It was the government in the first place who helped them, they came to power together. Helping them was the government’s biggest mistake. »

Gun spoke of a huge relief among his colleagues that the police were being cleared of the network. « It really was an atmosphere of deep paranoia. Even if it seemed technically impossible for every officer’s phone to be tapped, we were all afraid of being spied on all the time. »

The pressure was subtle, but constant: « Nobody would force you to pray, or fast during Ramadan. But they kept tabs on all of that . . . Nobody dared to discuss the issue. This has started to change. »

Erdogan’s offensive represents a sea change. The domination of his Justice and Development party (AKP) for more than a decade was aided by his alliance with Gulen, the cleric’s formidable organisation, money and influence.

Those who dared to criticise the Gulen movement before were swiftly punished. Sık was accused of being a member of a nationalist network, although he and his colleagues had previously disclosed plans by the same network to stage a military coup against the AKP government. He was released from jail in 2012, but his trial is ongoing.

In 2010 Hanefi Avcı, a former police chief and former Gulen supporter, was arrested on charges of being a member of a terrorist organisation after publishing a book in which he described the infiltration of the Turkish police force by the Gulenists and accused them of illegally tapping phones and falsifying evidence. Last year the self-described rightwing sympathiser was sentenced to more than 15 years in jail for membership of the armed leftwing group Revolutionary Headquarters.

Erdogan’s purges are dramatic and far-reaching. But the officers say such purges have been taking place more quietly for years. According to Yilmaz and Gun, internal investigations have been conducted against tens of thousands of police officers over the past four years alone. « If someone was suspected of going against [Gulen] they were often hit with made-up disciplinary charges, transferred to bad posts, or even suspended, » Gun said. « The removals we see today are not new. They just hit the other camp. »

EU officials monitoring the drama say Erdogan is deploying an indiscriminate dragnet. Yilmaz agrees. « I am guessing that not all of these guys were Gulenists. And not all sympathisers were bad. »

Last month Istanbul prosecutors started an investigation into officers who took part in anti-corruption raids in December. « The war between Gulen and the government will not end any time soon, » said Sık. « Turkish people caught in the middle will suffer. We already live in a very oppressive period, and I am afraid that this might get much worse. »

* Names have been changed.

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