The Corner

Turkey Update

I spoke at length with Turkish officials last night. What is happening in Ankara is amazing. Crowds booed Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul–the ruling party’s representative at the funeral–and police corridors had to protect the ruling AKP ministers from the crowds. Journalists are also saying people screamed “Murderer” at the Prime Minister. The crowd even booed former AKP politicians who had defected from the party in recent months. Tens of thousands of Turks are rallying spontaneously in favor of secularism and liberalism. Some Turkish journalists are beginning to describe the events of the last couple days as Turkey’s 9/11. It has certainly been a wake-up call. I saw some faxes of Turkish papers yesterday carrying comments to the effect “We are not Iran.” Turkish papers are traditionally slow to take on the government because so many media conglomerate owners rely on state contracts for their other businesses. However, once the public mood shifts, the newspapers pile on. And that is what they are doing. Turkish security officials are investigating the assassin’s ties to the AKP and there are also some rumors–so far unconfirmed–that he had recently trained in Iran. People in Istanbul and Ankara are talking about early elections. It is unclear how long the AKP can continue to govern, or whether other political parties will want to ally themselves with the group in a coalition.

Thank God Turkey is a democracy. The Turkish people are rallying and may strip the AKP of power. Accountability matters. The party has antagonized many Turks not only with its Islamist platform, but also growing corruption scandals. The Prime Minister’s personal finances are murky. While he has declared limited assets, Turkish officials grouse that he refuses to discuss real estate, commercials interests, and funds shifted into his brother’s portfolio.

Some Turkish officials are also suggesting that when the AKP leaves power, high level ministers may choose to leave Turkey-perhaps for Saudi Arabia–rather than face public inquiries. Abdullah Gul, for example, spent eight years in Jeddah.

To add to the perfect storm, after attending the funeral of Justice Ozbilgin, former Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit suffered a brain hemorrhage; he is critically ill.

Michael Rubin is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, senior lecturer at the Naval Postgraduate School’s Center for Civil-Military Relations, and a senior editor of the Middle East Quarterly.

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