18 February 2012

Regional Implications of Turkish Spygate

Yesterday, I suggested that the crisis around the attempt to criminalize Kurdish opening policy should not be seen as a purge operation between two rival Islamic fractions within AKP.

I am not denying that these two fractions exist as separate entities but I am not convinced of their rivalry over the two main issues that interests this humble soapbox, namely the Palestinian statehood and Kurdish autonomy. As I stated yesterday, far from opposing each other on these issues, they work from the same playbook.

The question remains about the motivation of the special prosecution. I am not in a position to know whether the special prosecutor belonged to a particular political group or was part of that shadowy apparatus people in Turkey like to call "Deep State." But I believe that the subpoena was an attempt to  make a Kurdish opening very difficult.

If that is the case, it would suggest that this would strengthen the validity of my initial hypothesis about plans to solve the Kurdish issue.

Besides that oblique inference, I would offer one more element in my favor.

There is a new newspaper in Turkey called Yeni Safak (the New Dawn) and they quickly distinguished themselves with major scoops and very good sources within the government. One of their columnist, Abdulkadir Selvi wrote on 10 February (link in Turkish) that this was a fight between those who wanted a dialogue with Kurdish organizations and their rivals who were convinced that they can solve the Kurdish issue through military operations. Or as he put it, this was a fight between of dialoguists and operationalists. He added that
It was planned to conduct an evaluation in May and if that determined that the state had the operational and psychological upper hand, the dialogue process would be resumed.
Ocalan [the imprisoned PKK leader] indicated that Fidan [Head of National Intelligence Service MIT] was his preferred interlocutor.
This operation [subpoena crisis] aimed to stop this new process of opening.
According to another pundit, Cengiz Candar (link in Turkish) this is a major scoop as no one has ever reported plans to resume dialogue with Kurdish organizations in May.

To my contrarian way of thinking this crisis could have a number of positive implications.

First one is the obvious one, as this will enable the government to reclaim the power to make political decisions and to stop attempts to criminalize such steps. So, I continue to predict that there will be significant advances towards the resolution of the Kurdish issue this year. I am not sure about the reported timing though, as May seems too early to me. I am more inclined to see some developments in the Fall. (I also believe that to be the time frame for the Israeli overture towards Palestinians after early elections in the Summer)

The second one will be a much needed change in the prosecution of the Ergenekon case. This is the long running saga about an alleged clandestine organization that aimed to overthrow the government through provocative acts of terrorism. Already hundreds of former and current officers have been incarcerated, including the previous Chief of the General Staff of the Turkish army.

While the ongoing investigation undoubtedly helped AKP to establish civilian supremacy over the once powerful military (a major element of the so-called Turkish model), lately it has become a significant headache for the government. Overreach seems to be the signature of these special prosecutors as they have taken into custody hundreds of people on the basis of dubious evidence and basic suspicion. Understandably, this led to a significant morale problem within the military as illustrated by the en masse resignation of top commanders last summer.

Clearly, with Syria about to become a huge problem for Turkey, the government can ill afford a military that seems paralyzed by the actions of overzealous prosecutors. The spygate could provide the opportunity for a necessary correction and rein in these special prosecutors.

There is another implication, and that one is not a prediction but more like wishful thinking on my part. This crisis might push government to start reversing their heavy handed approach towards journalists, a lot of whom were put in jail for the same statute used in the MIT crisis. If the head of intelligence services can talk to Kurdish insurgents, clearly, journalists should be able to do so without risking their freedom.

Overall, I remain mildly optimistic about the resolution of the two main regional issues.

My only concern is about Erdogan's health. I know from reliable sources that the first operation he had in November was due to colon cancer, even though both Erdogan and the government denied it.

As to be expected (given my hypothesis) the other person who is worried about Erdogan's health is President Obama. I don't think Vice President Biden visits every convalescing politician at home.

In early February Erdogan had a second abdominal surgery and that is usually not a good sign.

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