Islam, Secularism and the Battle for Turkey's Future

48 MINS READAug 23, 2010 | 12:17 GMT
A deep power struggle is under way in the Republic of Turkey. Most outside observers see this as the latest phase in the decades-long battle between Islamism and Kemalist secularism. Others paint it as traditional Anatolia's struggle against modern Istanbul, egalitarianism versus economic elitism or democracy's rise against authoritarianism. Ultimately, the struggle boils down to a fight over a single, universal concept: power. The following special report recounts how an Islamist-oriented Anatolia has emerged to challenge the secular foundation of the modern Turkish state. While those looking at Turkey from the outside are often unaware of Turkey's internal tumult, a labyrinthine internal power struggle influences virtually every move Turkey makes in its embassies, schools, courts, news agencies, military bases and boardrooms. Though the Turkish identity crisis will not be resolved by this power struggle, the battle lines drawn during the fight will define how the country operates for years to come.

A Power Struggle Rooted in Geopolitics

Turkey occupies a key geostrategic position. It sits at the crossroads of Asia and Europe and forms a bridge between the Black and Mediterranean seas. Turkey's core historically has centered on the isthmus that straddles the Sea of Marmara and Black Sea. Whether the map says Constantinople or Istanbul, whoever lays claim to the Bosporus and Dardanelles has control over one of the most active and strategic commercial routes in the world, a key military vantage point against outside invaders, and a launchpad for expansion into Eurasia. When Turkey is powerful, the country follows a Pan-Islamic model and can extend itself far and wide, from ruling over the Arabs and balancing the Persians in the Middle East to challenging the clout of Christian Europe in the Balkans to blocking Russia in the Caucasus and Central Asia. But when Turkey is weak, its neighborhood transforms from a geopolitical playground into a prison. Turkey, then the multiethnic Ottoman Empire, found itself in the latter position at the end of World War I. With the aid of the victorious European powers, currents of ethnic nationalism surged through the empire, dissolving the bonds of Ottoman control. The final blow to the Ottoman core came via the 1920 Treaty of Sevres, which dismembered the empire by ceding territory to the leading Allied powers and to the Greeks, Armenians and Kurds — a period of history that continues to haunt Turks to this day. Times of crisis call for great leaders; for Turkey, that leader was Mustafa Kemal — who earned the honorific "Ataturk," Turkish for "Father of the Turks" — and whose face still graces statues, currency, paintings and emblems in every corner of the country. Ataturk sought to save the Turkish ethnic core from Sevres syndrome, as it is known in Turkey today, and to create a true nation-state. His tool of choice was nationalism, though his definition of Turkish nationalism rejected Pan-Islamism and instead concerned itself primarily with those Turkish citizens living in the Ottoman core that would become the new and modern republic. Kemalist nationalism was also deeply steeped in secularism, with an uncompromising separation of mosque and state. To preserve his vision of the Turkish republic, Ataturk bolstered a secular elite that would dominate the banks and industry and maintain a firm grip over the country's armed forces. Ataturk regarded the Turkish military as the guardian of the Kemalist state, a responsibility that Turkish generals have frequently exploited to mount coups against the civilian political authority. For decades, this secularist-Kemalist model prevailed in Turkey while a more traditional, Islamist-minded Anatolian class watched in frustration as it largely remained sidelined from the corridors of power. The post-World War I era saw Turkish expansion into Europe effectively blocked, leading Turkey to turn its attention inward toward the Anatolian Peninsula, focusing on consolidating power from within. Though it would take several decades to manifest itself, the rise of Anatolian forces that would challenge the supremacy of the Istanbul elite in many ways was inevitable. Indeed, as the 21st century approached, a tremor began spreading through Turkey's political landscape. By then, Turkey had gone through its fair share of political tumult. But with time, it had consolidated enough internally to start looking abroad again through a Pan-Islamic lens. The Islamic vision was rooted in the Milli Gorus, or National View, movement, which arose in the 1970s as a religiously conservative challenge to the left-wing secular tradition. The election of the Islamist-rooted Refah Partisi, or Welfare Party (RP) in 1995 officially brought political Islam to the halls of power in modern Turkey, though the secular-dominated National Security Council banned the party in less than two years. A more moderate strand of the Milli Gorus movement emerged with the Justice and Development Party (AKP) in 2001. Spearheaded by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and President Abdullah Gul, the party took power in 2002 with a mandate to close the political and economic gap between the Kemalist elite and the Anatolian masses. While more moderate than its predecessor, the AKP is largely considered an affront by the secularists. Though the AKP was more cautious of exposing its Islamist-rooted political vision in its early days of power, it has become clear that the party represents those in Turkey who embrace the country's Islamic past. The AKP's vision of Turkey is a country that goes out of its way to defend its Turkic brothers abroad, that infuses religion with politics and that gives rise to what it sees as a long-neglected Anatolian class.

The Turkish Islamist Movement

The AKP is by no means pursuing the Islamist vision alone. A powerful force known as the Gulen movement has quietly and effectively penetrated the armor of the Kemalist state over four decades. The charismatic imam Fethullah Gulen, who lives in Pennsylvania, leads the transnational organization, along with a small group of what the Gulenists term "wise men." Inside Turkey, the Gulen movement follows a determined agenda that aims to replace the Kemalist elite and transform Turkey into a more religiously conservative society. Outside Turkey, Gulen presents itself as a multifaith global organization working to bring businesses, religious leaders, politicians, journalists and average citizens together. Whatever its public relations moves, the Gulen movement is at base just one more player jockeying for power in Turkey. The Kemalists have long viewed the Gulen movement as a critical threat to the secular nature of the Turkish republic. When Fethullah Gulen left Turkey for the United States in 1998, the court documents that had been issued against him included sermons in which he called on his followers to "move in the arteries of the system without anyone noticing your existence until you reach all the power centers." He also said that "the time is not yet right. You must wait for the time when you are complete and conditions are ripe, until we can shoulder the entire world and carry it." More than a decade later, the Gulen movement has a presence in virtually all Turkey's power centers. In its earlier years, the movement moved much more discreetly, focusing on moving into the "arteries of the system" without drawing attention to itself. Since 2007, however, when the AKP was elected with 47 percent of the popular vote, conditions have ripened such that the Gulen movement can be much more open about its activities in the country. Gulenists now transmit a strong sense of confidence and achievement in their discussions with outsiders, as the movement knows this is its moment and that decades of quiet work aimed at transforming Turkish society are paying off. For its part, AKP does not walk in lockstep with the Gulen movement, nor does it want to become overly dependent on the Gulenists. The party does not see eye to eye with the Gulenists on a number of issues, and consciously attempts to keeps its distance from the group for fear of reinforcing secularist allegations that the AKP is pursuing a purely Islamist agenda. Likewise, the Gulenist movement will occasionally, albeit rarely, air its disagreements with the AKP. For instance, in the wake of the Turkish-Israeli flotilla crisis, in which nine Turkish citizens were killed during a raid by Israeli special operations forces on a flotilla full of pro-Palestinian activists, Fethullah Gulen said in an interview that the Insani Yardim Vakfi (IHH) aid group that led the flotilla had defied authority for failing to seek permission from Israel before attempting to deliver aid to Gaza. Gulen's criticism of the aid organization came in stark contrast to the AKP's denunciation of Israel's actions and strong, public support for the IHH. Gulen apparently used the flotilla crisis as an opportunity to alter outside perceptions of his organization, showing that his pragmatism in responding to the situation has more in common with the West against critics who accuse the movement of being too strictly Islamist and extreme in its views. Yet Gulen's comments also caused an outrage amongst much of the Turkish public (not to mention within the AKP), leading one of the movement's leaders to retract the statements the next day. Clearly, tension exists between the AKP and Gulenists, but the two sides also need each other and share a desire to replace the traditional secular elite. This objective, along with the common threat they face from the secularist establishment, forms the basis of their symbiotic relationship: The Gulen movement provides the AKP with a social base, while the AKP provides the Gulenists with a political platform to push their agenda. Turkey's wrenching struggle for national identity reaches every corner of society. In the education realm, the Gulen movement is a powerful force, creating schools across the globe to extend Turkish influence and intelligence capabilities as the number of Turkish embassy staffers educated in Gulenist schools continues to rise. The struggle is fiercest in the security arena, with generals regularly being jailed over murky coup allegations. In the media arena, Turkey's media giants wage war via editorials and lawsuits. In the world of business, the secularist Istanbul giants continue to dominate, though an emerging Anatolian merchant class is rapidly gaining prominence. Within the judiciary, the secularists of the high courts are locked into a battle against AKP allies in the lower courts over a series of thorny constitutional reforms that would go far to undermine Kemalist legal dominance. And on the street, Turkish citizens debate whether drinking raki (an anise-flavored liqueur) is offensive to the country's Islamic culture and whether it is “too Islamic” to order halal meat when traveling outside of Turkey.

Education: Sowing Seeds in the Schools

Turkey's power struggle begins in the classroom. The most intense period of ideological cultivation for many Turks takes place between grades eight through 12, and the Gulen movement has spent the past three decades working aggressively in the education sector to mold young minds in Turkish schools at home and abroad. The goal is to create a generation of well-educated Turks who ascribe to the Gulen tradition and have the technical skills (and under the AKP, the political connections) to assume high positions in strategic sectors of the economy, government and armed forces. The AKP-run government distributes free textbooks published by a firm close to the Gulen movement in primary and high schools. Gulen-funded schools are increasing in number, along with thousands of public Imam Hatip schools and state-run Quran schools for high school education. Since the AKP mostly appeals to Turkey's religious conservative and lower-income families, many of the party's potential political supporters attend public technical schools for working-class laborers as well as religiously oriented Imam Hatip schools, where girls are permitted to don the Islamic headscarf, for their high school education instead of regular high schools. Under Turkey's current educational system, graduates from technical schools are only qualified to attend two-year colleges and graduates from Imam Hatip schools are only qualified to attend theological schools, even though many graduates from Imam Hatip schools want to pursue careers in law, medicine, engineering and other professions. Meanwhile, graduates from regular public and private high schools — where the headscarf is banned by law — are qualified to attend four-year accredited universities in seeking a higher education. Both the technical and Imam Hatip schools fall under the labor school category, and since graduates from labor schools are not permitted to attend four-year universities, much of the AKP's younger political base is prevented from rising in economic stature when seeking a higher degree. In an effort to change this system, the AKP government has been engaged in an intense struggle with the secularist-dominated State Council to revise the strict grade point average calculations such that graduates from all labor schools (including Imam Hatips) can enter all four-year universities (not only theological ones), from which they can rise to more prominent positions and remain loyal to the AKP and the Gulenists. The AKP has yet to succeed, but it has not given up on this crucial point on its education agenda. The Gulen movement claims the majority of Turkish students are enrolled in its private and public schools. The Gulenist schools are not madrassas; in fact, they focus heavily on the sciences and math. That said, religious classes and customs can make their way into the curriculum and daily activities, especially in countries with existing Islamic links. The Gulenist educational institutions are easily identified because they typically have newer facilities and better equipment than most schools, and they offer the most intensive preparation courses for university entrance exams. These exams will make or break a Turkish student's career, and are something most Turkish youths remember as the most dreaded and stressful experience of their academic lives. Many Turkish parents are willing to pay a great deal of money to ensure that their children receive the preparation they need to pass their exams and get into a good university. Consequently, the Gulen movement has strategically developed private courses and Isik Evleri, or Lighthouses, which are tuition centers that arguably offer the best preparation for university exams for students and the best recruiting grounds for the Gulenists. For those exceptionally bright students that come from low-income families, private courses are offered for free. Students who have taken these courses describe how the "elder brothers" who run these Lighthouses maintain an intense curriculum that keeps the students at school late and on the weekends instead of out socializing and engaging in behavior frowned upon by religious conservatives. Students may start going to Lighthouses two to three times a week, but can find themselves attending nearly every day of the week by the time they reach the end of the course. Based on their participation, attendance and performance in the courses, the Gulenist brothers are able to pick out the brightest and most loyal students as potential recruits. To test their loyalty, a student may be called late in the evening or early on a weekend morning and asked by his or her mentor to attend a function or perform community service. This is intended to help the Gulenists evaluate whether the student will respond to orders from his or her Gulenist mentors. The Gulen movement and AKP have carried their presence to the university level as well. The pivot of the university battle is an institution called the Higher Education Council (YOK). YOK was created by the 1982 Turkish Constitution to keep a lid on political dissent in the universities, since prior to the 1980 military coup, universities were the driving forces behind the political violence between right- and left-wing activists that marred the 1970s in Turkey. Up until 2007, YOK was a bastion for hardcore secularists in Turkey to ensure their dominance over the universities and prevent the entrenchment of Islamists in Turkey's higher education institutions. When the last secular president of YOK retired in 2007, the AKP had its chance to appoint one of its own, professor Yusuf Ziya Ozcan, an AKP loyalist and sympathizer of the Gulen movement. Since then, YOK has been at the forefront of the highly polarizing headscarf issue in Turkey and has used its powers to appoint religious conservatives to university presidencies. Under the AKP's watch, and particularly since 2007, 37 public universities and 22 new private universities have been built, many of them in Anatolian cities such as Konya, Kayseri and Gaziantep where the Anatolian business class is concentrated or in less-populated and impoverished cities where young Turks have traditionally lacked access to higher education. The private universities are mostly funded by Gulenist businessmen.

Strategic Placement

But the Gulen movement and AKP do not only want loyal students to attend Gulen-run universities. Indeed, a core part of their strategy is to ensure the placement of their students in a variety of secular institutions where they can gradually grow in number and position themselves to influence strategic centers of Turkish society. For example, the university results of a Gulenist student may qualify him to attend the most elite university in Istanbul, but the movement will arrange for the student to attend a military academy instead, where the Gulenists are trying to increase their presence. While at the military academy, the student will quietly remain in touch with his Gulenist mentor, but will be careful not to reveal any religious tendencies that would flag him and deny him promotion. Once placed in a strategic institution, whether in the military, police, judiciary or major media outlet, the graduate continues to receive guidance from a Gulenist mentor, allowing the movement to quietly and directly influence various organs of society. The Gulen movement is also known to influence its young followers to attend universities in cities away from their families where the movement can provide them with free housing. This separation allows the Gulen to step in as a family replacement and strengthen its bond with the student while he or she is away from home.

Gulenist Schools' Expanding Global Influence

Over the past few decades the Gulen movement has spread to virtually every corner of the globe through its expansive education network. The Gulenist international footprint comprises 1,000 private schools (according to Gulen estimates) spanning 115 countries, including 35 African countries. These Gulenist schools can be found in small towns everywhere from Ethiopia, Bosnia, Cambodia, India, Kazakhstan, Pakistan, Cote d'Ivoire, Azerbaijan — and even the United States, where according to some estimates, the movement runs more than 90 charter public schools in at least 20 states. Like their counterparts in Turkey, the facilities and quality of instruction at these schools are excellent, making them attractive places for elite families of various ethnicities to send their children to receive an education. Gulenist businessmen provide the majority of these schools' funding. Such donors have given a portion of their incomes to schools in an assigned region in exchange for help finding business deals. The teachers of the schools are typically devout Gulenist followers willing to live far away from home in foreign lands for what they see as the greater mission of the Gulenist cause. The curriculum at these schools includes math, science, and Turkish- and English-language instruction, but there is a deeper agenda involved than pedagogy. Graduates of these schools can usually speak Turkish fluently, have been exposed to Turkish culture and history, and are prepared for careers in high places. In regions like Africa and Central Asia in particular, where quality education is difficult to come by, the children of the political elites who attend these schools usually have developed a deep affinity for Turkish culture. As a result, the Gulenists are able to raise a generation of diplomats, security professionals, economists and engineers who are more likely to take Turkish national interests into account when they reach positions of influence. The Gulenists have made a conscious attempt to avoid the perception that they are proselytizing to students through these schools, however. Lessons in Islam tend to be more prevalent in Gulenist schools where the religion already has a foothold. For example, Islam has a deep history in the Caucasus and Central Asia, though the religion was severely undermined by decades of Communist rule. Many Azerbaijanis, Kazakhs, Uzbeks and other descendants of the Soviet Union do not identify with Islam; the Gulenist schools in these regions aim to revive moderate Islam in the former Soviet territories. This is not to say that the Gulenists are radicalizing these countries, however. In fact, the Gulenists emphasize that the Turkish version of Islam that they teach is moderate in its approach and distinct from the strict Islamic practices of Saudi Arabia and Iran. As such, the Gulenists are not welcome everywhere they would like to set up. Iran and Saudi Arabia, neither of which wants a foreign strand of Islam influencing its people, have both shut the Gulenist schools out. In the Netherlands, where concerns over the growth of Islam run particularly high, the government has tried to force out Gulenist institutions. For its part, Russia — a natural competitor to Turkey — is extremely wary of this channel of influence, and has reportedly shut down at least 16 Gulenist schools so far. Russia is also heavily reasserting its influence in the former Soviet Union; to this end; it wishes to block the Gulenist movement from expanding in places like Central Asia and the Caucasus. Uzbekistan, with a government paranoid about external influences — especially those tinged with Islam, which they fear will inflame the various militant Islamist groups in the region — banned a number of Gulenist schools in 2000. The Gulenists have had greater success in setting up private high schools and universities in Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Kyrgyzstan. Meanwhile, Azerbaijani officials regularly complain in private about the Gulenist "encroachment" in their country, claiming they do not need Turks to instruct them on how be "good Muslims." Even Iraq's Kurdistan Regional Government reportedly shut down four Gulenist institutions in December 2009. Such resistance is likely to increase as the movement's profile rises and as countries grow nervous over Turkey's expanding influence. In places like Africa, however, where countries are desperate for development, Muslims are in abundance, chaotic conditions prevail and foreign competition lacks the intensity it has in strategic battlegrounds like Central Asia, the Gulen movement has far more room to expand its educational, business and political ties.

Security: Taking on the Military

Ataturk, a military man at heart, wanted to ensure his work and vision for Turkey would remain intact long after his death. The Turkish armed forces seized responsibility for that legacy upon his death. Article 35 of the Army Internal Service Law of 1935 gives the military the constitutional right to protect and defend the Turkish homeland and the republic. While the Turkish Constitution outlaws the removal of democratically elected governments by force, according to the majority of the armed forces and the Kemalist camp, a constitutional republic is defined as the liberal and secular republic founded by Ataturk, not the religiously conservative republic growing under the rule of the Islamist-oriented AKP. Turkish generals throughout much of Turkey's history interpreted these laws as permitting the armed forces to intervene in civilian affairs whenever stability was threatened or the secular fabric of the country showed signs of unraveling. Consequently, Turkey has experienced three military coups — in 1960, 1971 and 1980 — and one "soft coup" in 1997, when the military worked through the National Security Council to bring down the government without dissolving the parliament or suspending the Constitution. When the military was not directly holding the political reins, it did so indirectly via the so-called Derin Devlet or "Deep State," which worked in the parliament, courts and media to ensure that Turkey's Islamists remained impotent. The Deep State refers to a murky network of members from the armed forces and the National Intelligence Organization (MIT), some with links to organized criminal syndicates and ultranationalist groups that view themselves as the guardians of the secular republic, and are willing to ignore the law to uphold that secular tradition. Turkey's Islamists knew that if they had any chance of overturning the power balance of the state, they would have to take on the armed forces. The process would be slow, quiet and deliberate, but would ultimately see the military stripped of its long-held untouchable status.

From Deep State to Ergenekon

The Gulen movement began this task with the police intelligence services. The Turkish police force had long been the weakest institution within the security apparatus, largely a reflection of the country's rural-urban divide through much of the 20th century. In the early part of the century, the rural population comprised two-thirds of the country, giving the gendarmerie, the branch of the armed services responsible for the security of the countryside, far more influence than the police, which patrolled urban areas. As more Turks began moving to the cities in the latter half of the century and eventually came to outnumber the rural population, however, the police steadily gained clout, providing the Gulen movement with a rare opportunity. Since the police were not a powerful force at the time, secularists within the security establishment did not scrutinize them as carefully. As a result, background checks for Islamist tendencies in police officers were more lax, allowing religious conservatives to gradually increase their presence in the institution under the Gulen movement's guidance. Within three decades, the police, and particularly police intelligence, came under the umbrella of the AKP and Gulen movement. The Islamists now had a powerful tool with which to undercut their secularist rivals. Not only did they enjoy the pervasiveness of a security network that patrols the vast majority of Turkey's population and the wiretapping capabilities to investigate the bowels of the security establishment, they also had a powerful machine in the form of the AKP to uproot the Deep State and neutralize the military's grip over the government. The AKP spent its first five years in power from 2002 to 2007 trying to establish a working relationship with the Turkish General Staff as it made inroads into the National Security Council and started playing a role in the appointment of senior military leaders. In summer 2007, as the party prepared itself for a landslide election victory, the AKP's moves against the military took a bold turn in the form of the now-infamous Ergenekon probe. Ergenekon is an investigation launched in June 2007 upon the discovery of a few grenades in the slums of Istanbul. As word of the investigation hit the newsstands, allegations began flying about how the Deep State was at work again to overthrow the AKP government. Alleged anti-AKP conspirators had their phones tapped, and purported transcripts of their conversations were published in the (mostly Gulenist-backed) media. Meanwhile, hundreds of suspects, including journalists, retired soldiers, academics and everyday criminals, were arrested in predawn raids for allegedly taking part in this conspiracy. Though there is little doubt that elements of the Deep State were legitimately rolled up in this Ergenekon probe, there is also reason to believe that this probe took on a life of its own — and increasingly became a tool with which to quash political dissent. The AKP defended the probe to the outside world as a sign of Turkey's democratization, arguing that Turkey was finally evolving to a point where the military could be brought under civilian control. But as the Ergenekon probe continued to grow, the legitimacy of the indictments began to be questioned with greater frequency. By late 2009, the investigations began to slow down. Then, in January 2010, another purported conspiracy was uncovered.

Breaking Precedent with Jailed Generals

A new and even more politically explosive coup plot was revealed in January by Taraf, a newspaper regularly praised by Gulenists. The plot, called "Balyoz," Turkish for "Sledgehammer," allegedly involved 162 members of the armed forces, including 29 generals. The group reportedly composed a 5,000-page document in 2003, shortly after the AKP came to power, detailing plans to sow violence in the country and create the conditions for a military takeover to "get rid of every single threat to the secular order of the state." The plot allegedly included crashing a Turkish jet over the Aegean Sea in a dogfight with a Greek jet to create a diplomatic crisis with Athens and bombing the Fatih and Beyazit mosques in Istanbul. By late February, more than 40 military officers were arrested, including four admirals, a general, two colonels and former commanders of the Turkish navy and air force. The military was backed against a wall. Though it still had enough influence over the courts to fight the arrests, there was no question it was locked into an uphill battle against the Islamist forces. The Ergenekon probes that began in 2007 went after retired soldiers, but the arrests of active-duty generals in Sledgehammer completely broke with precedent. More recently, the AKP has taken it upon itself to exercise its constitutional right to make decisions on promotions for high-ranking members of the military — something that no civilian government dared in the past. What was once considered unthinkable for Turks across the country was now becoming a reality: The military, the self-proclaimed vanguard of the secular state, was becoming impotent as a political force. While the AKP and Gulen movement already have de facto ownership of the country's police intelligence, they are also making significant inroads into MIT, the national intelligence service. Long dominated by the secularist establishment, MIT historically spent a good portion of its time keeping tabs on domestic political opponents like the AKP. The Turkish National Security Council in late May appointed 42-year-old bureaucrat Hakan Fidan as the new MIT chief. Though Fidan has both a civilian and military background, making him more palatable to the army and civilian government, his sympathies appear to lean heavily toward the AKP. This has not gone unnoticed by Israel, which has launched a campaign to defame Fidan in various media outlets, alleging that he would be more prone to sharing intelligence with countries like Iran. Notably, Fethullah Gulen publicly praised Fidan for his previous work as leader of the Turkish International Cooperation and Development Agency (TIKA), which works closely with the Gulen movement abroad. Fidan plans to increase MIT's capabilities and focus on foreign intelligence collection, allowing more room for the police intelligence (already under heavy AKP and Gulen influence) to operate at home. By drawing a more distinct line between foreign and domestic intelligence and shifting the MIT's focus outward, the AKP and Gulen movement are advancing their aims of using intelligence as a foreign policy tool to promote Turkish expansion abroad while slowly denying the secularists the ability to use MIT for domestic espionage purposes. It has now become all the more imperative for the military to maintain a hold on the security issues that still give the armed forces some leverage against the AKP. The Kurdish question and the dispute with Greece over Cyprus top this list, but even here the AKP is working aggressively to take ownership of these issues by recasting them as inherently political problems resolvable through economic development and diplomacy as opposed to military might. As long as Turkey's economy remains stable, the military simply does not have the popular dissatisfaction necessary to form a campaign against the AKP and Gulenist forces. The Turkish armed forces thus no longer have the power exclusively to chart Turkey's political course, and whatever remaining power they have in the political arena continues to slip by the day.

Media and Business: Challenging the Secular Establishment

Controlling the Message

Turkey's media sits at the center of the country's power struggle. Newspapers are the source of leaks that have thrown generals in jails, courtrooms are filled with legal battles between media agencies and op-eds spar daily over which ideological direction the country should take. The media is an especially potent tool in the Gulenist and AKP fight against the armed forces. The vast majority of leaks in the Ergenekon and Sledgehammer probes mysteriously emanated from a single newspaper, Taraf. Taraf was founded in 2007 as a paper for liberal democrats shortly before the Ergenekon probe was launched. The Gulenists hail Taraf as Turkey's "most courageous" news outlet for its detailed coverage of Deep State. It printed everything from telephone transcripts of alleged coup plotters to satellite imagery of Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) militants crossing the Iraqi-Turkish border to document alleged military negligence. While the Gulenists claim Taraf's success in investigative journalism is due to brave, disillusioned soldiers willing to leak information, others within the secularist camp suspect the transfers of sensitive information to Taraf have arisen due to years of successful infiltration of the armed forces by the Gulen movement. Most of Turkey's predominantly secularist media, including the dailies Hurriyet, Milliyet and Cumhurriyet, have been around as long as the republic itself. Beginning in the mid-1980s, however, Islamist forces began making their appearance in the media world through newspapers like Zaman, Star, and (since 2007) Sabah. Today, these newspapers have come to dominate the Turkish media landscape, providing pro-AKP coverage. Even in the English-language arena, which is vital for the outside world to monitor developments in Turkey, the Gulenist Today's Zaman is now outpacing the secularist Hurriyet Daily News. The Gulenist-backed papers also have the benefit of a massive, well-organized social network to distribute newspapers for free, boosting their circulation. Meanwhile, the secularist newspapers are increasingly finding themselves faced with a choice between pleading political neutrality or fighting legal battles in the courtroom. The most prominent media war in this power struggle is being played out between Dogan Media, owned by one of Turkey's leading business conglomerates, and Feza Yayincilik media group, with Dogan's Hurriyet and Feza's Zaman newspapers respectively at the epicenter of the battle. Dogan Media is extremely uncomfortable with the shift toward one-party rule under the AKP, and has publicly proclaimed the need to balance against the rapid growth of pro-AKP/Gulenist news. After the Dogan group devoted considerable coverage to a corruption scandal involving money laundering through Islamist charities in Germany by senior members of the Erdogan government in 2008, the media group soon found itself slapped with a $2.5 billion fine for alleged unpaid back taxes. While tax fraud is relatively common in Turkey's media sector across the political spectrum, and Dogan Media was no exception, suspicions run deep that Dogan was singled out as an example to other media of what can happen to a powerful business tycoon who challenges the AKP. Members within the pro-AKP/Gulenist media camp counter that Dogan got what it deserved, and cite the fining of the group as an example of a more democratic society that no longer shies away from punishing powerful offenders. At this point, Turkey's media battles intersect the corporate arena, where a quiet and brooding competition is being played out between the old Istanbul elite and the rising Anatolian tigers.

Anatolia Takes on the Istanbul Business Elite

A handful of secular family conglomerates based in Istanbul have dominated Turkey's business sector for decades, serving as Turkey's economic outlet to the rest of the world. On the other side of the struggle stand the millions of small- and medium-sized businesses with roots in more religiously and socially conservative Anatolia. While the secular-nationalists still enjoy the upper hand in the business world, the Anatolian tigers are slowly gaining ground. At present, the Turkish economy is dominated by names like Sabanci, Koc, Dogan, Dogus, Zorlu and Calik. Dogan Media occupies the staunchly secular niche of the business sector at odds with the AKP's Islamist-rooted vision, and has taken a public stand against the ruling party. Sabanci and Dogus also belong in the staunchly secular group, but tend to exhibit a more neutral stance in public toward the AKP for business reasons, such as avoiding the sort of legal battles Dogan has faced. Calik and Zorlu groups are far more opportunistic: They keep close political connections to the AKP to secure business contracts and tolerate the Gulen movement, though they are not considered true believers in the Islamist agenda. The last category consists of business conglomerates legitimately pro-AKP and Gulenist, such as Ulker Group and Ihlas Holding. The lines dividing Turkey's business, media and politics have become increasingly blurred over the years. Several of Turkey's prominent business conglomerates contain media outlets, and the AKP has worked to keep those media outlets friendly, or at least neutral. Those that oblige often obtain business deals with the state, while those that resist can find themselves slapped with lawsuits or having to transform their newspapers into mostly apolitical tabloids to avoid political pressure. Calik Group is perhaps the most obvious example of the corporate benefits that can follow a healthy relationship with the AKP. In April 2007, the state-run Saving Deposit Insurance Fund (TMSF) seized Sabah news agency in a predawn raid on the charge of fraud of its owner. Sabah is Turkey's second-largest media group; prior to the raid, it was considered the strongest liberal and secular voice in the Turkish media. The TMSF sold the group to Calik Holding in an auction in which Calik was the sole bidder, after which Erdogan's son-in-law became CEO of the agency. Loans from two state-owned banks (made allegedly at AKP's urging) and from a media agency based in Qatar financed the deal. Today, Sabah is considered pro-AKP. This intersection between politics and business can also be seen in the energy sector. The AKP has a strategy to boost four energy firms in the country that have aligned themselves with the ruling party. The firms are divided among Turkey's four main energy areas of interest: Ciner's Park Teknik in Russia, SOM in Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan, Inci in Iraq, and AKSA in Turkey. Park Teknik and AKSA are expected to work together to pursue a deal with Russia to build Turkey's first nuclear power plant. The AKP and Gulen movement lack the leverage the secularist-nationalists hold in the banking sector, but that has not stopped them from finding resources to finance strategic projects, as the Sabah takeover demonstrates. Banks such as Turkiye Is Bankasi — created by Ataturk in the early days of the republic to maintain a secular stronghold on the country's finances — are difficult to compete with, but state-owned Ziraat Bankasi has increasingly become the AKP's go-to bank. Ziraat bank CEO Can Akin Caglar comes from a pro-AKP/Gulenist background. Prior to becoming Ziraat CEO in 2003, he worked for Turkiye Finans Bank, a known conservative bank owned jointly by Ulker and Boydak Groups. (Ulker is a staunchly pro-AKP/Gulenist business conglomerate.) Later, 60 percent of its shares were sold to Saudi Arabia's National Commercial Bank in 2007. The Gulen movement also deposits much of the donations it receives with Turkiye Finans, now named Bank Asya.

The Gulenist Business Cycle

The AKP and Gulen movement recognize the lack of space for competition with the Western-oriented trade markets ruled by Koc, Sabanci and the other secularist business elites. Instead, the Islamist forces have created their own business model, one that speaks for Anatolia and focuses on accessing markets in places like the Middle East, Africa, Central Asia, Latin America and the Asia-Pacific region. The drivers behind this business campaign are Turkey's Independent Industrialists and Businessmen's Association (MUSIAD) and Turkish Confederation of Businessmen and Industrialists (TUSKON), made up of thousands of small- and medium-sized business owners. TUSKON has existed for just five years, but is slowly emerging as an alternative to the larger, and more well-established business associations like Turkish Industrialists' and Businessmen's Association (TUSIAD), which represent big-name firms like Sabanci, Koc and Dogan (and, which as expected, support the secularists). As opposed to the Istanbul-entrenched secularist corporations, most businessmen who belong to TUSKON and MUSIAD hail from small, generally poorer and religiously conservative towns and cities across Anatolia. TUSKON is tightly linked into the Gulen movement and forms an integral part of the Gulenist business, education, political and even foreign intelligence agenda. The business association organizes massive business conferences in various parts of the globe attended by high-level AKP officials that aim to bring hundreds of Turkish businessmen into contact with their foreign counterparts. While there are variations to how the Gulenist business cycle works, the following is a basic example: A small-business owner from the eastern Anatolian city of Gaziantep makes a living manufacturing and selling shirt buttons. A Gulenist invites the buttonmaker to a TUSKON business conference in Africa, where he will be put into contact with a shirtmaker from Tanzania who will buy his buttons. The Turkish buttonmaker and the Tanzanian shirtmaker are then incorporated into a broader supply chain that provides both with business across continents, wherever the Gulenists operate. In short, the Anatolian buttonmaker can expand his business tenfold or more if he belongs to the Gulenist network. In return, the Gulen movement will ask the buttonmaker to provide financial support for the development of Gulenist programs and schools in Tanzania. The end result is a well-oiled and well-financed business and education network spanning 115 countries across the globe. Not only do these business links translate into votes when elections roll around, they also (along with the schools) form the backbone of the AKP's soft power strategy in the foreign policy sphere.

Foreign Policy: Enabling the Rise

The Gulenist transnational network is a natural complement to the AKP's foreign policy agenda. While many within the secularist and nationalist camp are highly uncomfortable with the notion of Pan-Islamism and Pan-Turkism — strategies that, in their eyes, brought about the collapse of the Ottoman Empire — AKP followers embrace their Ottoman past and favor an expansionist agenda. As espoused by Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, Turkey is a unique geopolitical power, at the same time European and Asian, Middle Eastern and Central Asian, Balkan and Caucasian and straddling the Black, Caspian and Mediterranean seas. In the AKP's view, Turkey's potential is great, and though it shies away from the term "neo-Ottomanism" for fear of provoking an imperial image, it is difficult to see Turkey's current foreign policy as anything but a drive to return to its Ottoman sphere of influence. Members of the secularist camp historically have dominated Turkey's Ministry of Foreign Affairs. They continue to maintain a strong presence in Turkish embassies, since Turkish diplomats, as in many countries, generally must serve an average of 20 years before they reach a position of influence. But this, too, is gradually shifting under AKP rule: Foreign Ministry sources report than an increasing number of graduates from Gulenist schools are being recruited into the diplomatic service. To help speed up the Islamist integration with the Foreign Ministry, the AKP-led government has passed legislation to allow Turks to become ambassadors at younger ages — lowered from 45 to 35. Turkey has also accelerated the opening of embassies in countries where the Gulen movement has a strong presence. In 2009 alone, Turkey opened 10 new embassies, the majority of them in Africa. These cities included Dar es Salaam (Tanzania), Accra (Ghana), Maputo (Mozambique), Antananarivo (Madagascar), Abidjan (Cote d'Ivoire), Yaounde (Cameroon), Luanda (Angola), Bamako (Mali), Niamey (Niger), N'Djamena (Chad), Bogota (Colombia) and Valetta (Malta). In addition, Turkey uses its foreign policy arm to negotiate with countries across the Middle East, Eurasia and Africa to eliminate visa restrictions and open up new markets for Anatolian businessmen. The Turkish Cooperation Development Agency (TIKA) is also key to these foreign policy efforts. The Turkish government created TIKA in the early 1990s to forge ties with former Soviet countries with which it enjoyed a shared Turkic heritage, though TIKA did not make much headway initially. The AKP, however, reinvigorated the TIKA in recent years for use as a public diplomacy tool, transforming it into a highly active development agency. Davutoglu has even referred to TIKA as a second foreign ministry. TIKA's development projects, particularly in Central Asia and Africa, overlap heavily with the Gulen movement. As mentioned, Turkey's new national intelligence chief, Hakan Fidan — who shares the AKP's vision for an expansionist foreign policy — formerly headed TIKA. Some Gulenists privately boast that their institutions abroad, whether schools, hospitals or other types of developmental agencies, serve as useful intelligence satellites for the Foreign Ministry. If a problem erupts in a country in Central Asia, for example, where press freedoms are nonexistent and information is extremely difficult to come by, the Foreign Ministry can tap local Gulenist contacts for information and to facilitate government contacts. Gulenists abroad often learn local languages, allowing them to act as Turkish translators. They have also developed close relationships with foreign governments through their work as well as their students, who often are sons and daughters of the local political elite.

Success in Image Control

AKP officials often deny Gulenist claims of serving as intelligence satellites for fear the AKP could be seen as pursuing a subversive global Islamist agenda. Indeed, some on the far left in Turkey have characterized the Gulen movement as a group of violent Islamist extremists ultimately aiming to impose Shariah in Turkey. Though inaccurate, this view belongs to a fringe group within the secularist camp that wants to reverse Turkey's trajectory. For this reason, the AKP has made a considerable effort to pursue negotiations with the European Union for full-fledged membership despite the high probability such talks are unlikely to lead anywhere. Poll numbers reveal how Turks increasingly are realizing that the chances of EU membership have become a distant possibility. Yet the AKP cannot afford to allow that disillusionment to seep into its foreign policy. Candidates for EU membership must have a modern economy, a military under civilian control and an image of secularism. Privately, AKP officials agree that unanimous EU approval for Turkish membership would be extraordinarily difficult, if not impossible, to attain. But were Turkey to drop its bid, turned its gaze solely toward Asia, and proceeded with a Pan-Islamic foreign policy, the party would have a much more difficult time arguing that it is not the threatening Islamist power the secularists have sought to paint it as being. Instead, the AKP and the Gulenists want to portray themselves as having everything in common with the liberal, democratic values of the West — and that these very values have driven its efforts to bring the military under civilian control. Image control becomes especially important in Turkey's relationship with the United States. Conspiracy theories run rife in Turkey, and both sides of the power struggle will argue that the United States is backing one faction against the other. For example, some secularists point to Gulen's Pennsylvania residency and his political asylum in the United States as "evidence" the U.S. government supports the AKP's rise. At the same time, the Islamists will claim that the United States backs the secularists, and provided covert support for the 2007 "soft coup" attempt by the secularist-dominated courts to ban the AKP. Despite these charges being contradictory, the AKP is very conscious of the need to present itself as a nonthreatening, democratic power with an Islamist background capable of facilitating U.S. objectives in the Islamic world. This explains why, despite its strong convictions that Israel's actions against the Turkish aid flotilla were inexcusable, the AKP quietly dispatched a delegation to Washington to mitigate some of the damage that was inflicted on the U.S.-Turkish relationship over the incident. Likewise, as the Gulen movement demonstrated in the wake of the flotilla crisis, the Gulenists will occasionally publicize their disagreements with the AKP on certain issues in an attempt to present their movement as a more compatible partner with the West. Keeping Turkey's EU bid alive and relations with Washington on an even keel will thus help the Islamists undermine secularist efforts to portray the AKP in a negative light abroad. Though the AKP will continue to keep a fair bit of distance from the Gulen in its dealings abroad to protect this image, the Gulenist transnational network undeniably gives the AKP economic reach, social influence and political linkages vital to Ankara's foreign policy.

Judiciary: Neutralizing the High Courts

Whether the issue is headscarves worn in universities, media firms charged with tax evasion or soldiers charged with coup-plotting, virtually every strand of Turkey's power struggle eventually finds its way to the courts. The dividing line in the judiciary lies between the secularist-dominated high courts and the AKP-influenced low courts. This division results in a dizzying judicial system in which court rulings are often mired in political mayhem. The high judiciary in Turkey is made up of the Constitutional Court (or "Anayasa Mahkemesi" in Turkish), the High Court of Appeals ("Yargıtay"), the State Council ("Danistay"), and the High Panel Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK). The seven-member HSYK plays an instrumental role in the appointment of judges and prosecutors. In the current system, the HSYK is composed of the justice minister, the justice minister's undersecretary, three members appointed by Yargitay and two by Danistay. The secularists have long controlled the most powerful judicial institutions. The headscarf controversy is perhaps the best illustration of the struggle between religious and secularist forces in the judiciary. Turkey's secularist-dominated State Council has long barred Turkish women from wearing the headscarf in the public sector, making it difficult for religious females in Turkey to seek a university education or a career in the government, judiciary or state-run education system. The AKP obtained sufficient votes for a proposed amendment in 2008 to lift the headscarf ban, but the secularist-controlled Constitutional Court annulled the proposed amendment four months later in a non-appealable decision. Shortly thereafter, the two sides butted heads again when the Constitutional Court threatened to ban the AKP on the charge of being "the focus of activities against secularism." The AKP escaped the ban, but at the cost of backing off from the headscarf ban for now. Secularists continue to hold the upper hand against the Islamists in the judiciary. Through their dominance of the high courts, the secularists hold the single most potent weapon in this struggle: The ability to ban political parties for violating the secular tradition of the state. The AKP is all too familiar with this threat. The Constitutional Court has banned three AKP predecessors — Milli Selamet Partisi (in 1980), Refah Partisi (in 1998) and Fazilet Partisi (in 2001) — for "becoming the focus of anti-secularist activities." Though the AKP is far more moderate in its approach than its predecessors, it just barely escaped a ban in 2008 over the headscarf issue over the same charge. So far, each time the court has struck the party, the AKP has come back even more resolute in its determination to undermine the secularists. Now, the AKP is ready to take on the judiciary with a package of constitutional amendments designed to strip the secularists of their judicial control. With some modifications, this package of constitutional amendments calls for several critical changes. One is the restructuring of the Constitutional Court and HSYK, ending the secularist monopoly and giving the lower judiciary more clout. For example, the HYSK reforms call for increasing its membership from seven to 21, 10 of whom would be selected by 12,000 judges and prosecutors in lower courts across the country — where the AKP enjoys significant influence — while five would be appointed by the president. Another calls for binding party dissolution cases to parliamentary approval, thereby neutering the highest court's ability to ban the party at will whenever the secularist-Islamist balance tilts toward the Islamists. This last resolution has not made it out of the parliament, though the AKP is sure to try again when the political climate is more conducive to success. As expected, secularists in the high courts and the parliament — with behind-the-scenes military backing — strongly oppose these changes, charging that they will eliminate checks and balances in the government. They also claim that the reforms are illegal, as Article 4 of Turkey's 1982 Constitution states that amendments to the first three articles of the Constitution — articles which declare Turkey a Turkish-speaking, democratic and secular republic loyal to the nationalism of Ataturk — cannot be proposed, much less implemented. Once again, both sides are seeking to seize the mantel of democracy, as the Islamists counter that an unelectable cabal runs the judiciary, and that these constitutional reforms are necessary to make Turkey more pluralistic and in line with Western standards of government. The package of constitutional amendments got approval from the Constitutional Court and barely made it through Turkey's parliament on May 7, with 336 votes in favor. While this passed the 330 threshold needed for the government to put the proposals to a referendum, the parliamentary vote fell short of the two-thirds majority needed to adopt the amendments without a referendum. The public referendum will be held Sept. 12, the anniversary of the 1980 military coup. The battle lines are thus drawn, and the struggle will be fierce in the months ahead. AKP and Gulen leaders cannot claim with confidence that the referendum will pass, but if it does, the Islamists will establish the legal foundation to accelerate their political rise. If the referendum collapses, the secularists will retain the most critical weapon in their arsenal to uphold the Kemalist traditions of the republic. Even if the referendum fails, however, the struggle will be far from over. The next phase of the battle will be the 2011 elections, which the AKP is counting on to win a supermajority in the parliament to draft an entirely new Constitution that would further cement its power. Following the flotilla crisis, the AKP is likely to have a more difficult time in trying to achieve this goal after seeing its response to the incident backfire both at home and abroad. The main opposition secularist parties, the People's Republican Party (CHP) and National Movement Party (MHP), were quick to seize the opportunity and blame the AKP for mismanaging the crisis and making Turkey appear reckless abroad. The post-flotilla backlash, combined with a recent rise in PKK attacks, have even led the AKP to make concessions to the secularist opposition, including a recent court decision to free some of those accused in the Sledgehammer probe. Still, even though the AKP's rivals have several opportunities at hand, they are no longer dealing with the AKP from an obvious position of strength. The struggle of the secularists and the advent of the Anatolian masses is a factional feud that defies an easy resolution, but is a necessary component of Turkey's regional rise.

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