Nothing other than the sham trials and farcical indictments against critics and opponents in Turkey — unprecedented in magnitude, scope and intensity — best demonstrate the paranoid and xenophobic nature of the regime of autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, whose propaganda machinery routinely employs a variety of tactics to discredit its real or perceived adversaries by fabricating politically motivated charges without presenting any real evidence whatsoever.
Erdoğan’s coalition of Islamist and neo-nationalist factions are leading the charge against Turkey’s allies and partners, continuing to fan xenophobic feelings towards them while weaving fictitious plots on the home front to create deep mistrust, escalate tension and break national unity in a bitter polarizing discourse. This is not sustainable as it has already started to take a significant toll on Turkey’s relations with its neighbors, allies and partners. The grotesque attempts to smear legitimate criticism and stifle opposition and the right to dissent in domestic politics via false claims of foreign plots have troubled Turkey’s interlocutors abroad.
The hastily arranged indictments against opposition lawmakers, journalists, civil society activists, business leaders and human rights defenders as part of the government’s relentless push to intimidate opponents and muzzle criticism have laid bare the conspiracy-ridden mentality in the mind of Islamists and their bedfellows. No doubt members of the progressive civil movement inspired by Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen have borne the brunt of this unprecedented assault on rights and freedoms but they are certainly not alone. Kurds, Alevis, seculars, liberals, independents and many others have been victimized by the stigmatizing policies of Erdoğan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) government.
A quick survey of the indictments against veteran and top-notch journalists such as Ekrem Dumanlı, Can Dündar, Erdem Gül, Hidayet Karaca, Mehmet Baransu, Gültekin Avcı, Cevheri Güven and many other critical journalists tell the tale of lies and innuendo that have nothing to do with any solid evidence of wrongdoing. The same goes for the indictments filed against Gülen, who has been a lifetime advocate of interfaith dialogue, a proponent of science education and critical thinking and a staunch opponent of corruption in the government.
Conspiracy and coup charges leveled against hundreds of veteran police chiefs — who have spent their whole careers exposing criminal networks, battling terrorist groups and uncovering graft networks incriminating politicians — hold no water as they lack any shred of evidence to substantiate the charges. It is hardly surprising to see how a partisan prosecutor who filed some 10,000 pages of indictment against Gülen and others was able to connect a 2014 corruption and money-laundering probe involving state-controlled oil company Petrobras in Brazil to the 2013 corruption investigations in Turkey that incriminated Erdoğan, his family members and his associates.
The only purported evidence cited in this prosecutor’s file was a joint effort by Turkey and Brazil in 2010 to broker a nuclear deal with Iran, who agreed to give up its highly enriched uranium in exchange for sweeteners. Somehow, the prosecutor managed to construct a Jewish conspiracy, saying Israel was discomfited by mediation efforts by both Turkey and Brazil. Then, he claims, corruption probes into leaders of both countries were initiated as part of a global plot. He also cited a public wire dispatch filed in 2014 by a reporter affiliated with the İstanbul-based Cihan news agency that covered developments in Brazil and that was shared with all its news clients as further proof of this conspiracy.
This is the pattern we are unfortunately seeing in all the indictments recently filed by the government against critics and opponents in Turkey. Since Islamists fail to make their cases on any hard evidence or real facts, they felt the need to turn to lies and fabrications to fuel the invented conspiracies. For that, they set up a clandestine department in the National Intelligence Organization (MİT), headed by Erdoğan confidant Hakan Fidan. This department was staffed by several Islamists and neo-nationalists who were brought in from radical Islamist and ultra-nationalist media outlets. Their job is to communicate lies, half-truths and pure fantasy plots to pro-government media. Then these newspaper clippings turn into legal mumbo- jumbo type indictments.
Fabricated stories such as the involvement of former US Ambassador to Turkey Francis Ricciardone in plotting the huge graft scandal, plots by the German government to interrupt major infrastructure projects such as the third airport in İstanbul allegedly to eliminate any competition with Lufthansa, the British conspiracy to thwart İstanbul from becoming a financial hub or the malicious attempt by the Serbian government to divide Turkey by sending a handful of snipers to aid outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) terrorists were all part of the work done by this team. Many foreign diplomats in Ankara have grown increasingly agitated by this machinery and have raised their government’s protests with their counterparts in the Foreign Ministry, but to no avail.
When the government finally realized the smear campaign was not very effective and had failed to gain any real traction in the public view given the influence and credibility of still vibrant, critical and independent media outlets, whose numbers were, in fact, dwindling under intense financial pressure from the Islamist government, the Islamists decided to move on to the next stage of cracking down on critical journalists by convicting and imprisoning them. In the extreme cases, the government even took over a whole media group on trumped-up charges. That still did not produce the intended result of silencing the whole nation.
The growing bitterness against the failed campaign has led to increasingly venomous daily attacks by Erdoğan and other Islamist leaders who went overboard in bashing Turkey’s allies and partners and taking on the whole world with incessant attacks on global and regional organizations such as the United Nations, the Arab League, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) or against individual states such as the US, Russia, Britain, France and China. Surely, Erdoğan’s need to create new enemies to distract the nation from internal troubles and shore up his fledgling support back at home has partially played a role in these sinister efforts.
But, in any case, all these paranoid and even delusional claims by the Islamists at home have damaged Turkey’s reputation in a way that no other malicious actor could ever have achieved. Erdoğan and his racist partners have become a huge liability to the nation, dragging the country into turbulent waters on the home front and in the region. They need to be pushed out for the nation to become normalized. Without that, no effort to mend fences with our friends and allies or to have a working relationship with even adversaries can be possible on a sustainable level.