The Shoebox is on the Other Foot: Turkey’s Year of Retaliation
Which date is more useful for explaining the arrests of prominent Turkish media figures that occurred on December 14, 2014: April 4, 2009—when the Turkish religious leader Fethullah Gülen first issued a broadside against the “Tahşiyeciler,” a small religious group that opposed his interpretations of scripture—or December 17, 2013—when prosecutors and police connected with Gülen’s movement spearheaded a series of sweeping arrests that ensnared both government officials and the sons of several ministers?
The answer one chooses to such a question—or the degree to which one even contemplates that there is an alternative—says a lot about the state of politics in Turkey.
Though it may be a stretch to say that arrests in Turkey have developed seasonal rhythms, that is only because arrests have been happening throughout the past four seasons. Following December 17, the government took several weeks to regain its footing—and, even then, it continued to face surprises in the form of embarrassing, leaked wiretaps. Yet, once it had become clear that Prime Minister Erdoğan had no intention of compromising with the Gülen movement—and once it had become clear that the movement had taken its best shot and missed—the question turned to the extent of the government’s reaction. The answer: shockingly extensive.
Ultimately, the multi-pronged nature of the government’s response could not have been otherwise: power in Turkey is grounded in a series of competing networks; alliances between business, the media, the army, the bureaucracy, and (often as not) the black market. The “Islamist movement” in Turkey does not refer to a single, unified network, but rather a number of competing ones that, for several decades now, have overcome their differences in order to achieve their shared goals. Sharing out government offices and economic benefits was the glue holding the coalition together. It was probably inevitable, therefore, that tensions among these networks would increase as the shared threat of the secular-state faded—equally inevitable too that the power struggle, when it came, would reverberate throughout the society.
The arrests on December 17 were merely the most dramatic event in a conflict that had been obvious for over a year. Since Gülenist prosecutors had moved to scuttle the government’s negotiations with the Kurdish Worker’s Party (PKK) in 2012, the government had been taking a series of measures against members of the movement, which it now described as constituting a “parallel structure” to the state. These measures included a bill to close test-prep schools (which were a major source of revenue for the movement); increased financial scrutiny of Gülenist firms; and the release of several journalists who had been critical of the movement. The circumstances surrounding the journalists’ initial arrests give many who observe recent events a sense of schadenfreude: when relations with the government were good, Gülenist prosecutors used their powers to silence critics, and Gülenist papers championed investigations and arrests based on the flimsiest of evidence.
For the past year, the situation has been reversed.
From December 17 through early January, the Gülen movement focused its efforts on undermining the pillars of Justice and Development Party (AKP) credibility—its claims to financial probity and its competence in foreign policy. Gülenist prosecutors alleged that AKP politicians had taken large kickbacks on construction contracts and facilitated transactions designed to skirt Iranian sanctions; in return, these officials had received gifts ranging from expensive watches to summer retreats. The house of one suspect, a bank manager, contained shoeboxes stuffed with cash. In the following days, trucks belonging to the Turkish intelligence service were stopped by local gendarme on suspicion of containing weapons bound for Syria; soon, prosecutors were arresting officials from government-linked charities on charges of assisting Al-Qaeda. All the while, Twitter and YouTube accounts shared recordings of AKP members discussing all kinds of unethical activity.
In striking back at the Gülen movement, the government likewise focused on its constituent parts: its schools; its businesses and media interests; and its influence within the state:
As late as December 17, the education system remained the most prominent point of conflict between the government and the Gülen movement. Since March 2012 (the month following the Gülenist attempt to undermine peace negotiations with the PKK), the government had been talking of shutting the movement’s test-prep schools. During the past year, the planned closures have remained on schedule but serious efforts have also been made to close Gülen schools abroad.
In many countries, Gülen schools were established with the help of sympathetic businessmen rather than the Turkish state. Regardless, during the past year, the government has put pressure on these foreign governments to shutter their Gülen schools or turn them over to the Turkish Ministry of Education. While many of the 160 countries with Gülen schools need not bow to pressure from the Turkish government, others are less able to resist. In March, Azerbaijan announced that it would “nationalize” the two-dozen schools and test prep courses, which the Gülen movement operated in the country. By June, the Azerbaijani government had begun closing some of these schools entirely.
In Africa, where numerous Gülen schools are located, and where Turkish business interests have become increasingly influential, the Turkish government has also pressured local leaders to close schools. In April, Gambia announced that it would close its Yavuz Selim College. Pro-Gülen news outlets suggested that the AKP was undermining the spread of Islam by its actions: the closure left Gambia’s private education system in the hands of Christian missionaries.
Beyond schools, the Gülen movement includes a number of prominent firms and financial institutions, many tied together through the large trade confederation TUSKON. Since December 17, many of these firms have experienced pressure from the government. According to TUSKON officials and Gülenist periodicals, firms applying for credit from government banks are now asked about their membership in the organization, and government-contractors are running into difficulties as well. Three particularly hard-hit firms make the point: Koza İpek Holding, Kaynak Holding, and Bank Asya.
Typical of holdings in Turkey, Koza has diversified into mining, media, education, aviation, and charity—often with the help of government officials and the government’s pro-business tax policies. Diversification makes Turkish firms influential throughout the economy, but it also exposes them to pressure from a multitude of state regulatory bodies. For example, Koza’s properties include media outlets Kanaltürk and Bugün; between June and September, the state television and radio authority, RTÜK, fined the latter 86,471TL ($38,000) for its television reports covering the December 17 arrests. In March, the authority canceled Kanaltürk’s national broadcast rights. Similarly, as early as December 31, the had government demanded that the firm’s mining company close one of its sites; subsequently, pro-government newspapers began focusing on malfeasance by the company—such as its digging up a graveyard. By April, the holding was establishing firms in England (perhaps, suggested government allies, as a prelude to fleeing the country). During the past year, the firm’s stock price has fallen 58%.
Nor was Koza the only Gülenist firm whose media interests received increased government scrutiny: between June and September, Samanyolu’s Haber TV was fined 61,765TL and its subsidiary STV, 71,887TL—a combined total close to $59,000. Some of these fines were specific to television series, like The Little Bride (which had depicted an attempted suicide by its desperate title character) or Peaceful Hill (which had depicted the prophet Mohammed, albeit as a ball of light). Other fines were directed at news programs: in one case, Samanyolu was fined 73,000 TL for using inappropriate music in its reports on the Soma mine disaster, in which poor conditions at a pro-government firm’s mine left three-hundred and one miners dead.
Similar to Koza, Kaynak Holding is spread through sectors including cargo, tourism, printing, and textiles. Perhaps its most visible presence is its chain of bookstores, nt. Soon after December 17, critics of the Gülen movement were calling for a boycott of the stores (an issue that became more pressing at the beginning of the school year when some school supplies were found to be only available through the stores). On March 26, the firm’s headquarters were raided by MASAK (the Financial Crime Investigation Bureau) on the grounds of tax irregularities.
As for Bank Asya, the government has thrown economic caution to the wind in its quest to undermine the country’s largest, domestic Islamic bank. Over the course of a week in January, the state airline (THY) withdrew 900 million TL forcing businessmen close to the Gülen movement to organize an unofficial bailout of the bank. Over the following months, the Banking Supervision and Regulation Agency (BBDK) increased its oversight of the bank. In April, the pro-government paper Sabah announced that the bank was no longer able to issue interest-free bonds (sukuk) with the approval of the Capital Markets Board (SPK). In the following months, Bank Asya worked to find a partner to prop it up. An announcement by the Deputy Prime Minister that the government might buy Bank Asya caused a rally—as well as suspicion that the government had been undermining the bank in order to cheapen its purchase price. The rally reversed, however, when the Prime Minister’s chief economic advisor denied such a deal. By late August, Moody’s had down-graded the bank three levels, into rankings reserved for speculative investments.
In order to ensure that regulatory agencies could be repurposed to effectively target Gülenist firms, the government replaced officials associated with the movement. In January, the vice-president of the BBDK was replaced and in April, three of four SPK board members were removed. The following month, the assistant general director of the Istanbul Stock Exchange was pushed out.  Defending these moves, a high-ranking government official explained, “In politics and economics, there is an invisible tutelage. This is highly dangerous.”
In years past, “tutelage” had been a term reserved for secular elites in the military and bureaucracy—not for supporters of religious movements.
The Criminal Justice System
Judges and Prosecutors
Given that the Gülen movement’s main weapon against the government was its influence among police and prosecutors, it is understandable that the most sweeping removals, transfers, and new appointments have occurred within the state’s law and justice institutions. In the early months following December 17, hundreds of prosecutors and police were reassigned. At higher levels of the judicial system, however, the government’s efforts were stymied. Despite its influence over the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK), the government could not count on full support for its every initiative—as for the Constitutional Court and Turkish Bar Association (TBB), relations were positively frosty.
Of the HSYK’s twenty-two members, two were the Minister of Justice and his assistant, and another four were appointed by the President. Of the remaining sixteen, thirteen had banded together after December 17 to issue a statement criticizing the government’s attempts to control police and prosecutors. These judges represented the majority of the subcommittees responsible for initiating investigations and overseeing promotions; government allies, meanwhile, retained control over the subcommittee responsible for appointments, thereby allowing the government to move around officials as it pleased. By February, the government had passed legislation strengthening the Justice Minister’s position on the board and replacing all HSYK officials except for the board members themselves.
Over the following months, a number of large-scale transfers occurred—in July, for example, 2517 judges and prosecutors were reshuffled. In the subcommittees, where government control was weak, however, there were public disagreements: though the investigation subcommittee had agreed to consider charges against prosecutors spearheading the December 17 arrests, it ultimately ruled there to be insufficient evidence. Despite this decision, the Justice Minister chose to move ahead with investigations anyway.
To some extent, the government could be patient with HSYK resistance. The board members served four-year terms, all of which would be up in October. New members would be chosen through a multi-stage process. Aside from the Justice Minister, his assistant, and the four presidential appointees, another member would be selected by a board of academics (whose structure the government had recently rearranged). Three members were chosen by the court of appeals (Yargıtay) and another two by the high administrative court (Danıştay). The remaining ten members would be selected by the state’s fourteen thousand lawyers and judges.
In the run-up to these elections, the government announced that a package of judicial reforms would be voted on following the results; these reforms would include an amnesty for all administrative warnings and charges issued to judges between February 2005 and September 2013; an exemption from testing for any judicial official without an advanced degree hoping to enter a university program; and a 1115TL ($470) raise for all judges.
Pro-government candidates grouped together under the banner of “The Legal Union Platform” and, according to their opponents, gained access to government resources (such as mailing lists) to promote their campaigns. Nonetheless, the first round of voting did not go the government’s way: the court of appeals—which one pro-government paper suggested was “becoming the base” for “parallel” actions within the state—named three candidates “close” to the Gülen community. The following week, the administrative court chose a “social democrat” and another Gülen-supporter.
The main elections on October 12 were far more favorable to the government; its candidates won eight of the ten positions. Since the twenty-two member HSYK can meet and make decisions with a quorum of twelve, the elections left the government with dominance over the body. The eight newly elected members, plus the seven appointments it controlled gave it fifteen votes to play with at any time. Government dominance of the board also allowed it to hold majorities on each of the three subcommittees. And, even though the appeals court and administrative courts still opposed the government, the HSYK was the body authorized to make new appointments to these institutions. In time, the composition of these courts could be changed as well.
As for the bill raising salaries: it passed in early December as part of a larger packet of judicial reforms. These ranged from petty actions, like cancelling the annual ceremony opening the judicial term; to administrative changes asserting more control over the courts via the HSYK; to much more controversial alterations. The law limited prosecutor’s ability to review cases; empowered police to seize property belonging to those suspected of “crimes against the constitution”; and changed the standard for police searches from possession of “strong suspicion based on concrete evidence” (somut delillere dayalı kuvvetli) to “reasonable” (makul) suspicion. The bill was signed into law on December 12, 2014.
While financial pressures on businessmen and administrative actions regarding judges might weaken the Gülen movement structurally, they failed to punish those officials who had wiretapped the AKP leadership in the first place. To this end, starting in June, the government oversaw a series of raids targeting current and retired officials in the police and intelligence services.
The morning of June 17 was typical of what was to follow: simultaneous raids in six provinces resulted in eleven arrests, including two members of the Police Inspectors Board—one of whom had formerly served as the Prime Minister’s head of security. The charges tied the men to a wiretap discovered in Erdoğan’s offices several years earlier.
A month later, the government launched raids in twenty provinces, arresting fifty-two suspects. Most prominent among these was Yurt Atayün, the former Counter Terrorism Director for Istanbul. During his years in office, Atayün had been involved in prominent investigations aginst Gulenist (and, in those days, AKP) bug-bears like the army and the PKK. Now he was accused of concocting an “imaginary” terrorist group called “Selam Tehvid” in order to justify wiretapping over 250 Turkish officials, including the Prime Minister. For his part, Atayün demanded evidence of his crimes and asserted that all his actions were done with the full knowledge of the government. Two weeks later, simultaneous raids across fourteen provinces netted an additional thirty-three lower-ranking officers.
In late October, eighteen more arrests were made. These arrests, which included a former Intelligence Bureau chief, were carried out based on allegations that the suspects had wiretapped prominent politicians and journalists. Yet another fortnight later, seventeen additional officers were arrested for using illegal wiretaps. By early December, prosecutors had submitted charges.
During this same time period, prosecutors were steadily reducing the charges against AKP officials and their sons. On October 19, the last remaining prosecutor on the December 17 investigation determined that there was insufficient evidence to continue, thereby ending the case against fifty-three suspects. As for the ministers suspected of taking kickbacks, the parliamentary investigation continues acrimoniously. Opposition party representatives on the investigatory committee have stepped down, claiming that witnesses are all allies of the defendants, and AKP members have requested that any publication of the proceedings be banned.
December 14, 2014
On the morning of Sunday, December 14, police detained over thirty suspects including the president of the Samanyolu Media Group and the editor of Zaman, the flagship newspaper of the Gülen movement. In addition, police arrested a writer for the newspaper Bugün (owned by Koza İpek Holding); the producers of several popular Samanyolu television series; and another former Counterterrorism Bureau chief. According to the police, these individuals had conspired to frame a religious sect critical of Fethuallah Gülen as Al-Qaeda-linked terrorists. The newspapers had built up the threat; the television producers had depicted the sect as villains; and the police officials had manufactured the evidence before initiating mass arrests in early 2010.
When the police arrived at the Zaman offices, employees and supporters were expecting them. Two days earlier, a Twitter accounted belonging to “FuatAvni” had announced the imminent arrests of hundreds of Gülenists. A semi-reliable source for insider-information during the past year, FuatAvni’s tweet spurred supporters to gather around the Zaman offices and Istanbul Police Headquarters on Thursday night. The following day, Bülent Arınç, the Vice-Prime Minister, explained coyly, “All I can say is, ‘These [tweets] are serious’ . . .I found them a bit desperate. I hope that such things don’t come to pass—or not to this degree, or not beyond the bounds of the law.”
Arınç was right, FuatAvni was exaggerating: far fewer than four hundred government critics were arrested on December 14. The trouble is that more and more people are ready to believe the exaggeration.
 “Gülen movement” and “Gülenist” are lazy short-hand to describe a complex network of relationships that is often difficult to prove except through a more detailed account of the connections between businesses, institutions, associations, and individuals than I am attempting here. While that is, of course, necessary, this is not the place for it. Suffice it to say, when used in this piece, the terms are applied to actors whose association with the “Gülen movement” are largely uncontroversial. For the best work on the subject, I highly recommend Joshua Hendrick, Gülen: Gülen: The Ambiguous Politics of Market Islam in Turkey and the World, New York: New York University Press, 2013.
 Aybike Eroğlu, “Tahşiyecileri Gülen hedef gösterdi medya ve polis operasyon yaptı,” Yeni Safak, 12/14/14; “Tahşiyeciler kimdir? Niye operasyon yapılmıştı,” Sabah, 12/14/14; “Timeline: Clash of Islamist groups is basis for Dec 14 operation,” Hürriyet Daily News, 12/15/14
 During the first several days, when Erdoğan was traveling abroad, members of the government hedged a bit (Esra Kaya,“‘Bize müsaade’ diyebilirler,” Hürriyet, 12/19/13), but once Erdoğan returned from his trip, announcing the choice facing the public was between “Either the nation or depravity,” the battles lines had been drawn (Esra Kaya, “Kenetleneceğiz,” Hürriyet, 12/25/13).
 Ferhat Ünlü, “Devlet ‘paralel devlet’e karşı,” Sabah,” 2/12/12; Ruşen Çakır, “Erdoğan-Gülen ilişkisi dün bugün yarın-3: ‘Yeni tür iktidar savaşları’nın ilk çarpıcı örneği,” Ruşen Çakır.com, 2/19/12
 Etyen Mahçupyan, “Gazeteciler ve gözaltı,” Zaman, 3/6/11; Mehmet Kamış, “Toplumsal bellek ya da Ahmet Şık gerçeği,” Zaman, 3/26/11; Atilla Yayla, “Gazeteci tutuklamaları, Ergenekon ve demokrasimizin geleceği,” Zaman, 4/1/11.
 Hendrick, p. 150.
 “Azerbaycan’da ‘Cemaat’e büyük darbe!” Yeni Safak, 3/6/14; “‘Azerbaycan’daki Türk okulları kamulaştırıldı’ haberi çarpıtma,” Zaman, 3/7/14; “Azerbaycan’da Fethullah Gülen bağlantılı kurumlar kapatıldı,” Radikal, 6/18/14
 Deniz Çağlar Fırat, “Koza Altın mı, hükümet-cemaat savaşı mı?” 2Eylül, 3/18/14; “KONU: KOZA GRUBU’NUN ÖNLEMEZ YÜKSELİŞİ,” OdaTV, 1/23/10; There is, of course, overlap. The main contributors to Koza’s charity are its consitutent firms and the main beneficiaries, its university (see KOZA-İPEK EGİTİM SAĞLIK HİZMET YARDIM VAKFI: 2011 FALİYET RAPORU).
 “RTÜK, Kanaltürk’ün ulusal yayın lisansını iptal etti,” Radikal, 3/26/14;
 “RTÜK’ten STV’ye ceza!” aHaber, 11/23/14; “Samanyolu TV’nin Peygamber’e hakaretine RTÜK’ten ceza,” Yeni Akit, 3/14/14; “Şefkat Tepe’den gündeme oturan Peygamber sahnesi,” Radikal, 2/12/14
 “Cemaat operasyonu başladı, Kaynak Holding’e baskın,” T24, 3/26/14
 Isobel Finkel and Taylan Bilgic, “Turkey’s Bank Asya Ends Talks With QIB Without Agreement,” Bloomberg, 8/8/14
 The government also replaced numerous officials at the telecommunications authority (TİB), putting a former intelligence community official at its head; and deposed the head of the education board (YÖK). (“TİB’i MİT’leştirme operasyonu başladı!” Sözcü, 2/21/14; “YÖK Başkanı görevden alındı,” Radikal, 11/6/14)
 One reason, according to government supporters, is that their opponents used the office of the president to consciously pack the courts up until 2007, promoting young lawyers who will not retire for years to come. (Hasan Cemal Güzel, “Yargıyı siyasallaştıran CHP jakobenizmidir,” Sabah, 12/10/11); “Haşim Kılıç’tan çok sert sözler!” Sözcü, 4/25/14; Oya Armutçu and Selçuk Şenyuz, “Edepsizlik gerginliği,” Hürriyet, 5/11/14
 The HSYK bill was overturned by the Constitutional Court in April, but officials had already been replaced. (“AYM, yeni HSYK Kanunu’nda Adalet Bakanı’na verilen yetkileri iptal etti,” T24, 4/11/14)
 “Turkish Justice Minister uses discretion for investigation into key jurists,” Hürriyet Daily News, 6/3/14
 Lest it be forgotten, the HSYK board, which the government now sought to replace, had been elected with government support in 2010. (Selim Evren, “HSYK ve Seçimleri…,” Bianet, 10/22/10; Oya Armutçu, “Bakanlık kazandı,” Hürriyet, 10/18/14)
 The government also made threats that, should elections not go its way, it would reorganize the system entirely. Turan Yilmaz, “Üç adımda yeni HSYK,” Hürriyet, 8/6/14. The raise ultimately came to 1154TL ($480). “Hakim ve savcılara 1155 TL zam,” Hürriyet, 9/9/14; “Hakim ve savcılara ‘zam’ görüşülüyor,” Sabah, 11/12/14
 Yeni Safak even suggested that, during his time as Personnel Director for the Justice Ministry, Mustafa Kemal Özçelik had gone to “extraordinary” lengths to promote and protect Gülenists. (“Formalite seçim,” Yeni Safak, 9/24/14)
 “HSYK üyeliği seçimi yarın yapılacak,” Hürriyet, 10/11/14; Zeynep Gurcanli, “HSYK seçimlerinde YBP zaferi,” Hürriyet, 10/13/14; Oya Armutçu and Mesut Hasan Benli, “HSYK’da 7+8 testi,” Hürriyet, 10/28/14
 In May 2014, Prime Minster Erdoğan had stormed out during a speech by Metin Feyzioğlu, the President of the Lawyer’s Union, arguing that Feyzioğlu had talked too long and too critically of the government. In September, Erdoğan boycotted the opening ceremony of the judicial term in protest of Feyzioğlu’s presence. (“Başbakan Danıştay törenini terketti,” Yeni Safak, 5/10/14; “Adli yıl açılışında Yargıtay Başkanı Ali Alkan’dan ‘yargı bağımsızlığı’ vurgusu,” T24, 9/1/14)
 “Aramada “makul şüphe” dönemi,” Hürriyet, 12/3/14; “Turkey: Security Bill Undermines Rights,” Human Rights Watch, 12/11/14; “Yargı Paketi kabul edildi; 4 bin hakim alınacak,” Bugün,” 12/2/14; “Cumhurbaşkanı’ndan kritik onay,” Hürriyet, 12/2/14; “HÂKİMLER VE SAVCILAR KANUNU İLE BAZI KANUN VE KANUN HÜKMÜNDE KARARNAMELERDE DEĞİŞİKLİK YAPILMASINA DAİR KANUN,” TBMM, Accessed: 12/15/14.
 “Emniyet’te 22 ilde eşzamanlı operasyon, resmi kıyafetli polislere de gözaltı,” Hürriyet, 7/22/14; “Emniyet’teki büyük operasyonun ayrıntıları,” Hürriyet, 7/22/14; “Yurt Atayün’den suç duyurusu,” Radikal, 7/24/14; “Peki kim bu Yurt Atayün,” OdaTV, 7/30/14; “COURT ARRESTS MORE GÜLENIST POLICE OFFICERS FOR ESPIONAGE,” Daily Sabah, 7/31/14; Cetin Aydin, “Polise ikinci operasyon,” Hürriyet, 8/5/14
 A former Fatih police chief, Orhan İnce, filed a complaint in response to Prosecutor Aydıner’s decision to drop charges. İnce is convinced that his transfer to Zonguldak was among the many quid-pro-quos granted by ministers in return for bribes. Serpil Kirkeser-Yüksel Koc, “17 Aralık’ta önemli gelişme,” Hürriyet, 11/10/14; “Savcıdan rüşvet tanımı: Usulsüz hediye,” Radikal, 10/20/14.
 “Bombadaki parmak izinden Zaman’a uzanan operasyon…” Radikal, 12/14/14; “Paralel yapıya şafak operasyonu,” Sabah, 12/14/14; “Paralel devlet operasyonu: İşte gözaltı listesi! Kimler gözaltında?” Sözcü, 12/14/14; Yıldıray Oğur, “THE TAHŞIYE CASE: NOT A DAN BROWN NOVEL,” Daily Sabah, 12/15/14