Turkish politics can seem to outsiders like a Russian nesting doll of conspiracy theories: inside one lies another. The recent crackdown on journalists, which culminated in the issuing of an arrest warrant for Pennsylvania-based preacher Fetullah Gülen, the supposed heart of a plot to overthrow the Turkish state (and, as we wrote, Erdogan’s Trotsky), was one of these moments. Writing in the Hurriyet Daily News, Mustafa Akyol unpacks the conspiracies that preceded, and led to, this one:
All of the people who were detained last Sunday (who are apparently all related to the Gülen movement) are accused of having roles in a specific event in 2010: The arrest of 120 alleged “al-Qaeda members” throughout Turkey, which was hailed at the time as a crackdown on terrorism but which is now requisitioned. The prosecutor seems convinced that the grenades found in an apartment of one of the accused in that case were actually planted there by the police, in order to create evidence to depict the group as terrorists.
The group targeted, Akyol writes, actually turned out to be not al-Qaeda, but rather Tahşiyeciler, a radical Islamist but, it seems, heretofore nonviolent group. So what was going on here—and how does it affect a bunch of journalists arrested years later?
What ties this story to the Gülen movement is a series of interesting hints. In 2009, shortly before the hunt of the Tahşiyeciler, Gülen mentioned the group as a threat in one of his sermons. Soon, a conspiracy-obsessed TV drama on Samanyolu depicted the Tahşiyeciler as the pawns of a larger conspiracy against Turkey. Then, certain writers in Zaman also wrote about the “Tahşiyeciler” menace, after which came the police operation, executed by police officers who are believed to be members of the Gülen movement.In other words, the journalists who were detained last Sunday are accused to be the “media wing” of a cabal. Alas, this is the very same accusation that was used against other jailed journalists in 2008-2012, when Erdogan and the Gülen movement were hand-in-hand in their hunt for a secularist cabal. Now, the same logic still reigns; the only thing that has changed is the place of the actors.
Compared to many Arab states, Turkey has signs of a promising future. It has a more mature and prosperous (if currently troubled) economy, a developed if again sometimes problematic democracy, and substantial ties to both the West and the global financial order. But the paranoia in its politics is pervasive, and shows no signs of abating. That is at least as much a reason to be pessimistic in the short-to-medium term as Erdogan’s rule itself, journalist arrests and all.