The Prime Minister has repeatedly attacked you and Hizmet in recent weeks. Do you believe that your alliance with his faction of the AKP is now definitively at an end?
If we can talk about an alliance, it was around shared values of democracy, universal human rights and freedoms — never for political parties or candidates. In 2010 constitutional referendum I said that if these democratic reforms, which are in line with European Union’s requirements for membership, were done by CHP before, I would have supported them.
A broad spectrum of Turkish people, including Hizmet participants, supported AKP for democratizing reforms, for ending the military tutelage over politics and for moving Turkey forward in the EU accession process. We have always supported what we believed to be right and in line with democratic principles. But we have also criticized what we saw as wrong and contrary to those principles.
Our values or stance have not changed. We will continue to advocate for democracy. Whether the stance or actions of the political actors are consistent with their earlier record should be decided by the Turkish people and unbiased observers.
You have enjoyed a decade-long alliance with Mr. Erdoğan – what is the moment that has most upset you about his leadership?
Just to clarify again, if we can talk about an alliance, it was values and principles based. Throughout the AKP period, we supported democratizing reforms and criticized and opposed anti-democratic actions. For instance, in 2005 we criticized the draft anti-terror law that defined terror crimes too broadly and risked harming freedoms.
During the period between 2003 and 2010, the overall trend was toward democratic reforms and a broad spectrum of Turkish population supported them. This was evident in the constitutional referendum of 2010 which received 58% approval. Indeed Turkey has made economic and democratic progress over the last 15 years.
But we would like these democratizing reforms to continue. Turkish people who supported the constitutional amendments of 2010 with the phrase “good but not sufficient” are upset that in the last two years the democratic progress is now being reversed. A new, civilian-drafted, democratic constitution would consolidate the democratic gains and would anchor Turkey at democratic values of EU. Unfortunately, that effort has now been abandoned.
What is your reaction to the PM’s moves to purge the leadership of the police force?
If the members of the police force or any other government agency have breached the laws of the country or the rules of their institutions, nobody can defend such actions and they should be subjected to legal or institutional investigation. If, however, they have not done anything illegal and they have not violated their institutional rules, and they are simply being profiled based on their worldviews or affinities, and subjected to discriminatory treatment, then such treatment cannot be reconciled with democracy, rule of law and universal human rights.
Shuffles and purges based on ideology, sympathy or worldviews was a practice of the past that the present ruling party promised to stop while campaigning before elections. It is ironic that members of the police force and judiciary who were applauded as heroes a few months ago are now being shuffled in the middle of winter without any investigation.
What is the reason that Hizmet actively encouraged their students to choose a career path in the police and the judiciary?
First of all let’s correct the premise in the question. I can only speak about my personal advocacy, which was addressed to Turkish public in general. I have always believed that education is the best way to nurture individuals and build a solid foundation for a society. Every social problem starts with the individual and can be solved for the long term at the level of the individual. Systemic, institutional or policy level solutions are destined for failure when the individual is neglected. Therefore my first and foremost advocacy was for education.
It is also why many people who agreed with my ideas have established various types of educational institutions from dormitories, exam prep centers, to private schools and free tutoring centers. These institutions provided a wider segment of the society access to quality education, which were hitherto available only to a privileged few.
I have encouraged Turkish people to be represented in all facets of the Turkish society and in every institution of their country, because it is important that these institutions reflect the society’s diversity. But the choices that are made by students and their parents are shaped by many factors such as employment opportunities and expected likelihood of upward mobility. I am not sure how influential my advocacy has been as a factor that these families have considered.
As far as the institutions established by Hizmet participants, I don’t have an accurate assessment of the career choices of their graduates. But contrary to what you may think, for students thinking of a career in the fields you mentioned (police or judiciary), historically it has been a potential cause for discrimination to have graduated from such institutions.
The government has signaled that it will review judgments against military officers accused of plotting coups – do you fear they are creating a new alliance against your followers? What is your strategy to counter this?
Retrial in the light of new evidence or demonstration of improprieties in the legal proceedings is a universal human right. If new evidence has emerged, or it is determined that the legal procedure was flawed, then retrial becomes a legal right. Nobody wants an innocent person to face punishment unjustly.
However, if the intention is to completely abolish the verdicts of thousands of trials, then such a move would both undermine the credibility of the justice system and reverse the democratic gains of the past decade. It would be very difficult to explain such a move to the 58% of Turkish population who supported the constitutional amendments of 2010 which made it possible to try former coup perpetrators in civilian courts for the first time in Turkish history. It would also present an irony as the leaders of the present government for years championed these trials as a triumph of democracy and applauded the brave prosecutors and judges, in their language, who took part in them. There have also been reports of political leaders bragging about subjugating the military leadership to the civilian authority.
The present rhetoric in which these trials are discredited and attributed to a certain group within the judiciary presents a complete contrast to the rhetoric of the political leaders during their ten years of governance. There is also an element of insincerity here. When the director of the Turkish Intelligence Service (MIT) was contacted by a prosecutor for questioning the alleged participation of intelligence officers in the terrorist acts of KCK/PKK units, the government immediately passed a law requiring prime minister’s approval for investigating the intelligence director. While the ruling party certainly had the power to do so, they did not pass a similar law to bring the same protection to the accused chief of general staff or army commanders. This inconsistency demonstrates that the recent rhetoric of retrials is politically motivated rather than a desire for justice for military officers.
If implemented, such a move would be a blow to the democratic reforms of the recent decades. It would be a dramatic reversal of the effort to remove the military’s tutelage over democratic institutions. In Turkish history, four elected governments have been toppled by military coups over half a century.
The government has targeted a range of businesses from Koc to Dogan, slapping them with tax fines when their political stance contrasted with Mr. Erdoğan. Do you see a threat to businesses led by Hizmet followers in light of recent events?
From the news reports I am learning that what you referred to is no longer a threat, it is reality. The Koza group, Istikbal group and Bank Asya were targeted with various forms of extraordinary inspections, fines, permit cancellations, and massive unscheduled fund withdrawals, which followed negative campaign against the bank in certain news outlets known to be close to the ruling party.
President Gül is seen as a moderate leader who can bring together various factions ranging from conservatives to liberals and Hizmet. Would you be supportive of an AKP Mr. Gül leads as Prime Minister or do you think he is more helpful to the country as president? Do you find a more sympathetic audience in Mr. Gül compared to Mr. Erdoğan.
We have always tried to maintain the same proximity to all political parties. As a civil society movement, we have never advocated supporting a party or candidate. But individual Hizmet participants have found certain parties and candidates closer to their beliefs and values supported them out of their free will.
Mr. Gül is currently our president. It would be inappropriate for us to speculate about future scenarios involving his name.
Many of your supporters in the media have been very positive about the CHP leadership in recent weeks – do you believe an alliance between Hizmet and CHP is likely through the next election cycle?
To repeat, we have never formed an alliance or partnership with a political party or candidate. Our support or criticism has always been around values. Such an alliance will not be made in the future either. As civil society actor, it is imperative for us to be open to everybody in the society. But our values are clear. Democracy, universal human rights and freedoms, transparent and accountable governance are among these values.
When the opportunities come, Hizmet participants, just like any other citizen will make their choices based on their values. It is possible that people who share core values will make choices along the same lines.