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Ergenekon, AKP and the Dogan’s case

Wednesday 25 February 2009, by Hans-Peter Geissen

Has the “Ergenekon” criminal network infiltrated Turkey’s ministry of finance? Because, this organization is said to create political tension and havoc through targeted assassinations which backfire against a third party. In our case, the ministry of finance shot at the Dogan Media Group, and in all probability it will backfire at the Prime Minister or maybe rather at Turkey.

If the answer is negative, the question itself may be revised: Is “Ergenekon” indeed a distinct organization or rather a metaphor for the manipulative character of “Turkishness”? Or is it a metaphor for what Turks themselves call their “ambush-mentality” said to be a “Middle-Eastern” phenomenon?

Such general considerations may in fact be of limited value. But there is little doubt that we have to do with a financial analogy of a political assassination attempt. While roughly half the Turkish economy is unregistered and pays neither taxes nor social security fees, the biggest taxpayer of the country is treated with a confiscatory tax demand and fine for alleged tax evasion. Irrespective of the veracity of the accusation, it is an obvious application of double standards, though the PM declares it equal treatment in rather populist terms, using populist sentiments against the “big bosses”.

The Dogan group, on the other hand, calls the event “unprecedented in Turkish history”; however, it is not. Not really. First, it recalls the ominous “Wealth Tax”, a confiscatory tax imposed on non-Muslim bourgeoisy in the 1940ies. Now, it cannot be said that Aydin Dogan or the Dogan family are non-Muslims. But as outspoken supporters of (admittedly superficial) secularism they appear to not share the relevant belief system of the PM and his party. So we may tentatively say that the “Wealth Tax” is a historical precedent.

Deeper in history we find the sultanic confiscations of the Ottoman Empire. This too may be considered Turkish history. It seems to have been used to eliminate real or possible contenders for political power, while it also filled the sultanic treasury (while suppressing economic development). And again, in PM Erdogan’s public speeches we find the Dogan media accused of being the main political opposition against the AKP government. A rather correct observation, by the way. So again it may have some merit to refer to the sultanic confiscations as a precedent of confiscatory tax claims against the Dogan group. Why “confiscatory”? Because the sums demanded surpass the annual revenues of the company, with immediate effects on share values and, all the more during a global financial crisis, on credit availability. Hence, whatever the outcome, the case is not “historically unprecedented”. But these precedents are either from an absolutistic monarchy or from the totalitarian tendencies of the 1940ies.

By the way, could it be said that Deniz Baykal, the main opposition leader, also follows a precedent -that of Sultan Abdülhamit II.- in rejecting a new constitution?

The question remains why, for heaven’s sake, such a big cannon was shot on such a tiny sparrow. Sparrow? The recent conflict started with a fraudulent Islamic charity organization which carried illegal money to Turkey; allegedly in connection with figures close to the PM. The Dogan media reported about the (German court-) case and its presumed Turkish ramifications; the PM called for a media boycott. There have not been news concerning any investigations of the ministry of finance into the (proven!) fraud case, but into the reporting media.

Turkey holds the OECD record of corruption, hence a particular case of fraud may not be that exciting. Yet Mr. Erdogan seems to get agitated rather easily. His court cases against critical cartoonists and other critics are already notorious. Perhaps it will be necessary to re-evaluate public disputes under these auspices. For instance, the “coup d’éclat” of Davos has been discussed as to whether it was a matter of righteous moral outrage or rather a well-calculated display of political strength; but couldn’t it just be an expression of lacking self-control or inflated selfaffirmation? Some sort of monarchic attitude? Is Erdogan simply incapable to tolerate criticism, whether of President Peres or anybody else?

It is said that Turkey’s public opinion tends to side with the offended. So we have two possible effects of populism: siding against the establishment (against Dogan) or with the currently offended party (against Erdogan). We will see. It appears not impossible that Erdogan overplayed his populist cards in front of the local elections in March, but this is not unequivocal either.

Stop this mess ?

As the Milliyet daily (a Dogan paper) reported, Erdogan said about opposing columnists that “Those types have their lovely dogs. They sleep with their dogs”. This was allegedly in Sivas, a stronghold of the Alevi sect, which in turn has suffered for centuries from defamations on the part of Sunni Muslims suggesting improper sexual behavior of these “heretic” believers. If this “Freudian” remark should be true, it may have grave consequences for public peace.

Another risk concerns freedom of the press, considering that most of the media critical of Erdogan’s government are attacked by various state institutions, most prominently by the ministry of finance. This situation is not unlikely to cause self-censorship in other media as well. Concerns on the part of EU institutions may be increased by the fact that the German Springer group is involved in the alleged tax evasion of the Dogan group, which in turn may involve German financial supervision.

And finally, a tax demand of confiscatory dimensions will cause second thoughts in any possible investor eying the Turkish economy. Owners and managers would act irresponsibly if they would not evaluate the situation.

Thus, the introductory question may be answered affirmative insofar as “Ergenekon”, whether with or without quotation marks, rather obviously exists in the Turkish ministry of finance. Whether it is an organization or a state of mind, however, remains to be seen. Ramifications seem to involve Dogan and other media as well as the brain of the Prime Minister himself. Better stop this mess from further inflation before it’s too late.

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