Mustafa Demir (c.), mayor of Istanbul's Fatih district, is escorted by police officers as he leaves the police headquarters for a medical check-up in Istanbul December 18, 2013. Five Turkish police commissioners were fired today a day after the sons of cabinet ministers and prominent businessmen close to Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan were detained in a corruption probe, a local news agency said on Wednesday.

Turkey power struggle pits Erdogan against former ally

A corruption probe believed to be instigated by a former ally of Prime Minister Erdogan netted several people with government ties yesterday. Today the government hit back.

This is an updated version of a story that originally ran Dec. 17, 2013.

Five senior Turkish police officers were fired today, the day after police detained more than 50 people, including the sons of three cabinet ministers, in a corruption probe striking close to the heart of government.

Analysts say the detentions appear to be part of an attack on Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s administration by a powerful Islamic network that was formerly its ally and which has considerable influence within the police and judiciary. The sacking of the police officials is seen as a hit back by Mr. Erdogan's government. 

The raids in Istanbul and Ankara came after a yearlong surveillance operation focusing on alleged graft and bribery in the awarding of state contracts and designation of land for development, as well as gold smuggling, Turkish media reported. The claims threaten to destabilize Erdogan and seriously harm his Justice and Development Party's (AKP) prospects in local elections scheduled for March.

Speaking at a rally in Konya Tuesday, Erdogan did not mention the probe, but made comments that appeared to suggest it was part of a plot against the country.

“Turkey is not a banana republic or a third class tribal state.… Nobody inside or outside my country can stir up or trap my country," he said.

In addition to the ministers' sons, those arrested included the AKP's Mustafa Demir, mayor of Istanbul’s Fatih district, as well as the CEO of the state-run bank Halkbank, a major property tycoon, and several government officials.

Istanbul’s chief prosecutor, Turan Colakkadi, confirmed to Turkish media that his office was overseeing the investigation, but declined to give details since it was continuing.

No more shared enemies

Most political observers attribute the raids to a deepening feud between Erdogan and the Gulen Movement, a powerful Islamic organization whose leader, Fethullah Gulen, lives in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania.

The movement, which has a moderate Islamic agenda and a large network of affiliated business and media entities, was once a key ally of Erdogan.

However, as the power of their shared enemy – Turkey's former secular elite – has dwindled, mistrust between the two sides has grown. In recent months, Gulen has expressed unease at Erdogan's perceived authoritarianism, making veiled references to him as "The Pharaoh."

Last month, the government announced plans to shut down a network of private extra tuition schools linked to the movement. On Monday, an AKP lawmaker close to the Gulen Movement resigned in protest of the government’s decision. 

"To treat these people who have staunchly supported the government in every issue as enemies is at best nothing but ingratitude,” said Hakan Sukur, a former professional soccer player who had been a popular figure in the party.

“This is the point of no return,” says Atilla Yesilada, an Istanbul-based political analyst with Global Source Partners. “Both sides have developed so much suspicion of other’s motives that this is now all out war. Erdogan cannot allow the Gulen ‘church’ to operate freely after this.”

Yesilada says the investigation could seriously damage the government’s support ahead of local elections, as well as presidential elections later in the summer, saying that the Gulenists' media organizations have the power to influence conservative public opinion. 

“The conservative base is surely disappointed, and some will switch to other parties purely out of disgust.”

Yesilada believes the government may in turn exert pressure to transfer prosecutors investigating the case and shut down the investigation.

It could then start a purge of government officials and civil servants with links to Gulen’s network. “You will see a massive assault on pro-Gulen business and media, and a purge of the bureaucracy.”

Targeting the Gulen Movement, which has extensive business interests, could damage Turkey's economy and fracture the conservative voting bloc that has delivered Erdogan to power in the past three general elections. 


The probe itself appears to touch on the allegedly corrupt relationship between the government and the construction industry, a topic that has become taboo to discuss in the Turkish media.

According to the Today’s Zaman newspaper, which has links with the Gulen Movement, one strand of the investigation focused on corruption at the environment and urban ministry and improper development on protected land, mainly in Istanbul’s historic Fatih district.

While serving on a parliamentary panel charged with scrutinizing state-owned enterprises last year, opposition member Aykut Erdogdu released a report alleging that the Mass Housing Administration, known by its Turkish acronym TOKI, was at the center of a series of shady property deals carried out in exchange for the awarding of public contracts. 

Mr. Bayraktar, the urban planning minister, confessed when challenged with the report that corrupt dealings occurred during his 2002-2011 tenure as head of TOKI .

“We were weak, as administrators we should have seen what was going on.… Whoever is guilty, they should be punished – including me,” he told parliamentarians.

Reports of the exchange went largely unreported in the media, and days later Bayraktar retracted his statement.

A battle of headlines

Mr. Erdogdu said the issue was ignored because Turkey’s media organizations, most of which are owned by large conglomerations with business interests vulnerable to government influence, feared antagonizing AKP.

“They cannot broadcast corruption cases mostly because these media tycoons rely for their wealth on being awarded government contracts,” he said.

The last major government corruption scandal reported in Turkey was in 2008, involving embezzlement by a charity in Germany with links to AKP.

Dogan Holding, a business conglomerate whose media empire aggressively covered the scandal, was later hit with a $2.5 billion tax fine seen by many as punishment.

How much damage the latest scandal causes the government may depend on how the media bosses react this time.

Erdogdu believes the situation could evolve similarly to that during the mass protests earlier this summer, when media at first ignored the unrest.

“There was a huge public reaction against it, and they were forced to change their stance," he says. "It is the same thing now.”

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to

QR Code to Turkey power struggle pits Erdogan against former ally
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today