As Turkey goes to the polls to expand the powers of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, there’s something far more sinister brewing in the background.
If all goes to plan, a man-made earthquake will soon hit Turkey. It will be as if the flood narrative of Genesis (6:9 and 9:7) has been hijacked by the boardroom. The apparent plot looks to “destabilise the economy” via carefully selected targets. Top on the list is the Istanbul financial district, which, in all its mirroring, sky-scraping glory, fits well in the Disney skyline. The building and infrastructure boom is part of President Erdoğan’s empire building and the vision for Turkey to join the world’s top ten economies. When I first heard about this earthquake plot last February, my response was, “Clever!” The Turks have grown rather blasé about conspiracy theories. It is like tattoos; once even kindergarten teachers have them, the fringe has to go further. A great deal of thought goes into plot and subplot. Vitally important is the plausibility factor – get that right, and you are Rocket Man.
This one has it all. The idea of a man-made earthquake or any “natural” disaster, is as old as the movies. But this is not a fantasia from some Bond style villain. The man who launched this scenario is Melih Gökçek, the mayor of Ankara. He immediately pointed the finger at the poltergeist du jour, Fethullah Gülen, the spiritual leader and one-time brother in arms of President Erdoğan, now his archenemy. Many Erdoğan supporters believe that Gülen masterminded the failed military coup last July, which he denies. Mayor Gökçek says, “This is not a military coup, but an economic coup.” Where tanks and soldiers failed, this time “special equipment” on submarines will do the job. “It is much more sophisticated.”
Turkey is the land that pioneered the Deep State, derin devlet, the dark shadow of an all too powerful state within a state, which always floats to the top. It is currently vogue in the US, and has greatly inspired Donald Trump’s ideas man Steve Bannon, the alt-right guru.
In Turkish politics, the X-Files routinely keep piling up, and often, too often, the truth is out there.
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been shaped by the Deep State. There is a deeply personal subtext. As every Turk knows, Mr Erdoğan was imprisoned in 1999 for his Islamist leanings. He came to power against many odds and inherited a country that was riddled with corruption, and in an acute economic crisis, run by an entrenched secular elite. I was reporting on this at the time and picking out the bones of a bonanza of scandals. Every evening, my two sons, who were then still small, would run to the window to watch how the Turks were airing their frustration by continuously switching their lights on and off. Istanbul in the dark was lit up like some crazy disco ball.
Erdoğan won through a protest vote. The milestones in economic and geopolitical ascent since 2002 are to his credit. He delivered greater welfare to ordinary and often poor Turks, and they rewarded him with their vote and the rise to power of the AK Party, the Justice and Development Party.
He said, “Dear friends, to be one, to be together, to walk together toward the same future is the biggest strength of our future.” In his view, dissent was no longer necessary, but his paranoia for the Deep State intensified. It is important to keep this in mind, because it helps with map reading his moves. He is a street fighter, a bruiser. He does not panic; he is a boxer, he is methodical.
That referendum was never a done deal. Erdoğan had to work for it. When people sneeringly refer to him as the “Sultan”, they misunderstand the rules: a Sultan can only rule with the consent of his people. The moment he thinks he is “like God” they get rid of him.
Back in 2012, Dexter Filkins wrote a terrific piece for The New Yorker, which explored the history, and the Deep State in action, and how it made Mr Erdoğan. Filkins asked an astute question: how far will he go to stay in power? The answer is: as far as it takes. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan never breaks the laws of the Constitution. He did not like that Constitution, so he set out to change it. That referendum has been in the making for a very long time. It is rooted in all likelihood during his time in prison. The opinion writers and commentators repeat a well rehearsed worry that Turkey is sliding towards dictatorship, one-man rule, and they are right. He is an autocrat, but he will do so by popular mandate. After all, his big clean up of Gülenists and other opponents was done with the rubber stamp of Emergency Rule.
It gives both conspiracy theories from last year’s failed military coup that plausibility factor: Fethullah Gülen could have masterminded it and Mr Erdoğan could have done so himself to provide a pretext. 130,000 people with alleged Gülen sympathies were sacked from their jobs as teachers, academic staff, police officers, soldiers, football coaches, journalists and librarians. Tens of thousands are in prison. Either way, Mr Gülen, the Sufi, and his Hizmet Movement of Love, Peace and Justice are hugely popular, also in the Turkish diaspora.
That referendum was never a done deal. Erdoğan had to work for it. When people sneeringly refer to him as the “Sultan”, they misunderstand the rules: a Sultan can only rule with the consent of his people. The moment he thinks he is “like God” they get rid of him. It is a good, typical Erdoğan insurance policy to keep the threat of the Gülen djin, any evil eye, in the double boiler.
Gülen lives in self-imposed exile in the US. Erdoğan has demanded he be extradited, but so far the Americans have refused. On a fast changing power chessboard, that may well change. Mr Erdoğan has his fans in the new White House. For local consumption, it is smart to keep the Sufi schemer fresh as a threat – just in case that earthquake strikes, or the Illuminati, globalists, Jesuits, the establishment or the CIA get involved, or Vladimir Putin’s Cozy Bear hacks the computers.
Then the Turks are reminded that Erdoğan is not the Sultan, but The Man from UNCLE.