My mother, who was born in Constantinople (now Istanbul) and emigrated to the United States in 1915, used to tell us kids the stories told her by her mother and grandmother, of Nasr-ed-Din Hodja, a fictional Turkish Muslim cleric who lived with his "housekeeper" and endless bottles of raki (schnaps; firewater) and who said and did absurd things to the delight of generations of Ottoman children of whatever ethnic background.
The current situation in Turkey is beginning to resemble a Nasr-ed-Din story, with Prime Minister Erdogan playing the role of the Hodja. To wit:
He announces that his government will close the Gulenist preparatory schools, which is a formal declaration of war on millions of followers of the self-exiled Guru, Fethullah Gulen, who has been living for years in rural Pennsylvania (you can't make this up). He thereby succeeded in turning a former ally into an implacable and dangerous foe.
The Gulenists strike back, using their implanted followers in the judicial system and the police to arrest and indict dozens of Erdogan loyalists, including the sons of three cabinet ministers, who promptly resign (one called for PM's resignation) and the president of state-owned Halkbank, all on charges of corruption, money-laundering, aiding Iran in circumventing international sanctions, and various other assorted crimes, all of which are believed by a majority of the Turkish people.
The modern-day Hodja, having managed to lose the support of the Kemalist middle class, the Alevis, the Kurds and the Gulenists, travels around Turkey rallying his base support in rural areas and small towns. At one rally, a woman leans out of her window waving a shoebox at the prime minister, symbolizing the shoe boxes full of euros the bank president was hiding in his house when the police raided it. She is promptly arrested and taken to the local police station to be "interrogated", turning her into an instant martyr. Even the official press couldn't stomach that one.
Meanwhile, the army, which one imagines is supposed to support the civilian authorities, namely the government, declares its "neutrality" as between Erdogan and the Gulenists, under the excuse that it can't decide between the judicial and executive authorities, now in frontal opposition to each other.
Erdogan, in the interim between speeches, fires dozens of police chiefs as well as the principal prosecutor in the corruption cases, leading the president of Turkey, Abdullah Gul, to declare that he will not permit a cover-up of the cases, although it is not clear what he can do about it short of dismissing Erdogan and/or calling new elections for the National Assembly, leading in turn to a plea in the principal newspaper of Turkey, Hurriyet, to please do exactly that.
Several convicted and imprisoned high-ranking mliitary officers, accused of widely-disbelieved coup attempts, petition the courts for a new trial and to everyone's astonishment, except for Fethuallah Gulen, are granted their petition, which is an open invitation to the present leadership of the armed forces to take power.
To provide the punch-line for this Nasr-ed-Din Hodja story, it is revealed that the corruption, money-laundering etc. charges were based on information provided to the Turkish prosecutor's office by--are you prepared for this?--the RUSSIANS!
Generations of Ottoman mothers and grandmothers couldn't have made this up.
Hopefully, the mavens in Jerusalem are following this theater of the absurd with the care it deserves--assuming they can figure it out.
Norman A. Bailey, Ph.D., is Adjunct Professor of Economic Statecraft at The Institute of World Politics, Washington, DC, and a researcher at the Center for National Security Studies, University of Haifa.
Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on January 7, 2014
© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2013