The news in Turkey sometimes just doesn’t make sense. But as a foreign correspondent, you have to write about it anyway. Promptly. Usually you manage, but sometimes, I admit, you don’t. Like last week. The news was so utterly confusing, I couldn’t, as the Dutch saying goes, make chocolate of it.
I am talking about the news that started on Wednesday and came to a climax on Friday. On Wednesday, the special prosecutor in the KCK case – where mostly Kurdish politicians and journalists are being arrested for having links with the PKK – summoned Hakan Fidan, the head of Turkey’s intelligence organisation MIT, to testify. ‘Testify’ in Turkey usually means: as a suspect. The head of Turkish intelligence questioned for links with the PKK? Yes, he had those contacts, since in recent years the MIT talked to the PKK in the Norwegian capital Oslo. On government orders. So now those contacts were going to get Fidan in trouble?
Fidan refused to come to testify, and on Friday he was summoned again and arrest warrants were issued for four high-ranking (former) MIT employees, also in connection with the KCK case. The country was basically dumbfounded. What was happening here?
Nobody knew exactly. But I work for, among many other media, Dutch news agency ANP, and I knew this was such big news that I had to mail them about it. I hesitated though: what if they actually wanted the story, help! And of course they wanted it. I thought, I’ll just stick to the news, that’s the easiest, then I don’t have to get involved in speculation. So I wrote:
ISTANBUL (ANP) – The public prosecutor in Turkey has issued an arrest warrant on Friday for a number of senior employees of its own intelligence service, MIT. Four of them seem to be suspected of having ties with the Kurdish armed movement PKK.
The MIT up until last year was holding secret talks with the PKK on behalf of the Turkish state in the Norwegian capital Oslo.
But of course, I couldn’t send it in like that: articles are supposed to answer questions, not raise them. So I had to add something. A sentence starting with: In Turkey, speculations have started about what is behind the arrest warrants and the summoning of Fidan. But then what? Which rumour to take seriously, which one not?
The first rumour going around: Fethullah Gülen! The popular, and at the same time highly disputed and elusive Islamic preacher, a Turk residing in the USA, had always been on good terms with the AKP government of PM Erdogan, but over the last couple of months, some cracks appeared in the friendship, especially with Erdogan. Supposedly, that is, because everything about the Gülen movement is always totally vague. Was there a power struggle going on within the AKP between people close to Gülen and people less close to Gülen? Did Gülen want to obstruct Erdogan, and more particularly his strategy regarding the Kurdish issue?
This raises (at least) two new questions. One: which AKP strategy would that be then, because there seems to be only chaos in the handling of the Kurdish question these days. And two: what would be the Gülen alternative then? Does Gülen have a stance worked out for the handling of the Kurdish issue anyway? Does he have enough power – if any – in the judiciary to pull the strings this way? Yes, I know some things about Gülen are taken for granted by many in Turkey, like the ‘fact’ that Gülen has taken over the judiciary, but like I said: everything about Gülen and his followers is always totally vague, so in the end, it’s all speculation.
Another speculation is about a bitter struggle between doves and hawks within the AKP and within several state institutions. Hard line nationalists being fiercly against any talks with the ‘terrorists’ of the PKK, wanting to return to the violence-only strategy of the last few decades. Maybe even the remains of the “deep state”, which has been weakened since the AKP has been in power, showing they still have some influence within the judiciary. The top man of MIT, Hakan Fidan, was appointed by Erdogan personally. Hitting Fidan is hitting Erdogan.
And that’s only the two most basic speculations, omitting a lot of other interesting (possible) background scenarios. Add to that that I had to deliver my story quickly, and couldn’t exceed 1,500 characters – that’s the same as the first four paragraphs of this blog post. The audience: Dutch readers who have no particularly deep interest in or knowledge about Turkey.
Poor me. What followed were a few news articles within a couple of hours, with partly the same information but with in every version some new info (read: rumours) added. Call them updates. And they were written in the ‘we are not sure’ style: some people say…. who is supposedly…. with the alleged…. etc. Very, very unsatisfying. You cover the rumours, and you have to, because without them the news makes even less sense, but it’s all too vague, too fast, too far from the facts.
The MIT, Gülen, Erdogan and the deep state have kind of haunted me this weekend. How could I have covered this better? How could I have gotten more facts instead of rumours? But now, I have let it go. On Friday afternoon, this is how it was. Nothing I could do about it. Being a foreign correspondent in Turkey is sometimes just a near-impossible task.