How Turkey Sees Its Role in the World and What it Means for the U.S.
(Ahmet S. Yayla, April 25, 2018)
Transcript available below
Watch his speaker playlist here
About the speaker
Ahmet S. Yayla, Ph.D. is co-author of the book, ISIS Defectors: Inside Stories of the Terrorist Caliphate. He is the former Deputy Director of the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism (ICSVE) and is also Adjunct Professor of Criminology, Law and Society at George Mason University. He formerly served as Professor and the Chair of the Sociology Department at Harran University in Turkey. He is the former Chief of Counterterrorism and Operations Division for the Turkish National Police with a 20-year career interviewing terrorists.
His work was primarily concerned with terrorist and related activities of ISIS, al-Qaeda, al-Nusra, Hezbollah, the PKK, and other global terrorist organizations and he was responsible for several successful operations against the above-listed terrorist organizations. Dr. Yayla designed and administered counterterrorism and intelligence activities and operations for precautionary measures in the city of Şanlıurfa, located at the Turkish-Syrian border and at the borders of the current ongoing warzone in Syria.
Dr. Yayla’s research mainly focuses on terrorism, radicalization, countering violence extremism (CVE) and the Middle East. He has earned his master’s and Ph.D. degrees on the subject of terrorism and radicalization at the University of North Texas. He has authored and co-authored several articles and books on the subject of terrorism and violence including First Responders’ Guide to Professionally Interacting with Muslim Communities: Law Enforcement, Emergency and Fire Fighters, Understanding and Responding to Terrorism: A Complete Model to Deal with Terrorism and Terrorism: A Global Perspective.
He also spoke at Westminster on the topic of: Turkey, the Coup, and ISIS.
Robert R. Reilly:
We are delighted tonight to have back with us Dr. Ahmet Yayla who is as you know from the invitation you received a 20-year veteran of the counterterrorism and operations department of the Turkish national police and serving in the capacity of chief of counterterrorism in a large, southern Turkish city.
He received his PhD in the United States but he taught at… in the department of sociology at Hurran University in Turkey. He has served here as an adjunct at Georgetown University’s Security Studies, research fellow at George Washington University Orogram on Extremism, and adjunct professor of criminology, law, and society at George Mason University.
He last spoke here on the subject of the book of which he is a co-author, “ISIS Defectors: Inside Stories of the Terrorist Caliphate.” Something he knows a great deal about. Let us say his reputation is large enough to have attracted the attention of President Erdoğan in Turkey, who let us say has had some unkind things to say about Ahmet. When he speaks to us tonight, you will find out why. Please join me in welcoming Dr. Yayla, who will speak to us on the subject of: “How Turkey Sees its Role in the World.”
Dr. Ahmet Yayla:
I will start with President Erdoğan and his history in the Turkish politics. As we can see the history goes back with his leadership in Turkey from the Mayor of Istanbul and then the establishment of his party, AK Party, and then three terms [as] Prime Minister, and now for the last two or three years [as] the President of Turkey.
A lot of people ask me when we talk about these issues why the Turkish people vote for Mr. Erdoğan. Basically, they try to understand the sociology of the circumstances, people’s mindset in Turkey. The first thing we need to understand [is that] Mr. Erdoğan claims representing the religion of Islam in Turkey and he openly argues that if he goes, Islam goes. If he is not there, there is going to be harsh secularism again, looking at the history, giving a lot of examples from the Turkish history. So therefore, if the people do not vote for him, they will lose their religion. This is what he claims.
Secondly, he controls almost all the media in Turkey. Therefore, he can control the minds of people in Turkey. There are only a few newspapers who do not circulate much left that is not under his control. He either owns the media companies or controls them almost one hundred percent. So, every day all of those papers, TV stations are pumping propaganda towards him. There are over 15 million people receiving $25 billion dollars a year [in] social aid directly from the Turkish government who think that Mr. Erdoğan is providing those social aids to them.
He has been purging and fighting people. It is now almost over 165,000 officers from military to universities to judiciary, and [he] replaced those people with partisan people who are loyal to him. And there is a fear factor that makes sure nobody can raise his or her voice because even a tweet can take you [to] a prison.
Until recently, he started to play with words. For the last two elections there are very high voting allegations, voting fraud allegations, that can be backed with evidence. When he was establishing the AKP Party, he told the Turkish people that he was taking off his political Islamist shirt, meaning that he is no longer an Islamist leader, [that] he is a democratic person who will be respectful to the human rights and democracy. And through that rhetoric he won the elections but before that he was recorded to say, “Democracy is like a bus. When you get to your bus station, you just take off that bus.” So, after the coup attempt in 2016 he basically got off that bus and runs the country with an iron fist since then.
You also need to understand what kind of Islam Mr. Erdoğan represents in Turkey. If you look at history, coming from the Ottoman times historical Turkish Islam used to be a Sufi Islam. Many of you might know Rumi, the poet Rumi. So an Islam- an understanding of Islam open to dialogue and interactions with other religions including Christianity and Judaism as we can see during the history of Ottoman times
However, right now, Mr. Erdoğan represents a political Islam understanding, basically using Islam for his objectives and driving the Sufi understanding of Islam towards more like Muslim Brotherhood and Salafist understanding of Islam and meanwhile making his base an open target to Salafist jihadi terrorist organizations for recruitment and support purposes through his rhetoric and activities.
Now on the other hand Mr. Erdoğan for a long time has been trying to assume the leadership of the Islamic world. When you look at the year 2010 and 2011, we could very easily see him traveling around in the Middle East and Northern Africa, visiting Muslim countries, taking a lot of aid to those countries and talking to the people of those countries during his visits. By then some Western media, including Die Welte and The New York Times realized that he was playing to the leadership of Islamic world by his activities and by his actions. Basically what he was doing in the Middle East and how he was spreading his influence and propaganda in those countries.
One of the main issues that he was very successfully increased- or got the attention of the people of the Middle East was the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He arranged a flotilla, aid flotilla, to Gaza, knowing that [the] flotilla was going to be stopped by the Israeli military. But [he] sent that flotilla anyway so he could create a conflict. By the way, he is doing the same thing again through the same organization, IHH, and on May 25 there is going to be a new flotilla with six ships again towards Gaza, and I do not know what is going to happen. Most probably, the Israeli military again [is] going to stop the flotilla and those ships.
Just before the elections Gaza [happened]. In two months, there is going to be a presidential election in Turkey, a snap election, which was announced last week. And also, as the problems arising in the Middle East and the conflict in Egypt, Mr. Erdoğan became the main supporter of President Morsi in Egypt. He was very harshly against President Sisi and what was happening in Egypt. He carried out a lot of demonstrations in Turkey against Sisi and openly supported Mohamed Morsi. By that this was a good opportunity for him to assume the leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood in the region and to this day, starting from the Egyptian conflict he used this Rabia sign wherever he goes, wherever he talks. Every day you can see him on the media, on the T.V. stations his hand making this Rabia sign, referring to the Rabia scare in Egypt where the conflicts started. So, with his leadership promoting the Muslim Brotherhood and their ideals, he definitely won a lot of hearts among the Muslim Brotherhood people, also among the Hamas supporters because of what happened with the Gaza flotilla.
Another problem: as the Arab Spring started, when the Salafist jihadist terrorist organizations were rushing towards Syria, Turkey became the main supporter of those terrorist organizations. This is a video where three Turkish intelligence trucks loaded with weapons, military grade weapons, were stopped by the Turkish National Police through the orders of the judiciary. And supposedly according to Mr. Erdoğan, those trucks were carrying medicine but when the trucks were searched, underneath the medicine, the police uncovered military grade weapons. And you can see the pictures here:
So of course Mr. Erdoğan was very upset and blamed the police and the judiciary and labelled them as terrorists, interrupting a Turkish National Intelligence operation. Even though he claimed it was only medicine being sent as a humanitarian aid to the Syrian people. It was very obvious that this was an intelligence operation to help the Salafi jihadist terrorist organizations in Syria. By the way, the journalist who published these pictures, video, and made a news piece out of it, and the editor of that newspaper, Cumhuriyet, were arrested. They were labelled as terrorists, as usual-
By the way, they were sentenced today.
Yes! [The] Cumhuriyet trial was today but it was like a separate trial.
Another important issue that Mr. Erdoğan used in Turkey in apart from MIT and supporting those terrorist organizations, when he came in to power there was a rhetoric coming from his party that the religious schools, called imam hatip high schools in Turkey are the backyards of Mr. Erdoğan’s party and his previous party. Those schools were established to provide imams and preachers for the Turkish mosques. He increased the numbers of those schools and basically today he is forcing a lot of kids to go to those schools by basically killing the other alternatives, forcing them to go these imam hatip schools as they cannot find any other schools to attend.
Mr. Erdoğan very cleverly and skillfully used the diyanet, [the] Turkish religious authority, as they were the most widespread bureaucratic establishment, institution in Turkey with over 120,000 officers, imams, preachers, and other officers in the country, to the smallest village, the most distant village in Turkey and made sure that during the sermons those imams and preachers supported his ideals. They backed him. He also made sure the sermons, the Friday sermons during the Friday prayers, were written in Ankara and distributed from the center. So each imam in his mosque could read those sermons, but not what they wanted to talk [about]. So the mosques in Turkey, the religion in Turkey, became the main propaganda tool of Mr. Erdoğan apart from the media.
And by the way, this is the diyanet mosque in Maryland, 15 miles to Washington, D.C. There are 26 mosques ran by the diyanet in the United States. Mr. Erdoğan invested over $100 million dollars to this mosque. Basically, it is a complex, not only a mosque but a school and other institutions. And there are a lot of Turkish mosques and imams assigned from Turkey in Europe as well. For the last year after the coup attempt, at least six European countries carried out operations against the Turkish imams, claiming that they were acting as spies, and collecting information on the Turkish minorities for Mr. Erdoğan.
Another important tool Mr. Erdoğan used to extend his power is the NGOs. The main NGO he used and still uses today is IHH. This NGO was behind the Gaza flotilla and again the same NGO is managing the new flotilla and several times they were caught red-handed helping Salafist jihadist terrorist organizations through Turkish National Police operations. And in fact in 2014 there was an operation in one city on the east of Turkey related with the IHH and the humanitarian relief operations in Syria. Again Mr. Erdoğan got really upset and blamed the police and basically those officers who carried out that operation in 2014 were arrested and they are still in prison.
Another important institution that he cleverly used is Tika, Turkish aid agency, just like USAID in the United States. [He] extended the influence of Turkey and Mr. Erdoğan with the aids they were carrying out around the world, particularly in the Middle East, in Northern Africa. And another essential institution that he uses is called Maarif Vakfı, Turkish Education Foundation. And through this foundation he opens schools around the world, not in Turkey but [around] the world. And at those schools, basically boarding schools, he tries to influence the youth towards his ideals.
Now, this relates to the United States: this is a foundation [that] his son and his daughters established, and the U.S. American sister of this foundation is Turken Foundation through TURGEV. And this foundation has a lot of dormitories around the United States where university students can stay at very discounted prices. Right now, they are building a new dormitory in Manhattan on the 41st street. Basically, these kinds of activities have become an essential tool for him to increase and extend his influence because he can reach out to a lot of people by using the state funds and brainwash the people staying at those institutions or going through these institutions.
Another essential tool he used to Salafize or radicalize the population and his base is distribution of Salafist jihadi books. This book is an ISIS book published by an ISIS publisher in Turkey and this was purchased by the Ministry of Culture in Turkey and distributed to Turkish libraries and with the stamp of the Turkish State. So think about yourself as a student going to that library for a research project and seeing a book stamped by the Turkish Ministry of Culture. At the age of 15 of course you are going to trust that book and do your research in the most cases based on what is being described in this book or several other books like this.
The control of the media and social media: Turkey is now the champion of the censorship of social media. A 15-year-old kid could go to prison just because he was retweeting a tweet criticizing Erdoğan. During the first month of Operation Olive Branch operation against Afrin, 800 people were arrested because they tweeted against the operation. The only crime they did was to tweet about the Afrin operation and opposing the operation. That was it. Immediately they were labelled as terrorists and got arrested. Right now, there are over 200 journalists in Turkey in the prisons. At least another 200 or 300 ran away from the country so that they would not be arrested and basically nobody can dare to write against himself or his policies. There is only one person who can openly criticize Mr. Erdoğan. His name is Doğu Perinçek and there are reasons behind it but other than him nobody can criticize Mr. Erdoğan or write anything against him.
So, I will give you a few examples [of] how Turkey extended its assistance to the Salafi jihadi terrorist organizations beginning in 2011 and how [it] made it possible for ISIS and Al Qaeda-affiliated organizations to empower themselves through Turkey’s aid or Turkey’s ‘closing eyes.’ As you can remember, foreign fighters were the backbone of ISIS, and they were the most brutal killers in Syria and in Iraq. Around 35,000 of those foreign fighters were let go through Turkey without being stopped, and this was just part of it, but there are several cases like this here.
Basically, from Istanbul to Şanlıurfa, where I was working as the Chief of Counterterrorism, was labelled as the ‘jihadi highway’ because of how those foreign fighters were traveling very fast without being disturbed. And the orders were very open: “Let them go. Do not touch them.” Turkish borders were wide open. There are several documented cases, and I have several articles on these issues, so I am not going to spend too much time. Even Prime Minister Davutoğlu or Mr. Erdoğan had hard times labelling those terrorist organizations as terrorist organizations. Up until 2016, [the] Turkish public was unable to hear the words terrorist or terrorism from the head of the state of Turkey regarding ISIS and Al Qaeda.
This is a phone call which was released on YouTube. A Turkish Air executive calling the Chief Advisor of Mr. Erdoğan and asking him [about] the weapons they are exporting to Nigeria to Boko Haram.
He is openly asking, hey, please talk to the Chief of the MiT and Mr. Erdoğan because I am taking these weapons to Nigeria, and I do not know who is being killed: the Christians? The Muslims? And I do not want to be responsible of the killings of Muslims, so please make sure we are doing the right thing. Whatever they were doing, they were doing it very openly by using the state tools without any hesitation.
Another important issue with the beginning of the conflict: ISIS terrorists who were wounded in Syria and Iraq were welcome to Turkey for free of charge medical treatment in Şanlıurfa, in Gaziantep, [and] in Kilis. In fact, the Turkish National Police were forced to protect, to provide security to those terrorists. The Turkish people would pay for medical expenses but these terrorists were treated free of charge. Abadi’s deputy was also treated in Şanlıurfa at a private hospital.
A lot of weapons and almost all explosives that ISIS used to produce IEDS were provided either from Turkey or through Turkey. There are reports on the Internet through the Conflict Armaments Research Center, funded by the European Union, and these reports openly indicate the routes and the sources of the chemicals, the electronics, the explosives used at the production of those IEDs and you can get those to see by your own eyes.
Not surprisingly, Erdoğan’s family made millions of dollars from ISIS oil. Erdoğan’s son-in-law, Berat Albayrak, who was the Minister of Energy, and he is still [in] this government as a minister, Minister of Natural Resources, established a front company called Power Trans, purchasing ISIS oil, [making] daily around $3.5 million dollars. And this was revealed to the world through two sources mainly. A hacker group called Red Hack hacked Albayrak’s emails and through his emails we realized that he was managing this Power Trans company. And after the shooting down of the Russian warplane, the Russians released the satellite pictures of Power Trans trucks transferring ISIS oil from northern Iraq and Syria to Turkish refineries and again from those Turkish refineries Erdoğan son, Bilal Erdoğan, through his BMZ transportation company sold the ISIS oil as Turkish oil to the whole world and there are manifests of his ships transferring oil from the Turkish refineries to different countries refineries.
So what happened with this support? Salafi jiihadi terrorist organizations in Syria and Iraq also in Turkey became monster terrorist organizations. If Turkey had not supported them openly, they would not have become that powerful terrorist organizations, particularly ISIS, if you think about the ISIS, if you think about the IEDS, the explosives they used, if you think about the foreign fighters Turkey let to go- let go to Syria without being stopped. Also this support changed the perception of [the] Turkish public. In the past the Turks were very distant from Salafi jihadist ideology. But by seeing what the government was doing, how Erdoğan was promoting their ideology, they became accustomed to this ideology and basically though his rhetoric [they] started to support these terrorist organizations. And then Turkey itself became a recruiting ground for those terrorist organizations. Thousands of Turks went to Syria and Iraq to fight for ISIS and Al Qaeda-affiliated terrorist organizations.
At the end of 2013 in December there was a huge corruption investigation against Erdoğan’s son, Bilal Erdoğan, and his close circle, including several ministers and their sons. This really got Erdoğan upset. He said that this is a coup against him. All the evidence against- for- according to him, was fake. The Turkish National Police was basically carrying out a coup to take him down. So, he immediately fired all the police officers, all of the police officers, the police chiefs, the judiciary [who] carried out the corruption operations.
At the time of the operation, he called his son, Bilal, and told him to get rid of over one billion – with ‘b’ – dollars of cash in his Istanbul villa. Bilal with [the] help of his sister, Sümeyye, and Berat Albayrak, who is the Minister of National Resources, who is also married to Sümeyye’s sister, used three trucks to hide that money, over one billion dollars. At the end of the day, when Erdoğan called his son, Bilal, [and] told him they were able to hide the cash in dollars, but there is only €27 million Euros left. They could not find a place to hide €27 million Euros. They decided to purchase seven luxurious villas from a project at the Bosporus. Of course, he denied it, but three months later we saw the receipts of the payment and the documentation that those villas were registered under other relatives’ names.
Even though Mr. Erdogan denied this open evidence collected by the Turkish National Police, nobody knew the FBI was carrying out a similar operation. We realized when the FBI arrested the main person, the key person in [the] Turkish operation named Reza Zarrab, when he decided to visit the United States with his wife, who was a very famous singer in Turkey. He was arrested in Miami by the FBI, and then we realized the FBI was also carrying out a similar operation. Because what Mr. Erdoğan really was at those times, during the Iranian embargo, selling the Iranian oil and getting gold instead of dollars, basically helping the Iranians to break the American embargo, and Reza Zarrab was the key person arranging all those activities, and he got arrested by the FBI.
He was extremely upset by this. He came to the United States to meet first President Obama, then President Trump to make sure he could kill the operation, but he could not. He hired a lot of lobbying firms, lawyers, including one of the former Mayors of New York, but he could not manage it. And eventually, the FBI also arrested the Deputy CEO of Halk Bank, which was in the middle of these operations by helping the Iranians to transfer their money. And two months ago, a New York federal jury found him guilty. He is about to be sentenced.
And of course, Mr. Erdoğan came out and said this is a trap, the Americans are carrying out a coup against me. The judge, the prosecutor, and the people involved in the New York case are terrorists. Basically, this is what was his rhetoric and what his media wrote openly. They claimed [the] judge and the prosecutor in the New York case were terrorists, and you can find those [reports] online. And by the way, Reza Zarrab, the main suspect in the case carried out by the FBI, decided to cooperate. He and another officer from Turkey who was involved with those operations named Mr. Erdoğan as the number one organizer of these operations with the Iranians.
So fast forward to today after the coup and the purges that I mentioned and with the changes that I mentioned at the Turkish bureaucracy. I would like to talk about a little bit [about] what is going on in Syria with the Turkish operations. As you can remember there was a Turkish operation in Al Bad and then very recently in Afrin called [the] Olive Branch Operation. Several ISIS members and other HTS or Jabhat al-Nusra terrorists who were fleeing from Syria ended up in Turkey by the way. There were a lot of cases where arrested ISIS members, high-level ISIS members, were abruptly released in most cases where the prosecutors were seeking aggravated life sentences, which means it was impossible for the judges to release those ISIS terrorists. But regardless of what was going on with the case and the evidence against them, they were released, and nobody could understand.
For two years between 2014 and 2016 there was no single pre-planned counter-terrorism operations against ISIS and Al Qaeda in Turkey and Erdoğan successfully established a base in Syria and in Turkey by using the fact that there are 3.5 million Syrian refugees in Turkey as guests of Erdoğan and because Erdoğan accepted them and because they are being taken care of by the Turkish people, they feel that they have to be loyal to Mr. Erdoğan so they support him very deeply.
And what happened with the Olive Branch Operation? In Afrin he made sure that there was not going to be a corridor at the southern border of Turkey or the northern border of Syria, basically interrupting the operation against ISIS. But at the same time while countering the YPG or the SDF, the coalition force fighting against ISIS in that area under the coordination of the United States Military, he indirectly countered the U.S. And his media was very explicit about this and very open about how Erdoğan was successfully countering the Americans. This was a war against, basically among his base, among the base that supports him in the Middle East, particularly the Hamas and Muslim Brotherhood, was a war against U.S. interests.
So, he indirectly countered the Americans while he was directly countering the YPG during this Olive Branch Operation, and it was not enough. He sent a lot of aid through the diyanet, tika, [and] IHH, to those cities and towns that are being hammered by the Turkish forces to make sure the local people would be pleased but at the same time he also made sure the Salafi jihadist people controlling several of those locations around the area were also loyal to him and loyal to the operation. Several of those organizations through the sheikhs and the imams spread the propaganda supporting Mr. Erdoğan and what was happening in Syria.
By the end of 2017, Mr. Trump announced that he was going to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem. I do not know if you heard of [this], but there was a large demonstration by the White House, carried out mostly the supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood here in the United States. I am just telling you so you can better understand the thinking scheme of the people around that part of the world. During these demonstrations in front of the White House people who carried out the demonstration yelled, “Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, true leader of the Ummah.” Ummah meaning the Muslim population in the world.
Now, Mr. Erdoğan announced that he is going to have a snap election in two months, basically, 55 days from today. This election was going to happen in 2019 around 16 months from today, but he decided to carry out this election in two months from today, and it was announced last week. Nobody knows who is running against Mr. Erdoğan, and the other parties basically could not decide who they are going to support against him so far, and there is a reason for that. He wanted to make sure that he was going to stay in power, but at the same time, the economy in Turkey is going down very quickly. Inflation is very high. The dollar to Turkish lira ratio is really against the Turkish lira.
Right now, the Turkish lira is [decreasing in value]. One dollar is [worth] over four Turkish liras. So, he wanted to make sure the economy is [stable so that] before the economy is really going down, he could get re-elected. Of course, he does not want to leave power. He changed the constitution to ensure that he was not going to be prosecuted as long as he lived even if he is not in power. But there are a lot of issues against him, including the weapons and explosives he provided to the terrorist organizations, the corruption issues, et cetera. So basically, he does not want to leave the power and he will do anything to stay in power. There are a lot of expectations that regardless of the outcome, he will win these elections.
Now what can we do? Mr. Erdoğan is from Kasımpaşa, a city in Istanbul known with its macho-man, tough man. So far, he seems to be getting whatever he wanted from the world leaders. He basically blackmailed the Europeans with the 3.5 million refugees and forced them to accept what he was asking from them. Basically, he became the gatekeeper of ISIS and Al Qaeda towards Europe and blackmailed them towards his wills. With the United States he very skillfully used İncirlik NATO Air Base and forced the Americans basically sometimes close their eyes, but it was not the case with Putin.
When the Russian warplane was shot down, Putin immediately imposed economic embargo, banned the Russian people to go to Turkey as tourists, and Mr. Erdoğan immediately started to feel the heat through the Russian embargo and in a few months he went back to Russia and apologized [to] Putin.
Even though the Europeans were very warm, when Angela Merkel started to talk about a proposed economic embargo against Turkey, Mr. Erdoğan immediately released a German journalist who was arrested in Turkey for almost a year with no reason. So he was scared of a German embargo.
So far these are two countries kind of show tough love against him and got whatever they wanted [or] at least partially. We had the case of Pastor Brunson, who has been in a Turkish prison for over 16 months, and so far, we could not save him. And with that I would like to take your questions.
My question is related to the story, which some of us are old enough to remember, after 2012, the [unintelligible] tragedy. A general made the link that the weapons from Libya by Benghazi were transferred to Syria to be distributed among the Syrian opposition, so basically, we outsourced Turkey for the purposes of [unintelligible] the opposition. Very quickly, the Free Syrian Army disappeared, and ISIS came out from nowhere. It is my speculation, but it can be confirmed that it was Turkey who distributed weapons the way that the Syrian Free Army, which was basically standing for democratic values, was killed. Instead, ISIS and Al-Nusra came to [the forefront].
The Free Syrian Army was not powerful enough against Jabhat al-Nusra then and ISIS. Yes, the world supported the Free Syrian Army through Turkey, and Turkey was part of the operation. However, when the Free Syrian Army was basically demolished by ISIS and Al Qaeda affiliates, the world stopped supporting different organizations in Syria, but Turkey continued, so that was the biggest difference. And I was in Şanlıurfa [at the time], I mean what was going on I knew how the Free Syrian Army activities were being organized from Şanlıurfa. I firsthand experienced what was going on, but they could not stand against ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra. They were not as organized, and they were not as trained. Basically, they were the people who were trying to defend their towns, that is it.
Thank you. One question is you [unintelligible] the elections as mentioned. How come the opposition cannot prove that? I mean in Turkey, it is hard printed ballots, so there must be [a way to prove it].
During the last election, there were 1.5 million ballots without stamps, which is against the regulations in Turkey. However, Mr. Erdoğan pressured, and the Higher Voting Commission accepted those votes, which overturned the results toward Mr. Erdoğan. So, if you have the power, if you have the right people that [are in the] right places, you can do anything.
Okay, so they cannot force a recount?
No, it is over. He made sure that there is not going to be any kind of opposition during the voting, and after the voting, and during the voting count.
And how about Doğu Perinçek? You said he is the only person [who can openly criticize Mr. Erdoğan].
Why is that? He is a very leftist person, right?
He is a leftist nationalist. He is a former terrorist leader from the ’60s and ’70s. However, he has a deep base [within] the Turkish military. There are a lot of generals [who are] loyal to him, and he cut a deal with Mr. Erdoğan, so he is the only person who can badmouth him to this day.
Could you go into more detail about Andrew Brunson, the incarcerated missionary? They had a mock trial about a week ago, and he is still in jail. Can you discuss that, why he is still in jail?
I spent twenty years investigating terrorist organizations. One person can be a terrorist belonging to only one ideology, so let us say if you are a Marxist terrorist, you can switch terrorist organizations, but usually, the other terrorist organizations would be Marxist terrorist organizations. One person cannot be a member of a Marxist terrorist organization but at the same time [be a member of] an Islamist terrorist organization and at the same time [be a member of an] ethnic terrorist organization. Right now, Mr. Brunson is being accused of [being] a member of three different terrorist organizations through not evidence but three secret witnesses, whom we do not know, and [we do not know] how they collected evidence against him (still to this day we do not know), so it is a sham trial.
This is basically a hostage taking issue. Mr. Erdoğan is carrying out a hostage policy, and he is blackmailing not only the United States but other countries as well. There is an issue with Greece, with the Greek military. There are two people with the Greek military who were arrested, and [are] being held in Turkey in a similar situation. There are several other foreigners who are being held, so this issue has been a tool for him, an international political tool for him, and [Pastor Brunson] is being used for his political objectives in the international arena. He is not a terrorist.
Hello, I am with International Trade UK. In the European Union, there has been a strong narrative for many years, stating that by not admitting Turkey into the European Union, we fed into this extremism, and that by reversing that policy and embracing Turkey as a full member of the European Union, that would lead to freedom to people, the customs union. Turkey, of course, to join the European Union would have to sign up to European human rights laws, norms in international law. And therefore, Turkey would liberalize and moderate and this brief abrogation to Turkey’s nature would evaporate. What would your response be to that narrative coming out of Brussels?
I think two mistakes do not make one correct answer, so yes, there were problems with the EU process. The EU was reluctant, but that does not give justification [for] what Mr. Erdoğan has been doing. He basically had a hidden agenda, and he used the EU to make sure that he could go after his opposition inside the country, including the military and the judiciary. And when he felt comfortable enough, he showed his real face, so I think we cannot use the EU as an excuse.
Thank you very much. You mentioned 200,000 prisoners. Are they all political?
Not all of them are political, but around half of them are political prisoners.
100,000 prisoners [are political prisoners]?
Around [100,000 prisoners are political prisoners]. Some of them are in prison, some of them are jailed, and daily operations are continuing.
My second question is [about] Mr. Erdoğan’s own interpretation of Islam. Do you think he wants Turkey for Islam, or does he want Islam for Turkey? I have one more question. You mentioned that the way he promotes radicalism, it makes in the eyes of the Turkish public, ISIS, a legitimate organization. That presumes that he has a very solid constituency in the country. To make my point, I will give you an example of Iran. The Iranian government has been trying to say, oh, Assad is wonderful, but Iranians do not buy it. Whatever government does, in fact, Iranians [unintelligible]. The fact that Erdoğan, as you say, can do this and get away with it, and effect Turkish public opinion, is [incredible].
Okay, there is a Pew Research [poll] indicating that over 7 percent of the Turks have a favorable view of ISIS, that accounts [for] over six million people. 7 percent of the Turkish population [have a favorable view of ISIS, according to] Pew Research, so what he did is to make sure that he would have a solid base, at least this 35 percent, apart from the social assistance he is providing or purchasing their loyalty. He makes sure in the eyes of his base that he is representing Islam. He is the leader of the ummah, but only he can represent them when it comes to religion. When we look at his actions, is he practicing the same religion he is using as a political tool? No, he is corrupted, deeply corrupted, in a lot of issues against Islam that we can very openly and easily see, including his support to ISIS, his purchase of ISIS oil, and his transfer of weapons that kill thousands of people.
However, if he cannot pump this to his public, his base, he knows that he cannot stay in power, so in order to stay in power, he needs to brainwash the population. And with that he uses a page from Goebbels’ playbook, through the media, which he controls almost 100 percent, through the TV stations, through the news, through the series that he is producing, he successfully controls at least 30 percent of the population who are 100 percent loyal to him.
Is it Turkey for Islam, or Islam for Turkey?
From whose eyes?
From Erdoğan’s own view, what does he want?
From Erdoğan’s point of view, Islam for Erdoğan. From his base’s point of view, Islam for Turkey, and Turkey for Islam, and they also say, yes, we know he is corrupted, yes, we know the people around him steal, but anybody who comes to power is going to steal anyway, so we support him, knowing that he is going to be supporting Islam, which is a hypocrisy, but [there you go. It is] happening right now in Turkey.
Hello. In the run-up to the election, a lot of tensions were occurring in the Eastern Mediterranean with Greece over flights of islands and, of course, you mentioned the two soldiers that [are being held], and then Turkey [unintelligible] gas reserves to the south of Cyprus. Is this just a pre-election sort of gambit to inflame tensions or can we expect more of this?
I consider this like when you corner a cat. You can expect a lot of things because there is no other place to run away, so yes, the increase of tension with the West, particularly with Greece, is a political play. And I think the tension between the EU, the European countries, and Turkey will diminish after the elections. But for now, he is going to be increasing the conflict between Greece and Turkey, and several other European countries. If you are following the news, Germany, The Netherlands, Switzerland, and some other European countries openly announced that they are not going to allow Erdoğan and his ministers to run in Europe for the elections. He also successfully used that against the European countries and the West. To run in Turkey, will basically give the message to his base that the Christians are against him, the West is against him, so therefore they support him.
I thank you very much for your candor.
You are very welcome.
I cannot resist asking you what your interpretation of what happened on October 2016 was. Was it a fake coup d’état? Was it a quasi-coup d’état? You have got to have a theory here to share.
So far, a lot has been written about this issue, and I also testified at the U.S. Congress about this issue. Basically, particularly through the trials that are being carried out right now against the coup d’état makers, what we can see is the coup d’état was very successfully and skillfully staged by Erdoğan, the Chief of Staff, and the Chief of Turkish National Intelligence to go after his opposition. Just one thing that I can tell you [so] you can understand it better: just after four or five hours, the coup d’état was suppressed.
There was a list of 1,600 officers with their names and current addresses to get arrested. And as a chief of police in counterterrorism, I carried out a lot of operations. Nobody can make a list with the current addresses in five hours, containing over 1,600 people, so everything was staged beforehand. And they played the game very well, and trapped thousands of military officers who were loyal to NATO and democratic ideals, therefore he made sure that there was not anybody left inside the military who would oppose him.
Thank you. Dr. Yayla, first of all, that was just a superb presentation from beginning to end. I noticed that you have not mentioned at all Fethullah Gülen, who is the religious leader in Turkey or a Turkish religious leader who has been residing in the United States for almost twenty years, who Erdoğan blames for masterminding and instigating the coup d’état, and [Erdoğan is now demanding his extradition from the United States to Turkey. How far do you think he is willing to take the relationship of the United States over his demand for the return of what he considers to be public enemy number one of the Turkish nation?
I think it is another game that he is playing very well. I did not talk about him because we were talking about Mr. Erdoğan, what he did historically. To me, Mr. Erdoğan considers the United States as his enemy, and he made sure that his base considers the Americans as their enemies. Just before he visited Mr. Trump, one of his newspapers published a survey, and in that survey 96 percent of the Turks said that they considered the Americans as their enemy, [and] 97 percent of the Turks said that the Incirlik Air Base must be shut down. But I think he is using the Gülen issue as another tool to extend his objectives against the United States, and also presenting him as a scapegoat inside the country, in Turkey, basically taking attention from him, his corruption, his atrocities, towards another person. And when it comes to arguing for Mr. Gülen, it is not my job. He has lawyers and they can do the job.
Turkey is a NATO member. All of this is happening while Turkey is supporting countries fighting the Kurds in Syria who the U.S. supports. We mentioned other cases where essentially Turkey [unintelligible] the U.S. actions in Syria. And this is all fine? I mean I remember from fifty years ago, and I give away my age, but it does not matter, we [unintelligible] from Iraq to Gaziantep that there was a big radar. There was a big U.S. base there, we found out. Okay, so when you see the movie Twelve Days about the missile crisis, negotiations were about [giving up] some U.S. bases in Turkey or weapons in Turkey in exchange for defusing it, so Turkey has been all along a very key ally to the U.S.
Ahmet Yayla:[It] was a key ally.
So what is going on now?
What is going on now is Putin replaced NATO and the United States. Turkey purchased [the] S-400 missile system, which was basically built against the NATO systems. And they are going to deliver it in two years, I guess, two or three years. [They] just signed a deal with Russia at $20 billion dollars to produce a nuclear power utility in Turkey. [Turkey is] approaching Russia and Putin and distancing itself from NATO and the United States every day more and more.
And there is a reason for that, of course, the problems that I listed, several of them also are related with the West, and he knows that he will face prosecution in the future because of those crimes he committed. And also, he looked for a safe haven for himself to make sure that he was going to be protected, and therefore cut a deal with Putin. And he is forcing NATO and the United States to kick Turkey out of NATO, so that he can go back to his base and use it to prove that Turkey and the Turkish people were not welcome in the West.
To me, the focus must be Mr. Erdoğan and his regime, not the Turkish people. So, if we ae going to carry out activities against his atrocities or what is going on in Turkey, the focus must be not the Turkish people, not Turkey, but Mr. Erdoğan and his regime.
So he was [unintelligible]?
Nobody knows what is going on, but he arrested two NATO soldiers, and he is holding them as hostages.
How is NATO responding to this?
I do not hear anything publicly, but basically, all the [Turkish] generals who were trained by NATO, who were working at NATO [were] arrested and they are in prison. The U.S. Chief of Staff after the coup d’état came out and said, our friends who we worked [with] for years, we trained together for years, we fought together for years are in prison now.
Do we have nuclear weapons in Turkey?
I do not know.
When I [unintelligible] I had the privilege of going on [unintelligible] on pilgrimage to Rumi’s tomb and experienced firsthand this great tradition, which is at the epicenter of the culture. Is there a pushback? Some of this ideology is alien to Turkey. It is not an indigenous ideology. Is there a pushback from the [unintelligible] suggests a huge backing of [unintelligible]?
This is a great question. Mr. Erdoğan made sure that the leaders that represented different Sufi orders basically bowed to him, so he either purchased them or made sure by force that they are loyal to him, so the people we are talking about who would oppose the Salafist or Muslim Brotherhood understanding of Islamism inside the country are suppressed or purchased. Another issue related with Gülen is this because Mr. Erdoğan could not influence the Gülen organization, the Gülen network, who are extremely against [the] Salafism and Muslim Brotherhood understanding of Islam. Therefore, he made them his archenemies, and wiped off their influence inside the country and right now around the world. If you look at the Turkish public, right now there are no institutions that could counter either Erdoğan or the Diyanet religious authority regarding religious issues, so you would not be able to expect anyone to raise his voice against Erdoğan.
Is there any plausible opposition at all?
There are some movements, and also a leftist or socialist party called CHP, but CHP’s base is around 20 percent [of the electorate]. But also, there are a lot of leaders who either were forced out, arrested, or became somehow loyal to Erdoğan.
Robert R. Reilly:
If I may have the privilege of the last question, you mentioned Erdoğan is seen perhaps as the new caliph. What about also as the Mahdi?
This is like a very hard topic. It is not spoken openly, but there are some people among his base who believe that he is also the Mahdi, but we do not hear about it openly. However, I heard firsthand when I was in Şanlıurfa from his wife when they were visiting Şanlıurfa. Mr. Erdoğan’s wife had a lunch with our wives, basically, the city’s top bureaucrats’ wives. And during that lunch, she said to our wives, who were having lunch with her, you should support my husband. He is the Mahdi. Therefore, he needs to be supported, [so] make sure that your officers support him. This was the case. But they do not say it openly in the media, but his hardcore supporters believe that he is the Mahdi.
Robert R. Reilly:
Thank you very much.
You are welcome.