Turkish Corruption Scandal – Dirty Plot or Erdogan’s Endgame?

If you live in Turkey you would need to have made a recent visit to the moon or perhaps had your head buried deep in sand not to have noticed a massive political crisis for the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) government, which began in the middle of last month. The Turkish lira has also lost almost 25% since last May causing inflation to surge, while foreign investment capital seems to have fled as the perception of a government lurching from one crisis to another, gains greater currency.
The political fallout from a corruption probe into four government ministers, several businessmen and bankers, has become the biggest challenge to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s AKP government’s 11-year rule. Although, the ever combative Mr Erdogan was quick to retaliate, condemning the probe as a “dirty plot” to topple his government and said he would not permit “a state within a state”, a phrase apparently referring to the movement led by the highly influential Islamist cleric Fethullah Gulen, who has lived in self-imposed exile in the US since 1999.

Mr Gulen is said to have millions of followers across the world and extensive influence over the state bureaucracy, the police force and the judiciary in Turkey. Erdogan’s government accuses his movement, referred to as “Cemaat” in Turkey, of being behind the graft probe – a charge Mr Gulen denies. However, the ongoing crisis in Turkey is increasingly seen as not only a corruption investigation, allegedly involving the closest circles of Mr Erdogan, but a bitter power struggle between the AKP and Cemaat.

Many people here believe Cemaat’s support was crucial in the AKP’s three consecutive election victories. Also that they helped the government curb the powers of the military through their influence within the judiciary with the help of high-profile cases like Ergenekon and Sledgehammer, which saw hundreds of military officers – including the previous chief of staff of the armed forces – jailed. However, the current thinking is that as the “common enemy” was forced to relinquish its historical power the AKP and Cemaat started to become wary of each other’s influence to the point that some commentators now believe a new fight to hold the ropes of power in Turkey may have begun.

So where did it all go wrong? Just twelve months ago, Turkey’s effervescent Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan seemed to be on top of the world, at least his world. He was putting his final touches to a new constitution under which he’d be transformed into a president with executive powers at home at the same time as some believed his diplomatic overtures to the new leaders, following the Arab spring, almost gave him the spiritual authority of a Muslim Caliph abroad. Indeed Erdogan’s “neo-Ottoman dream” appeared to have succeeded enough for Turkish voters to almost give his AK Party a lock on power for the foreseeable future.

However, in the past few weeks Erdogan has looked more like someone fighting for his political life, with his “neo-Ottoman dream” seemingly in tatters, while all the talk in political circles in Istanbul, home to almost a quarter of Turkey’s population, is leaning towards how to ease Erdogan off the stage and into history. Why this sudden turn of fortune? The short answer, according to an international press, not hamstrung by the governments burgeoning restrictions on domestic media freedom, seems to be hubris.

Erdogan claimed his electoral success came from his understanding of the root cause of Turkey’s relative underdevelopment and almost permanent political crisis was a clash of ideologies. The Kemalists, supporters of Ataturk (the founder of the republic), had turned his legacy of a secular state into a rigid ideology that ignored the inevitable diversity of a complex society such as modern Turkey. At the other end of the spectrum, pious Muslims regarded secularism— that is to say, the separation of the mosque and state — as a direct attack on their religion. This pattern of Kemalist-Islamist power struggle prevailed for decades until the AKP finally won its first general-election in 2002.

Erdogan’s “de-ideologization” method succeeded in giving Turkey political stability (especially immunity against coups), and paved the way for economic development. Over the last 10 years, Turkey has tamed its once-notorious inflation, revived its moribund currency, created more than 8 million new jobs and, with average economic growth rates of 6 percent to 7 percent, joined the ranks of emerging industrial powers. More importantly, in the eyes of many Turks, Erdogan managed to drastically reduce corruption, the endemic bane of Turkish politics.

However, in 2011, seemingly intoxicated by Turkey’s success in his decade of power, Erdogan began acting out of character and started behaving in a different, ideological way. Firstly he began purging the military of officers indifferent if not hostile to religion, and replacing them with those with AKP connections. He then started purging the judiciary by promoting Islamist judges in place of the secularist ones pushed into early retirement. His next target was the big business elite, which had formed over decades with army support, while juicy government contracts were granted to people with AKP links — and, as recent revelations appear to show, even to members of his own family and party entourage.

If all that wasn’t enough for a perfect storm, Erdogan unveiling of a gargantuan project to transform Istanbul into “the greatest city of Islamic civilization” was instrumental in triggering the Gezi Park riots, which so tarnished his and Turkey’s reputation last summer. The project was part of his grand scheme to “breed a new generation of pious Turks.” So Erdogan, who once marketed himself as a leader who rejected ideological dogma, has gradually become regarded as the most ideologically dogmatic leader modern Turkey has ever seen. And despite having won his early support by arguing that a government should administer a country rather than engage in social and cultural engineering, he now talks of “creating the new Turkish man” in terms that some of his enemies would have us believe, recall the rantings of men like Hitler, Stalin and Mao and their versions of the “new man.”

In my years in Turkey, the one thing I have learned about Turkish politics is that nothing is ever quite what it seems. So Mr Erdogan may well be around for quite some time yet. However, perhaps the one certainty the deepening political storm has for him, is that he risks not only losing a good chunk of his AKP base, like President Abdullah Gul and his faction, but his dream of ruling Turkey for another 20 years now strikes a growing number of Turks, whether they are secular or religious, as a potential nightmare scenario.


Don’t Burnout – Learn to Timeout

Only a couple of weeks into a new year and already many of you tell me you are struggling. Some of you had the best intentions to change your lot in 2014, particularly to reduce the stresses and strains of work, but nothing really seems to have changed. And yet, maybe jumping in exactly where you left off in December and hoping for the best was not exactly what I had in mind, when I suggested you take that first step towards achieving a better level of self-care?

Don’t get me wrong not everyone is struggling, some of you are running excitedly with today’s new challenges, and some of you are lucky enough to have fairly relaxed working or otherwise lives. If that is the case go ahead and feel a little smug that you have worked it out – but if it hasn’t always been the case, perhaps you could dip into your reserves of empathy for those guys and girls, who often struggle to see even the smallest chink of light in their busy lives.


All I can really do is once again underline how important self-care it for our mental and physical well being, and share some of my own experiences and tips about finding the time to take just a few moments out every single day for yourself. Yes we know it makes sense, but how many of us actually do it? And how many of us don’t do it simply because we don’t really know how or because there is a perception that there’s a right way and a wrong way to do self-care? Some people will tell you that self care is all about yoga and things like Tai Chi, but seriously, how many of us can cut our busy days to do something like that let alone find a tranquil place to do so? But that’s the funny thing about self-care; you don’t have to do anything. I notice some people put self-care into their routine as a forced thing. Then they feel tired out from it, and forget the fun part. The interesting thing is that self-care should be the fun part. My definition of self-care is letting yourself do whatever you want to do. If yoga, meditating, or writing a journal isn’t your thing, don’t do it. It won’t work.

Self-care only works when you listen to your body, and do what you want without resistance. For me, I’ve learned to do what I want to do in the moment. So if I randomly feel like reading a few pages of a novel or going for a walk, I do it. I don’t push it aside or promise myself I’ll do it later, I do it right then. Why? Because in that moment my body is telling me it needs a break. My mind is probably overwhelmed with other thoughts, and trying to do work at that moment would be a highly unproductive, waste of time. And when I do what I want in the moment, when I sit back down to work, everything gets done in a much easier way. Because now I’m relaxed, I’m not resisting anything. My mind is free to produce what it really wants, and my body feels much more relaxed.

I’m pretty certain you’re thinking: oh, well he works for himself, so he can do that. Well, you can do it too. It doesn’t matter where you are, or whether you are employed, self employed, between jobs, or busy running a house and looking after the kids, because it only takes a small amount of time. When I was working the 9 to 5, I would take several moments in the day just to step out of what I was doing, step away from the stress and feel good. I didn’t even have to leave the office. I would read something or simply look at pictures I enjoyed for a minute or two, I remember one picture, a sunflower framed by a blue sky hung by my desk so, whenever I needed a timeout I would just look into it (not at it) and suck up those healing colours with my eyes. I discovered that sixty seconds can be enough just to decompress from the negativity that stress often creates. At lunch, perhaps I would read a newspaper or a book or sometimes try and take a short walk.

I attribute those small moments as keeping my energy, sanity and inspiration up so I could explore new things inside or outside of work later in the day. I expect some of you will claim you have high stress, can’t stop for a minute jobs. But how hard is it really to find a minute or two, here and there, in your day. Two minutes from the 500 or so most of you spend at work every single day? Go on try it, it isn’t that hard, but the benefits of a 60 second break can seriously outweigh the difficulties of the day and will ultimately put you in a much better place to deal with the stresses to come. When you don’t take the time to check into your body, you don’t notice that your body may be starting to flare up with pain or stress. Regard it as taking a moment to check in with your mind and body’s equilibrium.

By learning to allow yourself these moments, you will gradually feel a sense of freedom, which will always produce a much better state of emotional wellbeing. So start by giving yourself a 60 second break just three times a day. I know you’ll see a difference once it is firmly part of your routine. But try not to forget it, you really must keep it going, even when the times are more relaxed, because when it comes to self-care, practice honestly does make perfect.