We say “in Ankara” out of habit, to mean Turkish politics, but President Tayyip Erdoğan has been in Istanbul for more than two months. After chairing a meeting in Ankara about the measures against Covid-19 in Çankaya Palace, he moved to İstanbul. The Huber Mansion in Tarabya is considered safer against the disease. With the help of digital technology, and a minimum number of aides, Erdoğan manages it; Vice President Fuat Oktay is holding the castle in Ankara. The President is in Istanbul, but Ankara is still the Capital and the political mobility here never ends.
I’m not just talking about the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) rows with the opposition, especially with the Republican People’s Party (CHP). At the same time, there are interesting developments within the AKP, the cabinet, and in general the framework of the Public Alliance between AKP and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), since the Corona-measures are in effect. Some of the problems are surfacing and it’s a matter of time for others. The things that come out mean one thing separately, and something else when they are considered together. The interesting thing is that Erdoğan is hitting harder on the opposition as more problems emerge in his ranks. I am sure that those who are dealing with political psychology will define this situation in deeper expressions than my rather simplistic labeling as “reflecting”.
This was especially evident after the resignation of Rear-Admiral Cihat Yaycı. He had been removed from his office as Chief of Staff of the Naval Forces Command “per the order of the office of the General Staff “ without any specification; an obvious demotion. He was a rising star in the Turkish military. He was seen as the architect of Turkey’s Libya and East Mediterranean policy, which Erdoğan has been proud of. Not only that, but Yaycı was like a common ground between Erdoğan and AKP supporters and both right-wing and left-wing nationalists who are against the illegal network of Fethullah Gülen, the U.S.-resident Islamist preacher who has been indicted to mastermind the 2016 military coup attempt. Yet, Yaycı was discarded in a day. I will comment a little later, on when and why Yaycı’s resignation took place; the latest (but not the last) ring of what is happening in Ankara. But first, we have to go a few weeks back.
Asking Soylu to stay
Erdoğan emphasizes at every opportunity that he is a politician who needs no one. The only exception to that until the resignation of the Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu on April 12, was the head of Turkish intelligence agency MIT, Hakan Fidan, in 2015. That resignation was to get elected to the Parliament on the AKP list. But Erdoğan asked him to stay in his position, so he did.
Before his resignation, there was already some discomfort about Soylu in certain factions within the AKP. He was in the news too often, giving statements about how the security forces were fighting the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and becoming more popular. His name was appearing in the Pro-government press as one of the names to be removed from the cabinet soon, despite the publicized and unpublicized polls showing that he was the second most popular within the AKP after Erdoğan. The Pelican Mansion supported by the manager of the Sabah media Group Serhat Albayrak, the brother of Berat Albayrak, the Finance and Treasury Minister, also the son-in-law of the President was particularly not fond of Soylu. MHP members were sympathizing with Soylu. MHP leader Devlet Bahçeli had previously backed him in 2019 when he was under criticism from within the AKP.
The curfews have started to be implemented as a part of the anti-corona measures on April 10. There were only two hours to go and people rushed into stores, causing chaos, especially in Istanbul. Soylu resigned at the end of the two-day curfew, claiming responsibility for the disorder; a rare move in Turkey. But that was not the whole story. It was known that the curfews and travel prohibitions would continue for a while and that the whole load would be on the Interior. As Bahçeli was one of first who asked Erdoğan not to accept Soylu’s resignation, like many AKP and MHP supporters, it turned out to be a confidence test for Soylu. Erdoğan asked him to stay; the country and himself needed Soylu. Erdoğan did this publicly during a live broadcasted press statement. At the end of the day, Soylu kept his chair and got even stronger.
Bahçeli’s gestures and then…
The early days of May seemed like a nightmare for Erdoğan and his Minister of Treasury and Finance. The Turkish Lira fell to the lowest value in the history against the US dollar, and for a few hours, the dollar had seen 7.25 liras. As the full decline stopped and started to turn back, MHP Deputy Chairman Semih Yalçın’s “Time for the power of MHP alone” Tweet came up. This stirred the political backstage instantly. Was MHP uncomfortable with the recent news that PKK’s imprisoned leader Abdullah Öcalan was allowed to talk to his family? The indirect dialogue with the PKK had begun in 2012 with the prison visit of Öcalan’s brother (and ended in 2015). Was the Public Alliance crackling? Fortunately, Bahçeli put out the fire: Yalçın had RT’ed one of the Tweets that Bahçeli posted while opposing Erdoğan in 2011. We still do not know he did so inadvertently but Bahçeli had built his praise on the AKP government on the grounds of economic policy. Albayrak responded with compliments immediately.
Then came the proposal to make it difficult for the deputies of Bahçeli to change parties. That was Bahçeli’s goodwill gesture to Erdoğan to prevent him from possible difficulties because of CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu’s offer to AKP-split parties of Ali Babacan and Ahmet Davutoğlu to “lend MPs” to them, and let them enter an early election if there will be any.
A few days later, on Sunday, May 17, Erdoğan’s decree number 62 was published in the Official Gazette. In the appointments to the Central Bank Board, the requirement to leave his post at the state university was lifted. Everyone wondered who was denominated for the Central Bank position. Curiosities were resolved the following day with the appointment at the Central Bank General Assembly held on May 18. A new appointment at the Central Bank, Dr. Elif Haykır Hobikoğlu was a professor of economy at Istanbul University. Her father was an MHP MP and Bahçeli was one of her wedding witnesses when she got married in 2000. Was it Bahçeli who asked for this appointment to have a peg at the Central Bank, or did Albayrak have a gesture? It’s not clear yet, but the appointment was made possible by Erdoğan’s rather unusual decree.
Let’s talk about Yaycı now
On May 16, when the President signed the Central Bank decree, an appointment decree was also signed. Chief of Staff of the Naval Command Rear Admiral Cihat Yaycı, was removed from office and given “to the order of the General Staff’s office”. It was reported in media that the reason was a corruption investigation that smelled of a disrepute campaign. He immediately resigned.
Yaycı was among the rising stars of the military for some time. It was widely acknowledged that he was the architect of the naval policy called the “Blue Homeland”, the brain behind the new Exclusive Economic Zone concept in the Aegean Sea and around Cyprus, the territorial waters agreement with Libya and he was in favor of reconciliation with Israel sooner the better. Besides, with the “FETOmeter” method that he developed, thousands of Gülenists in the military had been exposed.
He was like the long-lasting unifying figure, like a glue bonding Erdoğan’s AKP, the MHP, and the nationalists inside and outside the CHP. His name also started to function as a political magnet which started to raise some eyebrows. Prominent reporter Saygı Öztürk wrote in Sözcü newspaper that, despite his resignation, Yaycı was “loyally attached” to the President, and that he did not hold Admiral Adnan Özbal, the Commander of the Naval Forces, responsible for the developments. National Defense Minister Hulusi Akar remained. Yaycı had never mentioned Akar, which was interpreted in Ankara backstage that he was accusing Akar of his removal.
Was it only Akar who wanted Yaycı to go?
Yaycı’s dismissal was also monitored closely by the neighbors. However, the developments were interpreted differently in Greece and Israel. In Greece Yayci’s dismissal was rather considered to be the end of Turkey’s new Exclusive Zone policy, as if a rear admiral dictated the country’s defense policy alone. In Israel, “He wanted to improve relations with us, That’s why he was dismissed” kind of opinion was dominating. Neither was true.
Deniz Zeyrek in Sözcü and Kübra Par in Habertürk focused on the effect of Hulusi Akar. Zeyrek made a connection between the situation of Yaycı and Lieutenant General Zekai Aksakallı, who came to the fore after the coup attempt on July 15, 2016, and was perceived to be conducting the Syrian operation alone. It was even claimed in media that Akar might have told Erdoğam “Either he goes or me”, and that the Navy Inspection Board might have been manipulated to do something about Yaycı directly or indirectly by him.
It is a fact that Yaycı has come to the fore too much recently. He gave the impression to sculpt everything to himself, and his statements on political issues such as Libya and Israel have disturbed certain people in security and political circles in Ankara. Akar’s discomfort may not have only a personal dimension.
What’s going on in Ankara?
But at the end of the day, Akar got what he wanted. And a critical time when Erdoğan is struggling with the Covid-19 issues and the economic problems at the same time.
If there are readers who want to use the “timing is meaningful” cliché, they can simply recall that Erdoğan signed the decree changing the rules of the
Central Bank Board appointment on May 16 (and published on May 17), the same day that Rear Admiral Yaycı was dismissed. On top of that, let me point out that Interior Minister Soylu has broken his media-fasting since his withdrawal from resignation on May 16 by breaking his Ramadan fasting together with Turkish soldiers on top of a mountain near the Iraqi border which hit the media on May 17. It is probably just a coincidence. But something seems to have happened in power relations in Ankara last week. The fact that the CHP’s move over the new parties to disturb Erdoğan’s power circles might have contributed to this situation.
The developments in Ankara give the impression that those close to him are trying to get whatever they can take from Erdoğan nowadays and stay with him. The examples in this article were only the ones who could learn about it. One of us, a journalist will eventually learn and write what else has happened and is happening behind the closed doors in Ankara.