In Erdogans green backyard

Moving my mind back to Turkey… By now, my time at Gezi-Park seems to be so far away. Sometimes I see tattered posters in Athens. “Solidarity with Gezi” is written on them. It makes me almost nostalgic. But even though the international media left the Gezi-Park for Egypt or Edward Snowden, the protests aren’t over. During the Ramadan time people met for a shared fast-breaking. As far as I know public park forums are still going on. And of course people who got arrested or hurt still fight with the outcome of these days. Furthermore people start to produce movies about #occupygezi as for example the “Istanbul united” project.
Let me share one last story about Turkey with you before we move on to Greece:

I could have stayed in Istanbul forever. Adapting the rhythm of the movement, standing still on Taksim during the days and discussing in park-forums during the night. I think there has never been a political movement I felt more at home. Every morning I would promise myself to just stay one more day. Every evening I would fall exhausted in my bed without any plans to leave… Finally, a friend’s invitation to Izmir gave me a reason to say good-bye to Istanbul and it’s empty, police guarded park.

Within the next days, I learned that leaving Istanbul didn’t mean to leave the Republic of Gezi. On Izmir’s coast open-air concerts were held and scenes from the occupied park and the street fights were shown on a big screen next to the sea. Unlike Istanbul Izmir wasn’t quite. For the first time in a week, I heard a loud demonstration passing by and saw street-art (In an overnight action all of Istanbul’s street-art, whether connected to the protests or not, was covered with gray color.).

SAM_0232If I would have taken a ferry from Izmir to Greece I would have thought all Turkey contains of open-air gatherings, park-discussions and demonstrations. But instead of taking a ferry to Greece I followed a friend inland to Konya. Christiane wanted to go to Konya to see the Mevlana-Museum about Sufi-culture, a mystical flow of the Islam. This was about all we both knew about the city we were going to go to.

The urban housewives paradise

The first thing I noticed in Konya was it’s beauty. Konya’s train station is modern, very clean and along the way to the center of Konya one can admire many carefully restored old houses. Konya is full of very charming parks. Nowhere in Germany or Turkey have I seen as many children and playgrounds as in Konya. Everything just seemed to be very new and shiny. Our Couchsurfing host lived in the suburbs of Konya. On our way to his house we drove half an hour through houses which looked like somebody tried to build a urban housewives paradise. White blocks of houses stretched along a tram line and a park for kilometers. In that beautiful park children would play next to fountains in the green grass. If I hadn’t seen the deserted areas around Konya from the train’s window myself, I would have never believed that this part of Turkey is a rather dry area. Even though the area looked like an expensive suburban neighborhood, our host spoke enthusiastically about the low real estate prices a family has to pay in Konya.
For the first time in nearly a month, I didn’t hear the sound of pots and pans at 9 pm or see Turkish flags in every window.

Konya

The weeks of Gezi-Protests have been a crash-course in Turkish politics. Before Gezi happened I wouldn’t have thought much longer about Konyas shininess. But I’ve grown to be more careful and suspicious and so I started to research a little about Konya.

A safe and devout way to make some money

The city has been a conservative flagship since 1984. Nowadays, the area, which has historically always been a agricultural area, is one of the most developed industrial centers of Turkey.

The so called Islamic Holding (unfortunately this link and many of the following are just in german since I couldn’t find any english sources about the topic) played a special role in the quick rising of Konya. The idea of Islamic Holding was born in 1982 by Necrettin Erbakan, a Turkish politician who wanted to build an economy which is in harmony with Muslim principles. The Prophet Mohammed forbids Muslims to take any interests in loaned money. Therefore, he had the idea to not give investors interests on their invested money but rather a profit participation. To promote this idea people would go from door to door and talk with the people of Konya and similar cities directly. These salesmen appealed on the peoples’ religion and told them to trust their company because they are Muslim, too. People picked-up this idea rapidly and soon the word was spread. As far as I know the promise of profit participation worked out for most of the Turkish investors. The holdings, most of them based in Konya, were growing fast and soon they held a whole network of daughter-firms active in the real estate-, infrastructure- and food-industry. So far this model isn’t bad and has a lot in common with the cooperative idea.

After a little time passed by, the Islamic Holdings spread their sphere of action to Europe and especially Germany. In Mosques and Turkish culture clubs the Islamic Holding were promoted as a safe and devout way to make some money. It seemed like the perfect opportunity for people to invest their saved money and help Turkey in the same time. But this time it didn’t worked out as good as it did for the people of Konya. In a very short time 200.000 or 300.000 Turkish-German people invested their money in the holdings. Soon after the German or Swiss daughters of the big Turkish holdings failed and all the money disappeared mystically. Between 2002 and 2006 one could find this scandal as “Yimpas-scandal” in German newspapers. It is hard to say how much money disappeared since most of the small investors trusted their Mosques and didn’t even have a contract. Also most of them were ashamed to be betrayed by their motherland and still didn’t want to harm Turkey by going public. Depending on different sources between 5 and 50 billion Euros vanished.

Where did all the money go?

Until this point it seems to be just a really smart economic scam which took place in Konya. But what actually makes it so unbelievable is how connected these issues where to local and national politics. Necrettin Erbakan, who had the idea for the first holding, has been the head of the Milli-Görüs-Movement. This movement connected the Muslims in the European diaspora and provided many Mosques and cultural houses. In the Milli-Görüs Mosques the holdings were promoted heavily. Imams would tell the people in their sermon to give money to the holdings and after the service they directly collected the money. On top of this, Turkish politicians came to Germany to speak about the new Islamic Holdings in the Mosques in order to make them appear more trustworthy. One of these politicians was current Turkish prime minister Erdogan. He advertised the Jet-Pa Holding whose half a billion Euro later disappeared without any track.

Necrettin Erbakan himself became Prime minister in 1996 with his party “RP”. RP never tried to hide the interconnection with the Milli-Görüs movement nor their radical Islamic worldview. Their newspaper was even called “Mili-Gazette”. In the Mili-Gazette was always generous space for advertising the Islamic Holdings. Until their ban in 1998, the party’s second man has been Recep Tayyip Erdogan. By this time banning parties has been a beloved and often used tool to eliminate political enemies. Banned parties would always quickly appear again with a new name but the old party’s wealth and people. The forbidden RP was newborn as FP in 1999. Immediately after the FP founding it became the strongest power in Konya. But in 2001 the FP was banned, too. Until that moment they still made no secret about the connection to the Milli-Gömüs-Movement. In the meantime many German-Turkish people had lost their money and it was easy to see that more victims would follow. So when the FP was forbidden in 2001 the successor to FP, AKP officially parted from the Milli-Gömüs-Movement.
When the victims asked the AKP government for documents about the scam, they blocked any investigation.

Of course no one has any proof, but it is remarkable that Konya became one of the most powerful and rich city in Turkey and the AKP became strongest power in the same time as all the billions disappeared. Erogan promised Turkey an economical miracle and Konya, also called the “Anatolian Tiger” is one examples of his success. With the end of the 90’s and the vanished billions the Islamic Holdings stopped going from door to door and asking for money, but they still exist. By now they just more likely buy whole companies to add to their fortune…

“These are the people who own the newspapers.”

During the Gezi-Protests I kept asking myself: why did the Turkish people vote Erdogan? Of course I heard the stories about booming cities in the middle of nowhere but I couldn’t believe it until I saw Konya’s green parks. People here have good jobs, affordable living and a high quality environment. Erdogan kept his promise about economical growth and there isn’t any reason why people in Konya wouldn’t trust him. It is interesting that Konya has been a rather conservative area already before it changed from agricultural to shiny industrial. It’s like the AKP rewarded their loyal voter.

This is what one could hear in Erdogan’s speeches during the last months. “His” Turks are good and real Turks. The one who don’t profit from his politics or just don’t like him are not his Turks and therefore bad Turks.

None of what I wrote about the Islamic Holdings and the entanglement with politics is a secret. Almost every Turk would be familiar with every single fact of my post above, though you can’t read about it in the Turkish newspapers. My host in Konya has been a journalist for the local newspaper, which, by the way, won the Konrad-Adenauer Pressepreis. After I spend a day of reading about Konya I asked him whether he knew why Konya became such a booming town in the last years. He knew. He knew about the holdings, the vanished money and the interconnection with the politics. “But we don’t write about it. These are the people who own the newspapers.”

Does anybody still think #occupygezi is about trees?

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2 thoughts on “In Erdogans green backyard

  1. Well, I never thought occupygezi was only about trees, but this a very interesting insight! Thank you for providing this background. I am curious now: what is going on in Greece?

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