How the Concept of ‘FETO’ Corrupts Minds of Turkey’s Opposition

Even the brutal crushing of the Movement by the government has not ended the opposition’s paranoia over its (non-existent) presence in Turkey.

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Opposition party lawmakers are seen in a session in Turkish Parliament during pandemic.

When Muyesser Yildiz, a journalist working for ultra-nationalist secular media outlet OdaTV, was remanded behind bars over a fallout with the Erdogan government, she denounced the arrest as a FETO operation. Months before her detention, two other journalists with the same platform decried a FETO mindset behind their imprisonment over a report documenting Turkey’s shipment of weapons to Libya through cargo ships.

The FETO refers to the Gulen Movement in Turkey’s official political lexicon. The pejorative term often generates a negative connotation firmly rejected by the sympathizers of the reclusive U.S.-based cleric who has been declared by the Turkish state as the number one public enemy. In May 2016, two months before Turkey’s enigmatic and bloody coup, the National Security Council (MGK) designated the Movement as a terrorist organization (although it had no legal authority whatsoever to do that).

The abortive coup of July 2016 unleashed a sweeping purge by President Erdogan who hailed the coup as a gift from God. His crushing of the entire movement and selective targeting of opponents of the different political creed was based on a very useful label attached to the post-coup purge. In this fear-driven context, the FETO has emerged as a blanket definition to define anyone with the slightest hint of affiliation with the Movement. In reality, any dissident would fall under the category after crossing the path of the president and his ruling party. As such, people, publicly known as critics of the Movement in prior to its fallout with Erdogan, failed to escape that label when prosecutors sought to prosecute them over the charges of FETO membership.

Emin Colasan, one of the staunch Kemalists of the country and a columnist for Sozcu, was one of the journalists who got his share of these FETO prosecutions. Countless other people, whose credentials were well established as public faces of liberal, left and Kemalist intelligentsia, faced similar probes. This indiscriminate scope of FETO trials taints the credibility, legitimacy, and integrity of those investigations. They are, as critics suspect, driven by political motivations rather than credible legal proceedings.

The FETO trials, in this respect, had more than a faint resemblance to Stalin’s sham Moscow trials in the 1930s, the McCarthyism and Red Craze in the U.S. in the early 1950s, and similar other Orwellian types of witch-hunt that fractured a given country’s judicial system, rotting cardinal principles of the rule of law and fair trials. The affiliation with FETO or the fear of such a charge hovers as an abiding source of supreme fear for ordinary people. After all, the public reckons that a FETO label can upend someone’s life, can lead to seizure of property, and imprisonment for an unknown amount of time.

This FETO craze had reached its crescendo in the heady and muddled moments of the botched putsch in summer 2016. Although the intensity of the crackdown subsided to a certain degree in the intervening years, it has never entirely abated to this day. And the arbitrary invocation of FETO spawned an era of social mistrust, paranoia, and fear amid fraying friendships and family bonds. It provided a useful pretext for opportunists and maximalists to outsmart their rivals in the workplace, public service, police department, and judiciary by simply tipping them as FETO members regardless of the accuracy of the charges. Thousands simply wound up behind iron bars over this kind of anonymous tips (from friends, relatives, and co-workers).

Juggling the truth from fiction has consequently become an impossible task for a judiciary rendered as a rubber-stamp, subjugated body by the government. Amid the insanely surreal atmosphere of paranoia that came to govern societal engagements and political involvement, there is another aspect of this trend that exposes a corrupted mindset espoused by Turkey’s opposition parties and figures. In this back and forth FETO-blaming sport, both the government and opposition invoke that term whenever they attempt to accuse their rivals. As recently as this week, a lawmaker from the nationalist IYI (Good) Party raised the FETO charge against a senior party official.

The concept of FETO, among countless other things, serves as the arbiter of moral values by providing the vocabulary definition of evil, a certain kind of wrongdoing, or a criminal act (or any criminal act). When bar associations denounce the government’s professed intention to consolidate its power over Turkey’s bar associations as another act of power grab, they depict their objection in the “FETO-colored” language. “This is FETO’s plan,” one banner reads during a demonstration. Their deserved opposition and rightful demands are compromised by their unquestioned embrace of the government’s talking points about a community, which has simply been condemned to a protracted civilian death by the most inhumane methods. It also exposes their obsession and paranoia with the non-existent ghost of FETO, even after most of its adherents have been bundled together in cramped prison cells.

Without a national reckoning of this self-defeating pattern, there seems to be no end to this folly. The FETO is a political invention that serves the purpose of the government to muzzle any dissent and crush any objection to its non-democratic policies. The wholesale embrace of it will confer no advantage on the opposition as the government time and again displayed an extreme latitude to extend the term to anybody without even the slightest link to the Movement. Therefore, intellectual integrity requires the lettered people of Turkey to categorically and unequivocally reject the term once and for all. Otherwise, no matter what they do, they would never escape the charge they freely float against others just to stay in the good books of the ruling authorities.

Written by

Virginia-based journalist and writer. Politics, culture, art, and technology. American political affairs, Turkey, the MidEast, and beyond. Twitter: @abyasun

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