How does Erdogan win with a losing hand?

Mavi Marmara case

Author Pinar Tremblay

On Dec. 2, the Mavi Marmara case brought against Israel for its assault on a Turkish ferryboat carrying humanitarian relief to Gaza met in court for the 21st time. The prosecutor asked for the dismissal of the case based on the agreement signed between Israel and Turkey in June. The victims’ families and activists at the court were furious, so the judge adjourned the session until Dec. 9.


Criminal court cases against Israel over the raid on the Mavi Marmara flotilla are being dismissed due to the agreement Erdogan signed, but Islamists lash out against the judge and prosecutor.
On Dec. 9, the court met under heavy security, and there were allegations on social media that the security personnel had told victims’ families, “You will have 10 more martyrs here today.” Attendees at the court tweeted that the police presence was to intimidate them. The tension was high at court, especially after the prosecutor said, “Turkey, specific just to this case, due to the agreement made, conceded its sovereign rights.” Then the activists started chanting slogans, such as “Mavi Marmara is our honor” followed by “God is Great” [Allahu Akbar], “Damn Israel,” and “This is not Israel, it is Turkey.” Lawyers left the courtroom in an act of desperate protest.

Indeed, after the Israeli-Turkish agreement in June, Al-Monitor has surveyed various Islamist groups and reported their strong disapproval of the rapprochement. The terms of the agreement make it impossible for victims’ families to take Israeli soldiers and officials to court. The prominent figures in the Islamist movement were well-aware of this, but kept silent after Erdogan made his infamous declaration accusing IHH — the main nongovernmental organization leading the flotilla — and other members of the Mavi Marmara flotilla to have embarked upon the journey without consulting the state.

Yet the public at large was left in the dark after the agreement was signed. For example, in November, the International Criminal Court’s decision not to probe the Mavi Marmara incident was not discussed on any prominent TV channel; hence the Turks had little to no idea about the impact of Erdogan’s decisions not only on their own 10 compatriots who died but also on the Palestinians.

The Dec. 9 dismissal had a thunderbolt effect on social media, immediately bringing the hashtag #MaviMarmara to the top of the trending topics list. Videos and tweets of Cigdem Topcuoglu, the wife of one of those who died in the raid, generated anger and frustration among Turkish Islamists. Topcuoglu complained about the police who harassed them while they were trying to enter the courtroom and later kicked them out of the courtroom by force.

Dec. 9 also happens to be the day Ottoman rule of Jerusalem ended in 1917. A Twitter account of Mavi Marmara activists tweeted about that happenstance: "The same day, they are dismissing the case of Jerusalem martyrs and veterans. God is the most generous. [Allah Kareem].”

Still, no one from the Islamist camp would directly criticize Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in public. One exception was the son of a Turk killed in the raid, Ismail Songur, who tweeted, “The president is a good man, who has served his country well. Indeed, service to his country was not enough, so he bestowed many benefits on Israel.”

There were hundreds of angry posts sharing photos of those killed with the statement, “Embrace martyrs. Government sold you off for realpolitik, and the Islamists gave you up for a 'little sum of money.'” It was particularly telling that one pro-government journalist (Fatih Tezcan) and one opposition parliamentarian (Aykut Erdogdu) provided the similar argument that the Mavi Marmara case was sold out. Indeed, Tezcan claimed that had it not been the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government in charge now, there would be hundreds of thousands on the streets protesting the decision.

Gulden Sonmez, an attorney for IHH, posted on Twitter that closing the case meant the victims’ families were banned from bringing criminal cases against Israeli officers. Sonmez wrote that Israel had been concerned that this case against its officials could set a precedent. She also tweeted that the agreement between Turkey and Israel is an amnesty in legal terms. This would mean that it needs 360 votes to pass in the Turkish parliament. She said that because the agreement only got 206 votes, it was not constitutional.

Sonmez also highlighted the fact that this is a criminal lawsuit involving almost 800 victims and family members from 37 different countries.

Still, mainstream media outlets were quiet about the Mavi Marmara case. A marginal Islamist daily, Milli Gazete, reported, “Only Milli Gazete acknowledges Mavi Marmara [case dismissal].”

Indeed, the Islamist daily Yeni Akit was criticized on social media for its inappropriate language against the Mavi Marmara activists and their treatment at court.

Even the ones who spoke up would not dare criticize the AKP government or Erdogan. Rather, most of the Islamists directed their anger toward the prosecutor and the judge. For example, on Dec. 11, Yeni Akit came to the defense of the Mavi Marmara activists and posted a piece titled “That prosecutor [of flotilla case] was the prosecutor of Gezi [protests]” The piece targeted the prosecutor, provided his name and criticized his performance in prosecutions involving the 2013 Gezi Park protesters and other cases: “He is the one who persistently asked for the dismissal of Marmara case, ... he is the one who dismissed the case against Fazil Say [a world renowned pianist] who had offended Muslims.”

Pro-government daily Yeni Safak also reported that IHH chairman Bulent Yildirim said that if the prosecutor and judge in the case were sincere people of the law, the case would not have been dismissed. He claimed the case was rushed and the people were mistreated. He said the case could have continued, but its decision might not have been enforced. Yildirim argued the dismissal of the case was not one of the conditions of the agreement with Israel. Yildirim did not criticize Erdogan or the AKP, but rather targeted the prosecutor and the judge.

There were several other tweets targeting the prosecutor and judge of the case and asking them to be disbarred.

In sum, except for the few remaining opposition voices, none of the Islamists dared to hold Erdogan and his government responsible for the dismissal of the Mavi Marmara case. How can Erdogan remain so free from responsibility?

One explanation is that all mainstream figures have become Erdogan apologists. For example, Ismail Kilicarslan, who was courageous enough to write that realpolitik is not his concern and that he is displeased with the flotilla decision, explained that Erdogan’s position is different. Because he is a political leader, he has to take realpolitik into account. Kilicarslan also eloquently told his readers that Erdogan’s heart is in the right place, that he is confident Erdogan still views Israel as an occupier and terrorist state and that the president treats the Palestinian issue as if it were his own family’s problem.

Other columnists who wrote about the flotilla also suggested never giving up on the cause and blamed the main opposition party for the lack of enthusiasm about Palestine.

Overall, the blame went to the usual suspects — anyone but Erdogan and the AKP government. The judge, prosecutor, Zionists, secularists and the main opposition party were all targeted. Once more, the Turkish government was not held accountable. Consider this: After a series of major terror attacks in the last 18 months in Turkey, not one single AKP member has felt responsible and resigned.

Instead, the angry and disappointed Islamists took to the streets Dec. 13 and protested against Russia, Iran and the world on behalf of the victims of Aleppo. There is not much one can accomplish by pointing fingers at Erdogan, other than being called a traitor, but marching for causes Erdogan favors are always smart ones to join for the shrewd Turkish Islamists.


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