Reformulating the December 17- 25 Scandal through Nationalist Meanings

Reopening the December 17-25 corruption investigation was one of the most important aims of the opposition parties, except the Nationalist Party, after the June 6 elections in which the AKP lost its governing party position, lasted for more than ten years. However, the AKP might win the elections, which will be held in November and this will result in closing the investigation again. In this article, by analyzing Erdogan’s speeches[1] on the investigation, I argue that the AKP’s, especially Erdogan’s, use of nationalist language and reconstruction of the history of and its/his relationship with Cemaat within this nationalist trajectory have prevented most of the people to judge the investigation as disclosure of the government’s corruption.


In the overall narrative, which will be analyzed in detail below, acknowledged by Erdogan, the Gulen Movement is reflected as an extension and tool of the external enemies who on every occasion, try to curb the development of Turkey which also empowers the poor and suppressed Muslim states. Therefore, the Gulen Movement members of the bureaucracy deserve to be punished through discharging them or if not possible appointing them to other cities, especially in the Eastern part of Turkey due to their betrayal of the state and the nation by their service to the foreign enemies of Turkey. However, the Movement’s betrayal of the AKP which is supposed to be more salient since the Gulen Movement was the primary ally of the AKP and filled the state cadres has been hindered. In the same narrative, the rule of the AKP is also manifested as a remarking point in the political history of Turkey because it represents the will and sovereignty of the people as opposed to abuse and neglect of its own people by the former governments. Since the AKP is equated with the national will, the reason behind the war waged against the Gulen Movement is reflected as taking the revenge of the nation rather than the AKP. In addition to this domestic aspect of nationalism, this new Turkey helps the oppressed Muslim countries and this irritates the Western countries which exploit them. This transnational if not the hegemonic role of Turkey and its enemies’ attempt to curb this role constitutes the second dimension of betrayal of the Gulen Movement. Through these narratives the AKP relegitimizes its existence in the political arena despite the corruption scandal.


Repositioning its place in the political history of Turkey and Redefining “we”


In his first speech after he heard the detention of the ministers, Erdogan defined the rule of the AKP as the servant of the nation and mere followers of the way directed by the people (“Başbakan Erdogan meydan okudu”, 2013). He saw this point as a remarking difference from the former rules in Turkey: “We came to the power in order to serve to the people not to be the master of the people” (“Olaylar dershane sürecinin devamıdır”, 2013). This hierarchy between the rulers and the ruled in the rule of former governments is much more manifested in his portrayal of the past regimes. “For 200 years the real citizens of this country who are bound by national and spiritual values could not express their will or find a way or an opportunity to live better lives. They were systematically discriminated, offended and excluded. They were the desperate ones. The elites of this country always expressed their arrogance against the Kurds, the Alewis, the Sunnis and the people live in eastern or western parts of Turkey.” (“Cadı avıysa cadı avı, 2014). He precisely said what the AKP changed in Turkey. “We brought an understanding of the rule which works for the people rather than the state.”(“Olaylar dershane sürecinin devamıdır.”, 2013). He also manifested the victory of its rule and the failure of this statist and elitist former rule. “The rule of governments which offended we finished… The ones who insulted our believes failed. The nation became victorious and now they own the rule of the country. Without discrimination, we own the country. We protect our values, the flag, the nation, the country, the state and our solidarity.” (“Başbakan Erdogan son mitingi Konya’da yaptı”, 2014).


In addition to these remarking differences of the rule of the AKP from the former governments counted by Erdogan, the economic and technological development of Turkey are emphasized as another achievement of the AKP and this is presented with a strong nationalism. “One of our brothers made an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) and it stays in the air for 25 hours. We made our own helicopter, tank and weapons. There is nothing unreachable for this nation.” (“Başbakan Erdogan son mitingi Konya’da yaptı”, 2014). He implicitly acknowledged the operation as a coup attempt by saying: “Turkey is not an underdeveloped democracy where anyone can suppress the will of the nation” (“Başbakan Erdogan meydan okudu”, 2013). He also compared the times of the coups and suppression of democratically elected leaders in Turkey and the current government’s resistance against such attempts: “The sovereignty belongs to the people. There is no prime minister who bends to the threats of the coups.” (“Olaylar dershane sürecinin devamıdır.”, 2013). All in all, “the people” or “we” used in Erdogan’s speeches on the December 17-25 is composed of religious people and they were marginalized in the past regimes. In the new Turkey, this unjust order is reversed and “the people” become the rulers by electing the AKP which is implicitly referred in the speeches.


Repositioning its place in the world and redefining “they”


In the international aspect of the same narrative, a dichotomous view of the world is presented. In this world, the West (the EU countries and the USA) represents the hegemony of the rule and exploiter of the Eastern countries and sets sneaky projects and plans against the ones which want to change this unjust rule. Turkey side lines with oppressed countries which are composed of Palestine, Bosnia, Egypt and Tuni, aims to empower them, and Turkey is loved by these countries due to its “good wishes” to change the world order. Whenever these attempts become dangerous for the West, this powerful block of countries establishes allies in Turkey to create chaos in order to take their control and make Turkey obedient again. These points become salient in the speeches of Ahmet Davutoglu, and Erdogan. Davutoglu said that: “Palestinian, Bosnian, all the oppressed people in the world say that: ‘The presidential election in Turkey is not only Turkey’s election. It will also determine our destiny.’ They are praying for us.”(“Başbakan Erdogan son mitingi Konya’da yaptı”, 2014). The president Erdogan connected this role of Turkey with the infamous incident of the December 17: “As long as you stand against these repercussions (the scandal), the oppressed people will have hope for change. You are the ones who will help the oppressed countries in the world. You are all Fatih Sultan Mehmet (the Ottoman sultan who conquered Istanbul). Never forget this. You will make Turkey the leader and the most powerful country of the world. You will support the justice in the world.” (“Başbakan Erdogan son mitingi Konya’da yaptı”, 2014).


The president Erdogan expressed the enmity of the West more clearly in his first speech related to the December 17-25 scandal. “No one can put my country in turmoil. There are foreign enemies who desire this and there are also their extensions in our country.” (“Başbakan Erdogan meydan okudu”, 2013). He also acknowledged the motives behind such operation and alliance which are the western countries aiming to stop the development of Turkey (“Başbakan Erdogan’ın yolsuzluk operasyonu yorumu”, 2013). On the first anniversary of the scandal Erdogan manifested his opposition against the arrogance of the West. “The ones who behave like teachers and aim to teach Turkey democracy: Turn your eyes into your own countries. Come here and Turkey will teach you what democracy is. (“Erdogan Konya’da konustu”, 2014). The West is found responsible for many opposition movements against the AKP as Erdogan said that: “They caused many disasters in Turkey, in the Gezi Movement and now they are doing the same thing.” (“Erdogan: ininize gireceğiz”, 2013). Thus, the December 17-25 corruption scandal is treated as a transnational incident rather than a domestic one since it is seen as a part of a series of events which is set up by the West in order to curb the development of Turkey which supports the oppressed countries.

The Gulen Movement: raping the honor of the nation


These interrelated domestic and international aspects in the AKP’s narrative of the December 17 scandal serve to judge the Gulen Movement as the traitor and mobilize people for the government’s aim to tear them down. Erdogan said that: “We are going to find out and punish this mafia who is established in the state cadres. We will do this for the future of our nation.” (“Başbakan Erdogan’ın yolsuzluk operasyonu yorumu”, 2013). He directly called this incident as “betraya”l and stated that: “There cannot be any parallel state organization. The ones who want to, this should know that we will even chase you till your caves.” (“Erdogan: İninize Gireceğiz”, 2013). The reason behind a full-fledged attack against the Gulen Movement is expressed as the betrayal of the nation since the people did not give their votes to the AKP to see such betrayal (“Olaylar dershane sürecinin devamıdır, 2013). He clearly reflected the December 17 scandal as an attack against the nation. “The reality behind this veil of the December 17 operation is the will of the nation. It is directed against the nation. Either we will all choose our side with the nation or we will all perish.” (“Erdogan: ininize gireceğiz”, 2013). The people in charge of judging and punishing this parallel state organization of the Community are also mobilized by Erdogan. “If you discriminate the Community members and do not behave sensibly enough, you do not respect or be fair about the trust of the nation.”(“Cadı avıysa cadı avı”, 2014).

The guilt of the Gulen Community encompasses almost everything, domestic and international issues, as it becomes clear in the statements of Erdogan. “They attacked our party, our government, our resolution process (peace process with the PKK). They also indirectly attacked our fight for human rights in Palestine, Egypt, and Syria. If this is not enough, they attacked our National Secret Intelligence, the secret meetings in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, our future, our flag, and our land. You can be silent about the attacks against me or my friends or my family, but I am telling you they attacked your motherland and your flag which means they are attacking your honor, you cannot be silent at least for this reason.”(“Cadı avıysa cadı avı”, 2014).

In conclusion, The AKP benefitted from a narrative of nationhood in its attempts to suppress the scandal on the state level corruption. This narrative is built around a sense of nationhood which needs to be protected from the repercussions of the Gulen Community which betrayed the nation by making alliance with the enemies abroad. Thus, the December 17-25 corruption scandal is treated as a coup attempt organized by the West which is irritated with Turkey’s acts to empower the oppressed countries and through this nationalist narrative the AKP either relegitmized its authority in the eyes of the people or hindered the people’s suspicion of the corruption by recalling their memories of coups.


Rumeysanur Erikli



“Başbakan Erdogan meydan okudu”. Last modified December 17, 2013 and last accessed April 19, 2015.

“Başbakan Erdogan son mitingi Konya’da yaptı”. Last modified August 9, 2014 and last accessed April 21, 2015.

“Başbakan Erdogan’ın yolsuzluk operasyonu yorumu” Last modified December 19, 2013 and last accessed April 19, 2015.

“Cadı avıysa cadı avı”. Last modified May 12, 2014 and last accessed April 19, 2015.

“Erdogan Konya’da konustu”. Last modified December 17, 2014 and last accessed April 19, 2015.

“Erdogan: ininize gireceğiz”. Last modified December 21, 2013 and last accessed April 19, 2015.

“Erdogandan gece mitingi”. Last modified December 28, 2013 and last accessed April 19, 2015.

“Millete operasyon: 17 aralık belgeseli”. Last modified December 17, 2014 and last accessed April 19, 2015.

“Olaylar dershane sürecinin devamıdır.” Last modified December 27, 2013 and last accessed April 19, 2015.

[1] I translated Erdogan’s speeches to English. I am so thankful to Professor John Clarke for his insightful ideas which helped me to analyze these speeches.


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