Posts in English

Sex, Baykal, and Videotape

[Originally published in Hurriyet Daily News] I am not really very curious about what other people do in their bedrooms. But the recent sex scandal that shook Deniz Baykal, the opposition leader, is too political to dismiss. In case you haven't heard the news, here is the brief story: Last Thursday, an Islamist website ran the footage of a hidden camera showing Mr. Baykal with a female deputy of his party, the Republican People's Party, or CHP. The setting was a private house, and the scenes were much too private for these two people, which are both married to other people. As you can imagine, the "Baykal affair" hit the headlines instantly. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan ordered an instant ban on the scenes, but they were already all over. What was disturbing was not just the "A" word (a.k.a. adultery), but the fact that Baykal had made her lady friend, Nesrin Baytok, a member of the Parliament in 2002, and that her husband got sweet contracts from CHP municipalities. Conspiracies everywhere In just a few hours, everybody started to ask, "Who really did this?" Someone had obviously set Mr. Baykal up by putting a camera in a place that he would not have preferred to have one. But there was nothing more than that to find a culprit. The Islamist website (, which is informally affiliated with the radical and vulgar daily Vakit) was probably chosen as a medium for its known recklessness. But who chose them and passed the video was, and still is, unclear. Yet we Turks love filling such gaps in facts with our subjective opinions. So, people from all political camps started to throw their respective conspiracy theories. A few figures from CHP blamed the renegade Şişli mayor, Mustafa Sarıgül, who is busy these days forming a new center-left political party. (This was joined with another bizarre news of an allegation that Sarıgül wanted to get Baykal shot!) Other CHP members suspected an internal coup against Baykal within his party. The CHP will have its general congress in just two weeks, and this seemed to be a perfect time to bring its all-powerful leader down. Other conspiracy theories put the blame on the AKP government and its "Islamist" supporters. The crucial timing, according to this scenario, was not the CHP congress but the constitutional amendment package that the AKP has just passed from Parliament. Taking Baykal down at this critical juncture, the story went, would break the spearhead of the anti-AKP crusade, and put the last nail in the coffin of "the secular Republic." Meanwhile, some pro-AKP figures created their own conspiracy theories. This was, they argued, cooked by anti-AKP forces to put the blame on the incumbent party. A Turkish reader who emailed me the other day was quite concerned about this. "Don't you see Mustafa Bey," he was asking, "this was done to accuse the AKP for spying, and thus to create a justification for a new closure case." Well, I am not "seeing" any of these conspiracies yet, for there is simply no fact that we can base them upon. What I rather see is the following. First, Baykal could not have continued his political career after such a nasty scandal. Yes, it was quite unethical to videotape him secretly and then pass the views to the media, but what was revealed in those scenes was also quite unethical. It is worse then the Clinton-Lewinsky affair, for that was only about intimacy. (Or, according to Mr. Clinton's categories, even a lesser form of that.) But this case is also about the political ascendance of a woman thanks to her intimacy with the party's leader. This is no small matter. A hell of a comeback? So, secondly, Baykal should have resigned, as he did the other day. But he should have done it a bit more humbly. He, instead, lashed out against "the conspirators," and put the blame directly on the government. He, in other words, joined the choir of conspiracy theorists without putting any credible evidence to the table. I think Erdoğan was right to react to this accusation in his response to Baykal, which came only three hours later. To me, as well, it doesn't seem credible that the AKP leadership will do something this nasty (and risky) just to get rid of Baykal. "We have actually been quite happy with Mr. Baykal," Ömer Çelik, one of Erdoğan's closest aids, said half-jokingly on the TV the other night. "He makes sure that the CHP remains a rigid ideological party with limited popular appeal." My humble guess is that this scandal has something to do with a power struggle within the CHP rather than being an attack on the party. But Baykal is now trying to turn this into his advantage by portraying the whole affair as an AKP conspiracy against him, his party, and "Atatürk's Republic." By this rhetoric, he might be even hoping for a victorious comeback, as he did shortly after his resignation in 1999 following an election defeat. If he can pull that off, I will, in turn, take my hat off, for such a persistent in-house success without any real political success is an amazing success.
All for Joomla All for Webmasters