Former deputy: Turkish Airlines engaging in political discrimination

Former deputy: Turkish Airlines engaging in political discrimination

Muhammed Çetin (Photo: Today’s Zaman)

April 23, 2014, Wednesday/ 16:09:19/ TUĞBA KAPLAN / ISTANBUL
Academic Muhammed Çetin, who was in the limelight for his recent resignation from the Justice and Development Party (AK Party), has found he is once more making headlines after being forced to deplane a Turkish Airlines flight. Çetin’s requests to THY for upgrades have also been denied on more than one occasion, he tells Today’s Zaman, while refuting counter claims by THY that he has undermined the airline’s reputation.

Çetin speaks about how he became an AK Party deputy, the factors that led to his decision to resign from the party and how he was recently forced to deplane a THY flight.

After recent developments, THY decided not to sell [upgraded] tickets to you. What do you have to say about this decision?

What I have experienced at THY is political discrimination. This is against the Constitution. The powerful feel they need to prove their power in Turkey. And when they do so, they need an excuse. Therefore, they are holding an operation to intimidate us [those who speak out against the AK Party]. So I filed complaints against THY and Hamdi Topçu on the basis that they have committed a hate crime and insulted me through ungrounded claims.

But they believe that you have undermined their image.

I do not acknowledge this accusation. They have kept bothering me since I resigned from the AK Party. First, the prime minister insulted me, suggesting that I am in Parliament as a pawn. Then, I was mistreated during flights [that I had paid for]. For instance, I bought a ticket on Feb. 18, 2014 from İstanbul to Ankara. Before the flight, I wanted to upgrade my ticket; I have done this before many times. However, they told me that they were unable to do this because of system failure. But other passengers [were able to get an upgrade]. And this was not the only case where they failed to upgrade my ticket.

So this is not a new thing?

Of course not. They have caused trouble every time I have wanted to upgrade my ticket. I have been treated the same way on 10-15 flights. When other deputies from the MHP [Nationalist Movement Party] and CHP [Republican People’s Party] raised their objections on the same flight, I was given a seat in the rear of the aircraft so as not to cause further problems.

The media reported an incident on your most recent flight to Pakistan.

I bought a ticket to Pakistan on Feb. 21, 2014. I upgraded the ticket; but my [upgrade] transaction was canceled despite there being a vacant business class seat on the plane. They told me I could fly economy. But I noticed that there were vacant seats in the upgraded section, in business class. I asked if I could move there. After talking to the pilots, I moved to a seat in business class and another passenger was [given] my seat in economy. There was no problem at all, but then the aircraft was stopped and I was told to move to my former seat. I asked why; they told me to leave the aircraft. The cabin crew also told me that they [had] removed my baggage and that I had to leave. I insisted on staying because I did not do anything wrong. So I flew to Pakistan. But they [sent me] my luggage two days later. My return was also a problem. During the return flight, they would not allow me board without offering any reason and I had to buy a new ticket. So, none of these incidents were my fault.

US Embassy: ‘THY reacted politically’

A similar incident took place on your flight to Chicago. You were told that you could not move from economy class to business class and that you were responsible for the trouble [caused by] moving to business class. What do you have to you say about these allegations?

Normally, I would not have chosen to fly THY after what I experienced. But a group of deputies wanted to fly with THY, and I could not take a separate flight. I bought an economy-class ticket because they “did not sell” business class tickets. A friend of mine told me he would exchange his business class seat with me. He informed the pilot and cabin crew and was given the necessary permission. They said “OK.” However, some guy appeared next to me and said I was in his seat. They had sold the same seat twice. So, I objected. I told them those who are responsible for this should take care of it. A flight attendant came and told me that they would be sending me off the plane because I had violated flight safety regulations. First, there was no incident that would require police interference. Second, there must be a parliamentary decision for police to be able to arrest me. I was further provoked by an announcement made in English that I should leave the aircraft because I was endangering the flight. I called the American Embassy. They told me they did not view me as a threat and that what THY did was make a political reaction. So they acted politically and ideologically against me. This is political discrimination. Through such policies and moves of intimidation, THY wants to send a clear message that it is the boss. This is further represented by logic suggesting that no rules should be recognized in fighting against the Hizmet movement. So, this treatment I was subjected to is the product of this approach.

Is it only you who faces this political discrimination?

No. Everybody who is critical of the AK Party does. The whole problem is [that I have said] that the AK Party is in decline and I also [am] a sympathizer of the Hizmet movement. If they [the AK Party] successfully intimidate me, they will keep at it. At the end of a dead end, I take all the impact. I have a diplomatic passport and immunity. There is no reasonable explanation for this mistreatment against a state official. I have never committed a crime of terrorism; I have not done anything wrong. I have never clashed with police or the military. I have no prior record. However, there are people who have done these terrible things yet still are able to fly business class. Is not this discrimination? This is properly defined as harassment in Europe. They are sending the message that they would restrict your life, and they needed a victim. That victim is me. For this reason, it is not about which class I fly. It is all about intimidation and submission.

Did they increase pressure because you stood against corruption?

Exactly. But I believe that there are honest and decent people and that they will expose the corruption and take care of the charges. People can rest assured that the police officers and judges who were reassigned because they were allegedly affiliated with the Hizmet movement are not linked to the movement at all. Whoever replaced them knows about the corruption in public tenders. All these corruption cases and incidents were already known before.

So why did you not do anything about it?

We remained silent because we believed that they would correct what they were doing. But this administration considered the people to be stupid. For this reason, this is not about the Hizmet movement. This is a problem that this nation should address. Addressing the problem should be done through peaceful means. However, this administration is pursuing an opposite policy because they believe that they can cover up their mistakes through conflict. We will not be fooled by this plot.

AK Party asked me to be deputy

You were a successful academic, but then we heard you became a deputy. Did you want to become a parliamentarian?

I never asked to become a deputy. If I had, I would have become a member of the party. Besides, I did not fill out the form; the AK Party did. I would not have used a photo of mine in which I am 17 if I had wanted to become a deputy. I should also note that I was also offered to serve as advisor to the president on Central Asian affairs. If I had political ambition, I would have taken that offer. That was a period where many people were making efforts to become a deputy. The prime minister invited [deputy hopefuls like me] to a dinner. I was abroad, so I did not attend. I was informed at an academic meeting in Ankara that I would be elected as a deputy. Party figures made many phone calls telling me that the prime minister wanted to meet me. I took the offer, thinking that I could be of help. When I started this job, I told the prime minister and other party figures that I was not there as a representative of the Hizmet movement. I said: “I am an AK Party deputy. I will do anything you want me to. Otherwise, I will keep a low profile.”

Some argue that you have not been so influential during your service as a deputy.

Well, being a deputy does not mean that you have to make a big fuss about everything. I gave a speech on foreign policy; those who are interested may find and read it. Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu told me that I should have spoken more because my ideas were very valuable. Besides, the AK Party have sent text messages to deputies over the last few months telling us that [we] should not give interviews and that only certain [people can] make statements. I complied with the decisions of the party. In addition, I have tried to defend Islam and the rights of Muslims at international meetings and gatherings, including NATO meetings. Those who make accusations have no idea of how things are done in Parliament. A deputy cannot just talk simply because he was elected to his position. And we only rarely seize the opportunity to speak because there are many people who want to make themselves known to others. Me and my friends, however, never had such ambitions.

Did anybody in the party change their attitude toward you because of your affiliation with the Hizmet movement?

My affiliation with the movement was already known. At the formal or informal meetings where the deputies were introduced, I was presented as if I was some sort of representative of the movement. And the people, because they knew me and my affiliation, talked about the scholarly competence and religiosity of [Islamic scholar Fethullah] Gülen. Those who had a National Outlook [Milli Görüş] background were uneasy with this. They always remained distant to me and they were not sincere in their actions. I did not have any problem with anybody. Some even asked me to do favors; they asked for discounts in prep school tuition. Some would ask me to have the Hizmet-affiliated media hire their relatives. When I told them it was not proper for me to make a call like this, they insisted [that] I do [it].

‘I insult their mentor everyday; why do they not resign?’

What would you say about the allegations Fethullah Gülen ordered you to resign?

Those who raise those allegations do not know anything about Gülen and the Hizmet movement. Gülen never interferes with the free will of the people. He never asks anybody to do anything that would be in their disfavor. People make their own decisions. The conditions were so ripe for the resignation [of a few of us deputies]; when the prime minister was making his insults, I considered that this was a temporary process and that things would be worked out. Almost every day I discussed this matter with a leading figure in the party. They were telling me that there was no need for me to resign. AK Party group deputy chairman Mustafa Elitaş even thanked me for staying in the party and not making critical remarks on social media. But when things got out of hand, I wanted to resign from the AK Party and decided not to stay on as a deputy as well. My decision was forwarded to Gülen; he said that this had nothing to do with me and that I should stay because I made a pledge to the AK Party. Shortly after this, I heard the prime minister saying, “I insult their mentor every day; why do they not resign?” In response to this, I said I did not have any evil agenda, that I did not have any plans to create a new party and that I did not want to cause any trouble within the party. But then, I decided to leave of my own free will. They should thank Gülen for me not resigning earlier.

Why didn’t you resign from your position as deputy?

I did not resign because I wanted to make sure that they would not adopt a more aggressive stance against us. This is one thing; the other thing is that those who argue that we [those who have severed ties with the party] should no longer stay on as deputies want to ensure that the corruption allegations are forgotten and covered up so that the people will not be aware of them. So they make simple political calculations. Besides, I am not the only person who resigned from a political party and remained an independent deputy.

Will you stay on as an independent deputy?

I will, as long as the people elect me. I have no other political goal or expectation.

How has your family reacted to what is happening?

My family is in İstanbul; my wife is a Turkmen. I have two sons. They are, of course, upset. I try to make sure that they are not politicized and that they are not affected by political developments. Some [people have] made offensive remarks about me to my son. I told him that I was not involved in any terrorist activities, that I did not detonate a bomb and that I did not do anything wrong. I also added that these were political matters and that we would discuss this further when he grows up. My son responded by saying, “Dad, these people are nuts.” I think this is the answer.

Tuğba Kaplan

Gazeteci/ Aksiyon Dergisi Politika, Sosyoloji, uluslararası ilişkiler, medya ve kültür dünyasından ünlü isimlerle gündemle ilgili aktüel röportajlar yapmaktadır. Ayrıca gündeme dair konuları farklı yönleriyle ele alan dosyalar hazırlamaktadır.

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