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Erdogan appoints a new “commissioner” to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which destabilizes FM Fidan

Erdogan appoints a new “commissioner” to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which destabilizes FM Fidan


Levent Kenez/Stockholm

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan appointed three new deputy foreign ministers on Friday. Among them wasNuh Ylmaz, who was already in the ministry and was an advisor to Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan. Another was Ambassador Aye Berris Aknc, the first female deputy minister. The third named, Burhanettin Duran, was not chosen at Fidan's request. Instead, he is one of Erdogan's party “commissioners” appointed to monitor the minister and keep the president informed, as he has done in other ministries.

Duran, afanatical Erdogan supporter and former director general of the SETA foundation, linked to Turkish intelligence services, is close to the Erdogan family and a friend of Brahim Kaln, who heads the National Intelligence Organization (MT). The two men previously worked together in SETA, an organization often criticized for its role as a revolving door for placing Islamists in key government positions and functioning as a propaganda tool for the regime under the guise of a thinking group. Serhat Albayrak, brother of Berat Albayrak, former finance minister and Erdogan's son-in-law, currently serves as chairman of the SETA board. Albayrak is also de facto responsible for government-affiliated media.

Burhanettin Duran (left) and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

After being re-elected on May 28, 2023, Erdogan excluded powerful figures from his new cabinet. Among them were Interior Minister Sleyman Soylu and Defense Minister Hulusi Akar. In their place, Erdogan appointed individuals who were obedient but lacking in charisma and influence. He also appointed Fidan, the head of the MT intelligence agency, to the less influential post of foreign minister. Under Erdogan's regime, MT wielded so much power and influence that speculation about Erdogan's successor as president often included Fidan's name. Erdogan, known for having considered his son Bilal or his son-in-law Seluk Bayraktar, manufacturer of military drones, as potential successors, shifted Fidan to a more passive and symbolic role, thereby reducing his power. In place of Fidan, Erdogan appointed his close friend and former presidential spokesperson, Brahim Kaln.

Fidan's decision to transfer the people he had worked with at the MT to the ministry and to restructure the institution must have caught Erdogan's attention. This is evident in the new appointments since Erdogan placed Duran, a loyal supporter of the ruling party and himself, in an important position within the ministry.

Turkish intelligence chief Brahim Kaln (left) and Burhanettin Duran.

Professor Duran was a columnist for the Sabah daily, owned by the Erdogan family and run by Serhat Albayrak, where he typically wrote opinion pieces on foreign policy and politics in a style reminiscent of party propaganda. He recently taught at Ankara University of Social Sciences, known for employing academics close to the government. Since 2018, he has been a member of the Presidential Security and Foreign Policy Council.

In addition to writing columns that often supported the government's foreign policy, Duran frequently appeared as a guest on pro-government television stations. He is also regularly present during Erdogan's official trips abroad, often accompanying him aboard the presidential plane.

In 2019, Duran stressed that Turkey's purchase of S-400 missiles from Russia was a matter of national security, while harshly criticizing the government's opponents. According to Duran, the S-400 missile defense system would strengthen Turkey's position in the Eastern Mediterranean, calling on opposition parties to support the project. However, Turkey's acquisition of the S-400s not only led to their withdrawal from the F-35 fighter jet program by the United States, but also resulted in concessions made to the EU favoring the position of Greece in the Eastern Mediterranean. The S-400 missiles purchased by Turkey are currently unused, unactivated and still in their packaging.

Duran (circled), still a familiar face aboard Erdogan's plane, alongside pro-government journalists.

However, a 2022 SETA report indicated that the diplomatic and military balance between Greece and Turkey had deteriorated to Turkey's detriment and that it would be better for Ankara to abandon the purchase of a second batch of S-400 missiles to Russia to strike delicate balance in bilateral relations

A third of senior positions in the Turkish Foreign Ministry are held by non-diplomats, indicating a growing number of political appointments. This trend results in 25 ambassadors lacking training in diplomacy. Around 10 of the nearly 30 director-general level positions within the ministry are now held by people without diplomatic experience, marking a break with traditional ministerial practice.

In a decree issued by President Erdogan on February 16, controversial figures and members of the ruling party were again appointed as ambassadors, raising questions about the criteria used for these appointments. Observers note a systematic increase in political appointments within the Foreign Ministry under the Erdogan government. Moreover, apart from the debate around the qualifications of the appointed ambassadors, a significant portion of them also face serious allegations of corruption and criminal activities.

Nordic Monitor previously reported concerns over foreign ministry appointments. One of the most notable names in the recent series of appointments is Ylmaz, former press advisor and head of MT's counter-espionage section. It was rumored at the time that he was appointed deputy minister, but Ylmaz was appointed head of the Strategic Research Center (SAM) and advisor within the ministry. It seems that Fidan finally succeeded in having him appointed as his deputy, almost a year after taking office. Ylmaz has experience supervising operatives and informants in traditional Turkish media and online news sites, some involved in spreading conspiracy theories.

During a conference at Istanbul University on December 15, 2023, Ylmaz announced ongoing efforts to reshape the ministry's institutional framework and human resources policies. According to Ylmaz, these initiatives signify an upcoming change in the requirements for aspiring diplomats. He hinted at the likelihood of future changes, suggesting that proficiency in the English language may not remain mandatory for everyone wishing to pursue a diplomatic career.

In addition, mit Ulvi Canik, former legal advisor to MT, was appointed to the General Directorate of Legal Services of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Canik was previously implicated in a scandal linked to the interception of a truck loaded with weapons and ammunition in 2014, allegedly intended for Al-Qaeda groups in Syria. Canik had represented MT in various legal matters and played a role in obstructing the search of the truck.

Hac Ali zel, former deputy of Fidan, was appointed general director of personnel. His return to the ministry demonstrates Fidan's efforts to build a team aligned with his goals, as the Erdogan government withdrew about 30 percent of all diplomatic staff, or more than 700 employees, including seasoned ambassadors from the ministry , after a controversial coup attempt in 2016, which sparked a witch hunt against dissidents within state institutions. Many of the vacancies were then filled by loyalists, supporters, and political appointees who were not career diplomats.

Grsel Dnmez, who previously worked with Fidan at MT, has been appointed senior advisor to Fidans. Dnmez, who headed the Austrian branch of the Union of International Democrats (UID) and served as first vice president of the Presidency of Turks Abroad and Associated Communities (YTB), is known for his involvement with communities of the diaspora in Europe, a recruitment strategy employed by the Turkish intelligence services.

A crucial appointment is that of Fatma Ceren Yazgan, former ambassador to Georgia, who will head the ministry's security and research directorate. His past role working with MT to profile and identify ousted diplomats in 2016 suggests a willingness to engage in various operations to demonstrate loyalty to Fidan and President Erdogan.




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