In the past two weeks, shocking revelations and drastic changes in the Cabinet of Ministers have shaken Turkey as a result of The Big Bribe – a large-scale secret operation that was carried out without the knowledge of the Turkish government. The one-year-long covert investigation of fraud and corruption involved 300 police officers, and the fact that the Turkish government had no idea of this huge operation has enraged Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdo?an, whose reputation has suffered immensely after the Big Bribe revelations.

The predominant theory is that the police officers, who carried out the Big Bribe operation, had been receiving instructions from Fethullah Gülen, an authoritative mainstream Turkish Muslim scholar, thinker, author, poet, opinion leader, and educational and political activist, who currently resides in the US and is considered the most influential opponent to Erdo?an. In the interview that he gave to Samanyolu TV, Gülen accuses Erdo?an and his administration of corruption and abusing their powers. However, according to Trend news agency, he rejects any link to the ongoing corruption scandal in Turkey. Despite this claim, Erdo?an is still convinced that Gülen played the leading role in organizing the investigation and blames him for interfering with Turkish politics while living abroad. As a result, the public is now divided into pro-Erdo?an and pro-Gülen camps.

While the foreign interference with the investigation is still debated, the person who organized the operation and led the investigation for the entire year lives in Turkey and is the most influential prosecutor under the Prime Minister. Zekeriya Öz investigated the seemingly untouchable members of Turkey’s elite: politicians, business people, attorneys, and generals. The phone conversations of ministers and their families, as well as of the Prime Minister himself, were recorded and listened to. As a result of the investigation, the police found out that several senior lawmakers, in alliance with the head of the National Bank of Turkey (Halkbank), were circumventing sanctions against Iran that prohibit monetary transactions with Iranian banks by paying several billion euros worth of gold in return for oil. The police found out that the head of the bank was hiding $4.5 million in shoeboxes in his office. The sons of three Turkish ministers (Interior Minister Muammer Güler, Economic Affairs Minister Zafer Ça?layan, and Environment and Urbanization Minister Erdo?an Baykatar) accepted bribes for providing building permits and public contracts. As it turned out, the son of Interior Minister was hiding $1.5 million in his house.

The operation was carried out on December 17, and 53 people have been arrested in total, among them sons of three ministers, the Mayor of Istanbul District, Fatih Mustafa Demir, and the head of Halkbank. On December 27, charges for bribery were pressed against Bilal Erdo?an, the son of the Prime Minister himself. Enraged by the massive operation that was carried out without his knowledge, Prime Minister Erdo?an started firing police officers that took part in it. Among the fired were five heads of police departments, 14 chiefs of police districts in Ankara, and the chief of police of Istanbul. More than 30 senior police officers have been fired in total. Even before his own son was arrested, Erdo?an called the Big Bribe “a foreign-backed dirty operation” that was aimed at his allies in order to discredit the government. Instead of accepting the fact that the arrests of his officials and their relatives were justified because their crimes were proven, Erdo?an blamed the police for organizing a secret operation without letting him know and for arresting people from his administration.

However, the firing of the policemen made things even worse. All over Turkey, people organized protests and demonstrations and demanded that Erdo?an resign and the corrupt ministers be arrested. On December 25, the three ministers whose sons were charged for corruption resigned from their positions and left office. Before leaving, Economic Affairs Minister called upon Prime Minister to resign as well. On the same day, Erdo?an fired seven other ministers, replaced them with his confidants, and announced a new Cabinet with ten changes.

While Prime Minister Erdo?an decries the Big Bribe operation and the arrests of the corrupt officials, President Abdulla Gül remains more supportive of the anti-corruption investigation despite the fact that he did not know anything about it either. Generally known to side with Gülen’s, rather than with Erdo?an’s opinions, President Gül emphasized that the judiciary branch of Turkish government is independent and objective. “If corruption has really taken place, then the guilty will be penalized,” he stated in support of the Big Bribe operation and added that major reforms had been made in Turkey during the past ten years.

It is true that Turkey has made a great leap towards democracy and has successfully battled corruption for the past ten years. During this period, Turkey proved itself to be much more democratic and corruption-free than the other countries in its region. However, the events of the past two weeks, as well as Erdo?an’s rather autocratic way of putting down the Teksim Gezi Park demonstrations, placed the status of Turkish democracy under question. While the majority of people are against Erdo?an’s recent actions, he still has many supporters. To the eyes of many people, the struggle between Fethullah Gülen, who organized the Big Bribe operation, and Prime Minister Erdo?an, is a struggle between democracy and corrupt abuse of power; while the rights and the wrongs in this case are still to be determined, one thing is clear: Turkey is at the eve of significant changes.