Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan addresses during an attempted coup in Istanbul, Turkey July 16, 2016..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
“Impious Mars rages through the world: Just as when the chariots stream from the starting gates, add to their speed each lap, and the charioteer, tugging vainly at the bridles, is dragged on by the horses, the chariot not responding to the reins.”
Thus did Virgil’s poem Georgics describe the aftershock of Caesar’s assassination, which whirled the Roman world into a state of war, destroying the beloved Republic of Cicero.
Although no Caesar, the president of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, might have shared his fate, had the plotters succeeded in their coup attempt, which would have most certainly thrown the country into a civil war. The republic that Ataturk put together 93 years ago might have, like the one on Tiber, gone up in smoke.
Caesar, before his assassination, had thumbed his nose at the Roman Republic by crossing the Rubicon with a battle-tested army in tow.
Erdogan, in a similar fashion, subverted the Turkish constitution a year after his election to the ceremonial post of presidency when he brazenly declared: “Guys, Turkey has entered a new era with the election ... on August 10, 2014. From now on, we don’t have a ceremonial president, but a real one.”
The Kurds of Turkey affiliated with Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) dared him to prove how “real” he was when they declared themselves autonomous in a dozen or so towns and cities in Turkish Kurdistan and raised barricades in half of them.
He didn’t say, “This is a gift from God” then, as he did last month when the coup failed, but he might as well have.
Crack units belonging to the Second Army led by General Adem Huduti put these places under total lockdown, some lasting more than 100 days. Modern tanks savagely shelled cities which had flourished from the dawn of civilization. Some residents were deliberately burned alive. The vile atrocities were condemned by shocked United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein last May.
When the barbarism ended, the Turkish president said, “We have 600 martyrs, but 7,000 of them [the Kurds] went to the dumpster.” He boasted that Turkey will fight the Kurds till “doomsday,” and that “the martyrs’ hill will never be vacant!” The problem of course is not just how the “real” the Turkish president’s war against the Kurdish minority is, but that he is waging it with complete impunity in a world bereft of morally strong leaders.
If world leaders were serious about the rule of law, Turkish General Huduti would have already be on Interpol’s most wanted list and his “commander in chief,” Erdogan, would be afraid to step outside of Turkey.
But the general who shed Kurdish blood like water and didn’t think twice about burning cornered and wounded Kurds in basements is in custody now.
He is accused of taking part in the failed plot to overthrow Erdogan and if Amnesty International to be believed, he may have been raped with a truncheon by Turkish police.
The news coming out of Turkey is indeed bleak.
A Kurdish friend from Turkish Kurdistan confided in me the other day that he has stopped saying he is from Turkey; he now says he is from Iraq.
Dr. Martin Luther King was fond of the saying that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”
President Barack Obama likes that saying so much that he wove it into the Oval Office carpet so he can see it every day.
But he turns a blind eye toward “justice” for Erdogan.
As bad as Erdogan is and as wrong as the coup plotters were, one person with an absolutely unshakable moral voice seems to have become the conscience of Kurds and Turks alike in these highly trying times for both peoples. She is Turkan Elci, the wife of slain human rights lawyer and late president of Diyarbakir Bar Association Tahir Elci. Mr. Elci had urged Kurdish fighters and Turkish soldiers not to fight in the shadow of historical treasures of Sur, the Kurdish city that is on UNESCO’s world heritage sites.
His noble effort was rewarded with a bullet in the head while he was trying to draw attention to the destruction of a four-legged observation tower predating Islam.
His widow tweeted: “Just in case you arrest the killer of my husband, don’t torture him. My husband dedicated his life to the eradication of torture, even his murderer deserves a fair trial.”
If we could only find such honorable sentiment in the dark heart of Erdogan. But that may be as hopeless as Virgil’s chariot.