President Erdogan and the Khashoggi killing

President Erdogan’s display of piety is commendable when he states that a month after Khashoggi’s killing, we still do not know where his body is.

November 5, 2018 22:50
3 minute read.
Protest Turkey

FRIENDS OF slain Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink march with posters bearing the image of Dink during a demonstration near a courthouse in Istanbul in 2012. (photo credit: MURAD SEZER/REUTERS)


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President Erdogan raises a number of pertinent questions in The Washington Post about the Khashoggi killing, but the backlash is inevitable. What about Turkey? When it comes to unexplained killings, Turkey’s track record is deplorable.

Take, for example, the murder of Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink in Istanbul in January 2007. Like Jamal Khashoggi, Hrant Dink’s views, particularly on the Armenian genocide, were anathema in nationalist circles. Although a 17-year-old unemployed high-school dropout confessed to the crime, Ali Fuat Yilmazer, former head of Turkey’s police intelligence, testified that the murder was “deliberately not prevented” and that there was an organizational connection behind the murder.

Furthermore, it had coordination within the state.

The European Court of Human Rights in 2010 concluded that the Turkish authorities had failed in their duty to protect Hrant Dink’s life and freedom and castigated their failure to conduct an in-depth and effective investigation. This is a contrast to Turkey’s reaction to Khashoggi’s murder, where President Erdogan avows Turkey has moved heaven and earth to shed light on all aspects of the case.

In November 2014, the UN Security Council’s Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team reported that arms had been smuggled to ISIL and the Al-Nusrah Front by routes that primarily ran through Turkey. The following May, this was confirmed by the critical Turkish daily Cumhuriyet with video footage of an arms shipment bound for Syria that was stopped by the gendarmerie in January 2014.

President Erdogan claimed it was humanitarian aid intended for Turkmens in Syria and added: “The person who wrote this story will pay a heavy price for it. I won’t let him go unpunished.” True to his word, editor-inchief Can Dündar was sentenced to five years and 10 months’ imprisonment for revealing state secrets. However, after a court hearing, a gunman shouted “traitor” and fired two shots at Dündar but missed. The gunman was acquitted of malicious injury and instead sentenced to 10 months’ jail and a fine of 4,500 lira (about $800) for possession of an unregistered firearm.

Dündar found the verdict “absurdly light” and called it “a commendation medal given to a person who pointed a gun at a journalist.” Like Khashoggi, Dündar now lives in exile (in Germany) but at constant risk from the outreach of Erdogan’s long arm.

President Erdogan’s display of piety is commendable when he states that a month after Khashoggi’s killing, we still do not know where his body is. “At the very least, he deserves a proper burial in line with Islamic customs.”

The Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo in Argentina, who protest to learn the fate of their children who disappeared during the rule of the military junta, has its Turkish equivalent: the Saturday Mothers. This is a group that has met at a central square in Istanbul every Saturday since 1995 to draw attention to their loved ones who disappeared while in custody during the “dirty war” in Turkey’s southeast in the 1990’s. As one mother said: “I want my son’s bones, at least, to bury him properly and to visit his grave to pray for him.”

Erdogan was earlier sympathetic, but the 700th gathering of the Saturday Mothers in August was banned by the Interior Ministry and met with plastic bullets and tear gas from the police. About 50 were detained, including an 82-year-old mother, Emine Ocak, who was arrested for the same offense in 1997.

President Erdogan concludes that the murder of Jamal Khashoggi involves a lot more than a group of security officials, just as the Watergate scandal was bigger than a break-in and 9/11 went beyond the hijackers. As far as Turkey is concerned, one can only hope that it leads to some form of introspection, so that Turkey, too, doesn’t go down the same road.

The writer is a commentator on Turkish affairs in the Danish and international press.

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