Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan makes a speech at the Presidential Palace in Ankara.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
In a recent interview with Al Jazeera, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan claimed that Turkey has never enjoyed as much freedom, peace and comfort as it does now. In which case, there must be something some of us have missed.
Granted, when the governing AKP (Justice and Development Party) came to power 14 years ago it was met with acclamation, as it was expected to break the stranglehold of Kemalist orthodoxy. Which it did, and in a series of show trials from 2008 to 2013 locked up hundreds of officers and secular opponents.
In 2011 there was a purge of the more centrist and liberal members of the parliamentary group and two years later the AKP’s liberal supporters were informed: “The Turkey that we will construct, the future that we will bring about, is not going to be a future that they will be able to accept.”
As veteran columnist Sahin Alpay has just stated from Silivri prison in Istanbul, where he sits together with other imprisoned intellectuals: “After [the] 2011 elections, the regime in Turkey began to turn into a dictatorship. And I have turned into an opponent in time. Until then, I had supported Erdoğan and [the AKP]. But today I regret the support that I gave to [the AKP]. I failed to see their dark side.”
Alpay is not alone with his regret. President Erdogan has come out with a public mea culpa over his support for the Gülen movement and acknowledged he was “seriously mistaken.” But it was not until serious charges of corruption involving not only government ministers and businessmen but also Erdogan’s own family were raised by Gülenlinked public prosecutors in December 2013 that the alarm bells finally rang. The following year more than 45,000 police officers and 2,500 judges and prosecutors were reassigned, which was a prelude to the wholesale purge which is now taking place.
In the aftermath of the attempted coup on July 15, there has been a showdown with Gülenists and dissidents to pave the way for the “cultural revolution” Erdogan has called for. Some 90,000 officials have been dismissed from their jobs, including judges and prosecutors, police, military officers and academics. 75,000 suspects have also been detained and 36,000 arrested. The free press has been more or less stifled and (to date) 142 journalists have been incarcerated. In addition, 527 businesses, including large conglomerates and Turkey’s largest Islamic bank, have been confiscated.
To make room for the new arrivals 38,000 criminals have been released from Turkey’s prisons and there are plans to build 174 new prisons over the next five years to “meet the unanticipated increase in the number of convicts.” There are also reports of overcrowding, maltreatment and torture, and 21 prisoners have committed suicide.
The declaration of a state of emergency and derogations from the European Human Rights Convention and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights have made it possible for President Erdogan to govern by decree instead of through parliament.
Erdogan has admitted the failed coup gave him the power and opportunity to do things he could not do in normal times, and his loyal prime minister Binali Yildirim has said the door to an executive presidential system, which is uppermost in Erdogan’s mind, was opened on July 15. Erdogan has already declared himself head of the legislative, executive and judiciary branches of government, and last month at a meeting of muhtars (local headmen) he stated: “I am the chief muhtar controlling all of Turkey.”
In contrast to what Erdogan claims, the mood in Turkey is grim.
People have been called on to inform on their neighbors, and 40,000 have already been reported to the Ankara police. However, it turns out most of the reports were false or based on personal animosities.
Nobel Prize winner Orhan Pamuk talks of “a climate of fear,” and the prevailing mood among secular-minded and Western-oriented Turks is hopelessness and desperation.
With the support of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) it is expected the government’s proposal for a new presidency will be sent to a referendum in April.
According to a recent poll, 70 percent of Turkey is made up of religious believers, nationalists and conservatives, while 24% are leftists, social democrats and socialists, which will tilt the balance in Erdogan’s favor. There is also the fact that Turkey is not only threatened by putschists but also Kurdish and Islamic insurgents.
Erdogan has also claimed his government has “redefined democracy and secularism.”
But this is what his critics fear. As one columnist wrote: “What will happen to others, to non-Turks, non-Muslims, non-Sunnis, nonmosque- going secularists, independent- minded people, peacenicks and those who define the nation and the national interest along the lines of a pluralist parliamentarian democracy?”The author is a commentator on Turkish affairs in the Danish and international press.