With world focused on Ukraine, Turkey grows more authoritarian  - analysis

Turkey is a member of NATO but has few of the democratic principles of other NATO members. This week it sentenced a philanthropist and activist to life in prison.

 TURKISH PRESIDENT Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Turkey recently condemned terrorism against Israel, despite years of support for Hamas terrorists. (photo credit: Gonzalo Fuentes/Reuters)
TURKISH PRESIDENT Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Turkey recently condemned terrorism against Israel, despite years of support for Hamas terrorists.
(photo credit: Gonzalo Fuentes/Reuters)

Turkey’s far-right ruling party has used the Ukraine war as an excuse to increase its own authoritarianism. It knows that the world is distracted, focused on Moscow’s crimes in Ukraine, and therefore there is less scrutiny of Turkey.

Turkey is a member of NATO but has few of the democratic principles of other NATO members. This week it sentenced a philanthropist and activist to life in prison.  

Osman Kavala is increasingly a symbol of how there is no dissent or critique permitted in Turkey. Once an activist and heroic model of what Turkey could have been, the philanthropist has been jailed for years. Now Ankara has created a new trumped-up show trial that saw him imprisoned for life. Many commentators see this as a new dark day for Turkey.

“Turkey just plunged into further darkness," Journalist Amberin Zaman wrote. "Businessman, peacemaker, philanthropist, all-around good human being Osman Kavala is convicted on bogus terrorism charges and sentenced to life in jail.”

Journalist Gregg Carlstrom noted on Twitter: “awful news. This man's whole ordeal has been Kafkaesque: Absurd charges, long pre-trial detention, a farce of a trial. A dismal snapshot of Turkish ‘justice’ under Erdogan.” 

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan and his Israeli counterpart Isaac Herzog shake hands during a joint news conference in Ankara, Turkey March 9, 2022. (credit: REUTERS/STRINGER)Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan and his Israeli counterpart Isaac Herzog shake hands during a joint news conference in Ankara, Turkey March 9, 2022. (credit: REUTERS/STRINGER)

“Today, we have witnessed a travesty of justice of spectacular proportions,” Amnesty International’s Europe director Nils Muiznieks said.

Dawn media noted that Kavala’s attorneys immediately vowed to appeal.

Others have been jailed alongside Kavala. He is a symbol of the rest of the people in Turkey hunted down for any critique of the ruling party. Most independent media have been closed and writers forced to flee or go to prison. Opposition party members are imprisoned. Many of them are put in jail for things like “insulting” other people or institutions.  

Today’s Turkey has no real laws except those of the ruling AK Party. Once praised by Western media as bringing “democracy” to Turkey, the party has crushed all dissent and targets women, Kurds, other minorities, gay rights activists, environmental activists and others. It has purged hundreds of thousands from the government and civil service, alleging various conspiracies and coups. Ankara also often bashes the West and its NATO allies.

The US State Department has condemned the recent case against Kavala. However, Ankara also uses the Ukraine war to get leverage over the West. It knows that the US can’t focus on Russia, Turkey, China and Iran at the same time. These are the main authoritarian regimes in the world, and they often work together. Turkey buys Russia’s S-400 system, for instance.  

As part of Ankara’s increasingly extreme behavior, there have been more denials of the Armenian genocide. Turkey often encourages far-right rallies during commemorations around the world for the genocide. This is used to distract and encourage a quiet belief among Ankara’s extremist supporters that denying the genocide and hating Armenians is acceptable.

Turkey has pretended it wants reconciliation with countries in the Middle East, even as it increasingly cracks down on dissent at home. Ankara has watched Moscow closely, knowing that jailing dissidents is a way to concentrate power and that western countries may put out statements but won’t likely do anything. Similarly, Turkey continues to bomb Kurds, Christians and others in Syria, part of a campaign to destabilize Syria and Iraq.