Turkey’s glass house

El Presidente – or “Reis” (the chief) as he is known in Turkey – is on shaky ground.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan makes a speech at the Presidential Palace in Ankara (photo credit: REUTERS)
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan makes a speech at the Presidential Palace in Ankara
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Turkey’s irascible President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is at it again. This time he has accused Angela Merkel’s Germany of “Nazi practices” and has threatened a global uprising if he is not allowed to come to Germany to address Turkish voters before the referendum on April 16.
But El Presidente – or “Reis” (the chief) as he is known in Turkey – is on shaky ground.
After Chancellor Merkel on behalf of the EU did the ignominious deal, promising Turkey six billion euros in aid, a seat at the table and visa liberalization to keep the flood wave of migrants in Turkey, Erdogan has come to regard Europe, and in particular Germany with its three million Turkish immigrants, as his personal fief. Not all Germans agree, of course. Seventy-seven percent of Germans polled oppose Erdogan’s plans to hold a referendum rally in Germany, but Erdogan doesn’t care. At a rally in Istanbul on Sunday he announced, “If I want to come, I’ll come.”
Merkel is understandably disturbed, as she stands for reelection this year and not all Germans are thrilled by the 1.2 million migrants from the Middle East and Africa that have responded to her open door policy. But Erdogan should also be careful about playing the Nazi card, as it could rebound. After all, it was Erdogan who at the beginning of last year mentioned Hitler’s Germany as an example of the executive presidency he is trying to introduce with April’s referendum.
In 2009 Erdogan defended Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir against charges of crimes against humanity in Darfur by claiming, “A Muslim could not commit genocide.” Then who did away with all the Armenians, Greeks and Syriacs in Turkey during the First World War? Not to mention, at a later stage, the Kurds. Turkish history, like that of many other countries, is a glass house that is ill-suited to stone throwing, but there is the old joke that in Turkey denial is not just a river in Egypt.
Three months ago prominent Turkish columnist Burak Bekdil, who is also a Fellow at the Middle East Forum, in an article for the Gatestone Institute mentioned plans by Turkey’s Religious Affairs Directorate (“Diyanet”) for the formation of youth branches connected with Turkey’s some 87,000 mosques.
However, when Bekdil compared them to the Hitler Youth, he was castigated in the Turkish press and fired as columnist at the liberal Hürriyet Daily News.
TWO YEARS ago Today’s Zaman, the English-language edition of Turkey’s largest circulation daily Zaman, published my article “The Rise of the Turkish Reich,” without any reaction, apart from the fact that both papers were seized and closed by the Turkish government a year later. Six days after the attempted coup last July, in the Financial Times I compared Erdogan’s reaction with that of Adolf Hitler after the bomb plot in July 1944, but three days later I got my comeuppance.
The liberal British daily The Independent, where I was a frequent contributor (18 articles in a year), published my comment “How Erdogan’s Turkey is modeled on the Third Reich.” According to their editor, it did “fantastically well” and in the first few hours was shared 4,000 times.
The next morning I was informed that their Middle East correspondent had received threats while in Turkey, so the article would be withdrawn and reposted as soon as he was safely across the border. This, in fact, never happened, and the article was deleted (which is what happened to my articles for Today’s Zaman, when their archives were deleted). When I protested, I was rung up by their managing editor, who explained they had “acted out of necessity.”
Something similar happened to Islam critic Robert Spencer in January, when the political daily The Hill in Washington published his article on Lindsay Lohan’s conversion to Islam. In this case, a critical reader response caused The Hill to withdraw the article. Living in Denmark, I well understand that writing on a controversial topic is also walking on a knife edge.
When the Danish daily Jyllands-Posten in 2005 published 12 cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad, it resulted in an uproar in the Islamic world.
In Turkey, journalists critical of the regime always walk on a knife edge. Currently 191 of them sit in prison. It was Aydin Dogan, the owner of Turkey’s largest media group, who demanded that Burak Bekdil be sacked. But after a controversial article on the army-government relationship in the group’s flagship, Hürriyet, Erdogan said that the paper would pay a heavy price for the story. Hürriyet’s editor-in-chief has been sacked and Dogan has been summoned to court to face charges of fuel smuggling.
As Pastor Martin Niemöller, who was imprisoned by the Nazis, wrote: “First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out because I was not a socialist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me – and there was no one left to speak for me.”
The author is a regular commentator on Turkish affairs in the Danish and international press.