December 21, 2014

The new Turkey: tyranny and oppression

Amanda Paul

Today, the words dictatorship and authoritarian rule are becoming increasingly popular both inside and outside Turkey when referring to its leadership. Why has this happened? The answer is simple -- President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his new order and new rules of governance.

Once hailed as a democrat and reformer, Erdoğan has become a power hungry control freak who seems determined to destroy those that oppose him. This did not happen overnight. It has been a creeping policy, becoming more visible with (and after) the Gezi Park anti-government protests of June 2013. Once a flag bearer for greater democracy, civil liberties, and freedoms, Erdoğan put into reverse the many good things that he did for the country during the first part of his 12-year rule. His effort to create a one-man state accelerated following his election as president in August this year.

Prior to his August victory, he made it clear that things would be different if he won. What he meant was that he planned to keep his hands on the reins of power, and that his colleagues in the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) would be expected to agree with this approach, and that the opposition and others in the country that oppose his way of doing things would just have to suck it up because they are too weak to do anything about it.

He has done exactly this, despite the fact that on paper Turkey still has a parliamentary system of governance where the executive power is in the hands of the prime minister. In reality there is no sign that Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu is exercising these powers. Erdoğan has de facto created a presidential system of power and Davutoğlu has just become his wingman. Erdoğan feels he is fully justified because he a won the popular vote. He delivers speeches -- usually several times a week -- gives his opinion on everything and engages in hot exchanges with the opposition despite the fact that the president is supposed to be neutral. Davutoğlu and other AKP colleagues apparently accept this state of affairs and even if they do not it is unlikely that they will ever speak out for fear of the blow-back.

Erdoğan has never hidden how much he wanted to hunt down those who have opposed and criticized him. This witch hunt culminated in the recent police operation and arrest of a number of journalists including Ekrem Dumanlı, editor-in-chief of Turkey's largest-selling daily, Zaman, and Hidayet Karaca, the head of Samanyolu TV. Fake charges were issued by prosecutors who some 24 hours earlier had not a single file on Ekrem Bey. He has been charged with “establishing and administrating an armed organization.” It is ludicrous. Ekrem Bey is an internationally respected journalist. His arrest is, as he himself has said, an act of oppression and tyranny. However, the government continues with its discourse of calling on Turks to support their struggle against the so-called parallel state, aka the Hizmet movement. In reality the Hizmet movement has become a smokescreen for the authorities to develop an increasingly authoritarian style of rule.

While most of the pro-government media have backed Erdoğan's approach, some brave souls have not, including Abdülkadir Selvi, the head of Yeni Safak. He wrote that “taking Dumanlı and other journalists into police custody was a gargantuan mistake that would provide fuel to critics outside of Turkey.” He was not wrong. There was a quick and strong reaction from the democratic world, although their ability to stop Erdoğan seems very limited -- more so because of his loyal supporters, who are apparently unconcerned about the erosion of universal values or the obstruction of law by political power. One has to wonder what it would take to make this part of Turkish society understand their country is heading into a very dark and dangerous place. Probably only an economic collapse.

As the great Cengiz Çandar recently wrote in Al-Monitor: “A very dangerous turn toward autocracy has been made in Turkey. It only could have happened after legislation was passed allowing prosecutions based on a ‘reasonable doubt' instead of ‘concrete evidence.' There are too many 'reasonably suspected' people in Turkey. What happened to Zaman's editor-in-chief is just the start.” I fear he is right.

Published on Sunday's Zaman, 21 December 2014, Sunday