February 2, 2015

The world says, "Your king is naked"

Ali H. Aslan

The reports issued last week by Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Freedom House attest to the fact that Ankara's widespread anti-democratic practices in 2014 have significantly undermined Turkey's international position and image.

With the Justice and Development Party (AKP) at its helm, the country is sailing away from the democratic club and this certainly threatens its national security and interests. The price it will pay, including with regard to its economy, will become clearer over time. On the other hand, as President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan -- who is perceived as an oppressive leader by independent observers -- and his squad attack them, the Gülen movement (also referred to as the Hizmet movement) enjoys an improved reputation and sympathy around the globe.

The HRW report makes the striking observation that the AKP and Erdoğan are destroying the country's democratic achievements of the last ten years with their actions undermining human rights and the rule of law. The report notes that in the wake of the Gezi Park protests, the government sought to take media outlets and the Internet under its total control. In the context of corruption allegations, it maintains that the government has reshuffled judges, prosecutors and police chiefs and meddled with the criminal justice system, exerting increased pressure on the country's already politicized judiciary and introducing restrictions on Internet freedoms.

Turkey backpedals from democracy

The Freedom House report places Turkey among the countries that regressed in 2014. The lack of anti-corruption practices, the political interventions in the judiciary as well as increased tension between the Sunni majority and the Alevi minority are listed as reasons for this categorization. Erdoğan, who played a major role in all of these factors, is mentioned side by side with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and Chinese President Xi Jinping and other leaders associated with corruption. The report notes that Erdoğan is increasingly attacking the principle of democratic pluralism, and asks media bosses to engage in censorship and fire critical journalists. It also makes it clear that Erdoğan does not respect the decisions of the Constitutional Court, threatens journalists, chides female reporters, issues odd instructions about changing the education curricula, has established a shadow cabinet at the presidential palace, and bypasses the constitutional rules and the government's ministers.

It is interesting to note that the voice recordings the government tried to shelve away as doctored are taken as a reliable source of information in the report. The report even makes mention of the recordings, and gives the impression that the sex tape involving former Republican People's Party (CHP) leader Deniz Baykal was leaked to the public upon Erdoğan's approval. Apparently, Ankara's censorship and perception engineering operations have been quite ineffective outside of Turkey.

Gülen movement: the victim

Another interesting point in the report is that the Gülen movement is not perceived as a threat to democracy, contrary to what Erdoğan and the ruling AKP claim. Rather, it is seen as a group that is victimized for its opposition. Freedom House explains that Erdoğan and the AKP declare not only the followers of Fethullah Gülen, but also critical journalists, businessmen and members of the Alevi minority "traitors." It is noted that critical media organizations are shut down or face investigations, and that the employees and executives of the Zaman newspaper and the Samanyolu TV network were detained or arrested on terror charges on Dec. 14, 2013. In other words, the "armed terror organization" charges raised against the sympathizers of the Gülen movement are not taken seriously.

The ruling party thought the Gülen movement would become marginalized in the international community, but they are the ones who have been marginalized. The attacks by Erdoğan and the government against the Gülen movement are seen as repressive in international reports, helping the movement to be seen as the oppressed victim. The movement is also increasingly perceived as a leading civic opposition movement. As Erdoğan's reviled adversary, the Gülen movement is gaining prestige around the world. For instance, this treatment proves that the Turkish schools -- run by Turkish entrepreneurs inspired by the ideas of the well-respected Turkish-Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen -- in about 160 countries around the globe are civic enterprises free from the Turkish government's manipulations and corrupt practices. Despite arrests, restrictions on advertisements placed by public institutions, tax audits and obstructions to their bosses, the pro-Gülen media outlets perform bold and independent journalism.

Erdoğan's contribution to the promotion of the Gülen movement

The current victimization of the Gülen movement at home is certainly paying off with new opportunities being opened to the movement around the world. For instance, Sevgi Akarçeşme, a columnist for Zaman and the Today's Zaman newspaper, gave speeches on media freedom and democracy at many reputable US organizations, including the prestigious National Press Club in Washington, D.C., during the last two weeks. Associate Professor Savaş Genç, a lecturer at Fatih University and a TV program producer at Samanyolu TV, addressed the Woodrow Wilson Center, which is considered one of the top five think tanks. The efforts by some AKP proponents to sabotage these addresses not only proved the level of their intellectual capacity and resistance to criticism, but also reinforced the speakers' argument that democracy in Turkey is in danger. Honestly, I am inclined to thank Erdoğan and his cronies for their contribution to the promotion of the Gülen movement around the world.

The world is able to see the true nature of everything and everyone. Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç, who represented the Turkish government at the United Nations Universal Periodic Review (UPR) meeting in Geneva, had to answer dozens of questions about human rights violations from a record number of countries. The reports from independent observers are generally negative. The widely held belief is that Erdoğan seeks to establish an authoritarian one-man rule with a presidential system. Turkey is gradually being isolated. It's such a pity...

Published on Today's Zaman, 02 February 2015, Monday