September 17, 2015

Perhaps our readers can help us

Orhan Kemal Cengiz

For those of us who write columns for newspapers, there is a fundamental problem. We do not know how to categorize, how to label things in Turkey anymore. We name something and in a short while, our description turns into a simple toy in the face of developments.

For example, many commentators in Turkey liked the description “criminalization of dissent.” According to this definition, the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) was not addressing the dissent but instead they were criminalizing any dissent to power. Well, this definition seemed to most of us a good description of what was happening in Turkey. Today, however, “criminalization of dissent” seems quite naive as a description of what is really happening on the ground.

What do you understand from “criminalization of dissent”? It is, for example, demonizing protesters, police brutality, or even treating peaceful demonstrators as if they had resorted to violence and so on.

However, what is going on in Turkey right now is much beyond that simple definition “criminalization of dissent.”

We should find a new concept to meet all of these and I cannot find what it is:

a) The president's definition of a specific event is turned into legal definition in just a matter of a few months. For example, when a corruption investigation became public, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan accused the prosecutors and police officers who conducted the investigation of being coup-makers. They were trying to stage a coup against the government. Later on we saw the same definition used in the indictment against those officers, who were put in jail.

b) Dissent is not only turned into a criminal activity, but also a very harsh one. Namely, people are accused of terrorist activities. For example, the Hürriyet daily is now accused of making propaganda and aiding a terrorist organization. Likewise, one of the reasons for police raids on the Koza and İpek groups was their so-called financial help to the Gülen movement, which is described as a terrorist organization by prosecutors.

c) For specific “crimes” there is now an automatic mechanism of arrest. As is the case in many legal systems, in Turkey as well, in order to arrest a suspect, certain conditions should be met. There should be a risk of flight; there should be a risk that evidence will be destroyed, and so on.

However, in Turkey if you are accused of insulting President Erdoğan, it is guaranteed that you will automatically be arrested.

d) Dissidents are not only terrorists, but they all also act together against this government. For example, according to Ahmet Davutoğlu, the prime minister, there is an axis of evil in Turkey which includes the Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), the Gülen movement and others. They are acting together. All evil is united against this government. Yalçın Akdoğan, deputy prime minister, said that in order to get results from the anti-terrorism struggle they should destroy the alliance between the PKK and the "parallel structure" (another name used to refer to the Gülen movement).

e) For accusations, they do not need to give an explanation or show logical reasoning. For example, Ishak Alaton, a well-known top businessman of Turkey of Jewish descent is now accused of providing support to the "parallel structure."

Well my space for this article is full now. Otherwise, I could give you many more examples. But these examples above should suffice to show you our challenge as columnists; we cannot produce the right concepts to describe what is going on in Turkey. Maybe you can help us.

Published on Today's Zaman, 17 September 2015, Thursday