November 13, 2015

Turkey’s apartheid regime under the Islamists

Abdullah Bozkurt

Turkey's governing Islamist elites, backed by their neo-nationalist partners, have started to change the republican regime based on parliamentary democracy and the separation of powers into a totalitarian regime that employs outdated apartheid repression tactics against critics and opponents from all walks of life.

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the top Islamist, and his Islamist zealots are determinedly pursuing a crackdown on all opposition elements in Turkey, with the Gülen movement feeling the brunt of that witch hunt persecution at the moment. This pervasive persecution bears a significant resemblance to the old prejudices the world saw in South Africa's apartheid regime, the American civil rights movement or the Nazi era. At the root of the dramatic spike in the rise of intolerance in Turkey lie the machinations of the Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP) and what the party faithful calls its eternal leader Erdoğan, who skillfully exploits divisions and differences.

The bulk of the media that is cowed into silence or directly controlled by government proxies has further contributed to an aggravation of intolerance in Turkey. The Erdoğan regime is based on the mantra of a perpetuated lie that is force-fed to the public via government propaganda. So many fabricated lies such as the fake assassination plot targeting Erdoğan's daughter, the made-up story about an attempted assault of a headscarved lady during the 2013 Gezi protests and the major hoax about something called the “parallel state” were disseminated by the propaganda machine of the Islamists' media. The fact that not a single piece of evidence has ever been presented to substantiate these absurd claims because they were ludicrous and paranoid does not matter as long as they help maintain a climate of fear and hostility that justifies violent repression.

This regime, which is based on a reconstructed religious ideology and a personality cult, is keen to deny members of society that do not subscribe to the prevailing notion of the so-called “new Turkey” (you can understand it as fascist regime) fundamental human rights, liberties and freedoms, including the right to freely establish and operate businesses, the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association, the right to education and the right to freedom of opinion and expression. All kind of restrictive methods have been designed by the regime to obliterate the rich diversity in Turkish society and replace it with an overarching political Islamist ideology and activism.

Since the rule of law has effectively been suspended in Turkey, opponents and critics of the government have been prosecuted on a regular basis and put behind bars on subjective charges of “attempting to topple the government,” espionage or breaching anti-terror laws. The abuse of pre-trial detention is rampant as the government continues to use judicial probes as a tool for the pursuit of a witch hunt in order to create a climate of fear for the citizenry. This is characteristic of the methods used by former communist regimes in Eastern and Central Europe and the apartheid regime in South Africa. Perhaps it is now time to deem jailed Turkish dissidents and critics of Islamists political prisoners just like Nelson Mandela, who was imprisoned for 27 years based on similar laws.

Turkey's modern-day apartheid regime harbors unremitting hostility towards Fethullah Gülen, an outspoken 74-year old Islamic scholar who offers the strongest narrative to counter the relentless exploitation of Islamic symbols by Erdoğan and his company for political goals and personal enrichment. But mind you, the onslaught by the Islamists is certainly not limited to members of Gülen movement but has in fact escalated to include each and every critic, dissident and opponent in the country. Just looking at the criminal defamation cases brought by Erdoğan is enough to give a picture of how pervasive this persecution is and how it has reached every group in the nation, including moderate conservatives, liberals, secular people, Kurds and Alevis.

There is, of course, a fallout risk in foreign policy for Turkey's long-time allies and friends because the new Turkish regime harbors deep hostility towards Western states and is trying to export violence and subversion to countries in the Southeast Asia, Central Asia, the Middle East and North Africa. The paranoid talk of imperialist powers, especially the US and Europe, that are bent on dismembering Turkey and thwarting it from ascending to major power status is deliberately propagated by the Islamist rulers in every platform, campaign and rally. Instead of holding themselves accountable in the face of failures in domestic and foreign policy issues, they always shift the blame to outside powers in conspiracy-laden propaganda.

Moreover, for the first time under the Islamists, Turkey saw a government that started to pursue a policy of regime change in foreign countries. In countries such as Tunisia, Libya, Egypt and Syria, the Turkish Islamists have done everything in their power to install Islamist regimes. Erdoğan and his associates in the government have been providing funds, arms and logistical support to opposition groups in Syria since 2011 without differentiating much among the groups that are willing to take on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. For that, they run the international fighters' club by not only allowing but also facilitating the network of foreign fighters who descend into Syria from some 80 countries. No wonder the government is preoccupied with spying on law-abiding and peace-loving citizens rather than tracking fanatic religious extremists and radical terrorists in Turkey.

The events in Turkey's predominantly Kurdish Southeast, where there have been abductions, sieges of towns and cities, violence and intimidation, echo a time in the 1990s that was supposedly gone forever. Some of the towns are completely cordoned off by police and there are credible reports of paramilitary forces on the ground that commit gross human rights violations including summary executions. The independent media is not allowed to cover the clashes in the besieged towns and human rights defenders have been blocked from inspecting scenes.

From the economic viewpoint, Erdoğan's apartheid regime is founded on inefficient business patronage where only those who are close to the government benefit from contracts, tenders, tax write-offs and other perks. This is hampering Turkish people from prospering because it thwarts the unleashing of the full potential of citizens. Perhaps that is the goal of Erdoğan and his associates: If people are busy for scraping by to make ends meet, then they won't have much time and energy to put up resistance to the regime. What is more, in violation of the right to private ownership, many of the opposition's assets have been confiscated, plundered and eventually turned over to loyalists in unlawful schemes.

If Erdoğan moves ahead with modern-day apartheid policies to segregate and divide large social groups in Turkey in the 21st century, he will certainly invite the wrath of the public. It may very well prompt Turkey's allies and partners to stop being too indulgent with the Erdoğan regime. It may give rise to a conviction that naming and shaming Erdoğan for gross human rights violations would not deter him from further encroachment on rights and freedoms, leading to policy actions such as targeted sanctions against the Islamist thugs and a divestment campaign in order to elicit democratic change in Turkey.

Published on Today's Zaman, 13 November 2015, Friday