January 1, 2016

Erdoğan and Hitler

İhsan Yılmaz

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, as Today's Zaman reported, “has said the implementation of a presidential system while remaining a unitary state is possible, showing Hitler's Germany as an example.” He underlined that “when you look at Hitler's Germany, you can see [that it is possible]. You can see examples in other countries as well.”

Many see this as a sort of Freudian slip. Knowing that he chased after a demonstrator, cornered him in a shop and shouted at him “Israil dölü” (Israeli sperm), one could even be inclined to think that he has sympathies for Hitler. I am not sure. But what I think is this: What he does is not a result of a Freudian slip. He is purposefully but still by implication trying to terrorize the minds and hearts of his opponents.

“The politics of fear” is what he resorted to after his election defeat on June 7, 2007. And it worked. Now, he is applying the same method to the supporters of Kurdish rights and other critical groups. He is simply telling the supporters of his opponents and the critics of his regime that he is ready to eliminate and eradicate them, just as Hitler did to people who he did not like. When pressed on this, he would of course deny it and would argue that he was only speaking about the presidential system of Adolf Hitler's Germany. At face value, this may be right. But knowing very well that he is a very experienced politician, that he is an effective public orator and that he is a crafty politician, it is out of the question that he referred to Hitler by mistake. He wants to spread fear among his critics.

He cannot, of course, do what Hitler did. This may not be his intention, either. But what we can say by looking at his record so far is that he is ready to bend all sorts of ethical, moral and legal norms when it comes to crushing his opponents since for him, opponents and critics are enemies and even traitors. Since he thinks that he is the embodiment of the general will, whoever criticizes him betrays the interests of the whole nation. Thus, they can be sacrificed for the nation and crushing these traitors by all means suddenly becomes legitimate. Thus, mentioning Hitler is only logical and reasonable for Erdoğan.

Just look at what he did to the Hizmet movement. I am not saying that he is intending to commit genocide. We can never know and he may never need it. But his mention of Hitler paves the way for a comparison between what happened before and during the Holocaust and the actions of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) against the Hizmet movement. Gregory H. Stanton, the president of Genocide Watch, identified eight stages of the Holocaust. Let me summarize them. I leave it to you to compare and contrast these to the Turkish context for similarities and dissimilarities.

1. Classification: “Distinguish people into ‘us and them'.” 2. Symbolization: “When combined with hatred, symbols may be forced upon unwilling members of pariah groups.” 3. Dehumanization: “One group denies the humanity of the other group. Members of it are equated with animals, vermin, insects or diseases.” 4. Organization: “Genocide is always organized, usually by the state, often using militias to provide deniability of state responsibility.” 5. Polarization: “Extremists drive the groups apart. Hate groups broadcast polarizing propaganda.” 6. Preparation: “Victims are identified and separated out because of their ethnic or religious identity. Death lists are drawn up. … Their property is expropriated.” 7. Extermination begins, and quickly becomes the mass killing legally called ‘genocide'.” 8. Denial: “The perpetrators of genocide … deny that they committed any crimes, and often blame what happened on the victims. They block investigations of the crimes.”

Some of these have been already perpetrated by the AKP regime against the Hizmet movement. We can never know how far they intend to go. Yet, Erdoğan's mention of Hitler should alarm democrats.

Published on Today's Zaman, 1 January 2016, Friday