January 10, 2016

Parallel and treason paranoia drag Turkey into abyss

Sevgi Akarçeşme

Neither the Middle East nor Turkey has been an example of political stability and peace.

There has always been turmoil in this part of the world thanks to complex historical legacies and interests centered around oil and sectarian strife. Following the active involvement of Russia in Syria the cards are about to be reshuffled on a global level, while the ongoing conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran after the former executed a dissident Shiite cleric is likely to intensify tensions in the region and rearrange alignments on a regional level.

And what does Turkey do while its region is being reshaped in this new context? It has already blown its chance of acting as an honest broker in the region after it created the perception of taking sides in various sectarian conflicts. Turkey's statement calling the executions in Saudi Arabia a domestic issue stands in stark contrast to its critical attitude when it comes to the crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and the oppression by the embattled Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria. The cost of turning foreign policy issues into a convenient tool for domestic political purposes continues to be high for Turkey's government.

The clear double standards and hypocrisy in the country's foreign policy making and its domestic paranoia waste Turkey's energy and lead to the further erosion of credibility. While significant developments shape the region's future and Turkey is excluded from taking an active part in their shaping, absurd debates pull the country further into the abyss.

To make the picture clearer, let me bring up the most time-wasting debates consuming Turkey over the past few days. As the world focuses on the future of Syria and the Saudi-Iranian tension, in Turkey parallel paranoia and the ongoing contest to declare yet another person a ‘traitor' are persisting.

Following a scandalous fatwa on the Directorate of Religious Affairs' website regarding a reader's perverted question of feeling lust for one's own daughter, public reaction was everywhere on social media. Instead of an apology from the relevant institution, the minister of justice blamed the perverse question on the “parallel” (an expression coined by the president to refer to the Gülen movement) claiming that it was a plot against the religious institution. Even if, for one second, we assume that the question was a setup, the Directorate of Religious Affairs should have viewed such a question as a sign of incest and treated it accordingly, but in contemporary Turkey, blaming anything that goes wrong on “parallel” forces is extremely convenient.

Before society got over the disgusting impact of such a question, Beyazıt Öztürk, the Jay Leno of Turkey, who hosts the “Beyaz Show” on national television, was subjected to a smear campaign simply because a woman who introduced herself as a teacher from Diyarbakır called for sensitivity towards dying children in the country's Southeast. Even though there was no reference to the perpetrators of the killings, the pro-government media machine was quick to label the Beyaz host a “traitor” and question the teacher's motives. Due to mounting pressure, the TV channel that aired the show, Kanal D, which is owned by the Doğan Media Group, had to make a statement saying that they “side” with the state and will ask for an investigation into the teacher. This case alone is clear evidence of the pressures on the media in Turkey, which was on this occasion executed by the smear teams of the pro-government forces.

What the teacher from Diyarbakır said was no different than what the government used to say a few years ago. She said, “Let children not die, let mothers not cry.” When did Turkey turn into a country in which such a call made one a traitor or a terrorist propagandist? This open-air madhouse labeled one of the best-loved show personalities in the country a traitor while the “parallel” (!) connections of a young teacher are being investigated by the government.

Undoubtedly, the parallel and treason paranoia in Turkey is not only stealing Turkey's today, but also its future. That is enough to feel pain as a citizen of Turkey, let alone a journalist.

Published on Sunday's Zaman, 10 January 2015, Sunday