January 18, 2016

They could come for you next

Abdülhamit Bilici

As a society, we seem in a hurry to relive mistakes from the past, as though we were resolutely opposed to learning from history. Those in power today wield the same vindictive tyranny against those who don't think like them as those who held power in the past.

In every era, those who want to see their power continue indefinitely -- with no accountability -- have always needed, first and foremost, enemies on the domestic front, as well as cadres of “yes men.” It's never been easy to keep societies in order without various “phantoms” that can be used to threaten and intimidate the public. Sometimes these phantoms are reactionaries; sometimes they're communists. Other times they're Kurds. The bigger and more dangerous you can make your enemies out to be, the more normal it seems that you give yourself limitless power and no accountability.

This has always been the reason behind the postponement of Turkey finally achieving a transparent and democratic system, as much of the rest of the world enjoys. We've been reminded over the years that the threats against us have not passed, that our conditions are unique, that it wasn't yet the time for democracy. Or that we had to get rid of the traitors first.

The phantom of the “parallel state” that has been much talked up by the Justice and Development Party (AKP) over the past couple of years has functioned like so many of its predecessors in our history. Leading proponents of peace in Turkey -- think of Cemal Uşak, Cumhuriyet Editor-in-Chief Can Dündar or Professor Sedat Laçiner -- have been declared terrorists, marked by this “parallel” accusation. The same reasoning has spawned the creation of the criminal courts we see now, which resemble the infamous İstiklal Courts of our past. These courts work to dampen and shut down opposition voices from the business, media and civilian worlds.

We're all potential targets in the witch hunt

The latest targets of this madness are the academics -- charged with educating our future generations -- who signed a written statement condemning the violence in the Southeast. Even if you don't agree with the general gist of the statement, it is impossible to agree with the campus arrests of seasoned academics and the lynching led by the president, the prime minister and the mafia leaders who support them. The horror is such that academics connected with this written statement have been named one by one in certain pro-government papers.

The mood is dark, so dark that it's not only opposition voices but even writers like Fehmi Koru and Gülay Göktürk, who long applauded the actions of the AKP, who are now retreating into their corners out of fear of witch hunts. Göktürk, a journalist who didn't seem to recognize the severity of the situation when colleagues had earlier been thrown into prison for TV series or tweets, suddenly saw the light of day when he lost his weekly column rights. He said: “I had no idea they were this intolerant. Clearly, there's no acceptance of even the slightest criticism anymore.” The truth is, though, it seems he could have easily come to this conclusion much earlier, like when the Koza Media Group was impounded or when the raids on Zaman took place. Nowadays, even Etyen Mahçupyan, the infamous defender of AKP actions, risks being targeted for making even the slightest criticism.

When this dark period first began, we warned those who remained silent: “This is not a fight between the AKP and the Gülen group; the country is fast distancing itself from democracy. The time will come when it will be your turn.” Here's where we stand now: Hidayet Karaca is in prison for a TV series, journalists Dündar and Erdem Gül for news pieces. Former Prosecutor Gültekin Avcı is behind bars for some written work, while journalist Mehmet Baransu languishes there for sharing coup documents with the public. In the meantime, Beyazıt Öztürk is guilty for allowing a woman to call for “an end to the killing of children” on his program, while judges, prosecutors and police have been found guilty for investigating corruption. And lastly, academics are guilty for calling for peace.

The dark direction in which we are going is clear. If you want to see this change, it doesn't matter what your beliefs, your party or your thoughts are: Keep these words from German priest Martin Niemoller -- who warned against the fascism taking over Germany -- in mind, and don't forget them:
When the Nazis came for the communists,
I remained silent;
I was not a communist.

When they locked up the social democrats,
I remained silent;
I was not a social democrat.

When they came for the trade unionists,
I did not speak out;
I was not a trade unionist.

When they came for the Jews,
I remained silent;
I wasn't a Jew.

When they came for me,
there was no one left to speak out.
Published on Today's Zaman, 18 January 2016, Monday