February 14, 2016


Sevgi Akarçeşme

“Turkey today is at a stage at which it is experiencing the pinnacle of its democracy.” This ambitious statement came from the prime minister of Turkey, Ahmet Davutoğlu, on Feb. 10. Without any hesitation, he defines the “pinnacle of democracy” by high election turnout and the high level of representation in Parliament. Although the latter assumption is arguable, his first assumption proves that he has a minimal understanding of democracy since he reduces it to an “electoral” system. Indeed, Turkey today does not even meet the standards of electoral democracy, given the findings of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's (OSCE) report on Turkey's Nov. 1 election, which it found was far from fair, mainly due to restrictions on the media. The United States also made a statement supporting the OSCE report on concerns over the free flow of information.

Looking at the worrying trends in the rule of law, exacerbated after the abortion of the corruption investigations of December 2013, I defined Turkey's regime as an “arbitrocracy” in the face of unprecedented levels of arbitrary rule in the country. However, what we have been witnessing has shown that we have gone beyond that level. We could safely argue that Turkey's regime has moved from an arbitrocracy to a mafiocracy in which there is no rule of law but only sheer use of force.

Let me elaborate with the most recent examples. In its fight against critics, the government unlawfully seized Koza İpek Holding, owned by Akın İpek, who openly declared his support for peaceful Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen. Two TV channels that were taken over by the government live on air also belong to the same family.

Even a leading Justice and Development Party (AK Party) figure, former Minister Hüseyin Çelik, said, though months later, that the whole operation against İpek's assets looks like “usurpation.” Following this criticism from within, the pressure on the İpek family increased. Akın İpek's elderly mother, known by all as “Mother İpek” for her altruism, was denied entry into her own house in İstanbul on Feb. 11. Don't assume that there was even a phony court order or police presence at the gate when she was blocked entry to her own property! A group of thugs told her they were following orders as members of a private security firm. Only after Mrs. İpek said no security company has such a right and after the thugs received a mysterious phone call was she allowed into her own property. However, visitors are still blocked.

Two days after the prime minister announced Turkey's pinnacle of democracy, another unlawful usurpation took place. Several companies in the education sector managing Gülen-inspired schools were seized by the government with alleged connections to Kaynak Holding, a company that was already taken over by the government. In this case, the ostensible court order was issued by a court established in the post-December 2013 period that has been issuing custom-made verdicts. Indeed, as the Economist magazine duly put it, today “the courts, the police, the intelligence services, the mosques, the public education and health systems and the media are all, in one way or another, subject to the party's overweening influence” in Turkey.

These are two particular examples that took place in the two days after the head of the AK Party argued Turkey is experiencing the best times of its democracy. I have not even mentioned the arrested journalists whose imprisonment is clearly arbitrary or the ever increasing number of legal investigations for allegedly “insulting the president,” which even target teenagers. Turkey has never had a bright record of rule of law and freedom of expression has always been fragile, but under the AK Party, it has become a country where there is no guarantee even for private property. How would one define a state that deprives people of their basic rights of freedom and private property by means of force?

Can you call such an oppressive one-party rule anything but a mafiocracy?

Published on Sunday's Zaman, 14 February 2016, Sunday