At New Year, Turkey’s President Erdogan famously mentioned Hitler’s Germany as an example of an executive presidency, and the reference seems to be apt.
It was not long after Erdogan’s AKP (Justice and Development Party) came to power in 2002 that it became clear that the party was not as clean ("ak” means clean in Turkish) as they claimed.
Charges of corruption against Erdogan for his period as mayor of Istanbul were dropped, a tax fraud amnesty was passed as well as an opaque public procurement law. Erdogan also reneged on his electoral promise to remove parliamentary immunity for non-parliamentary offences.
Backed by the cadres of the Gülen movement (Fethullah Gülen is a reclusive Turkish imam who since 1999 has been resident in Pennsylvania), Erdogan’s supporters took over leading positions in state and local administration.
In 2008, there was a "settling of accounts” with "the deep state” – the secular state-military-mafia triangle which had hitherto ruled Turkey – which resulted in the imprisonment of well over 500 of the AKP’s opponents, mostly from the military.
It was the move from the Gülen movement in December 2013, which had infiltrated both the police and judiciary, to expose the widespread corruption in government and business circles, including Erdogan’s own family, which triggered the present confrontation.
In a witch-hunt, as Erdogan himself called it, thousands of police officers, judges and public prosecutors were removed the following year. There were also claims that 40 high-ranking officers in the military belonged to the Gülen movement, but the military resisted an investigation because of lack of evidence.
However, the arrest of gendarmerie officers and public prosecutors for stopping trucks carrying arms to jihadists in Syria increased tension with the military as well as the military’s reluctance to follow the government’s directive to intervene in Syria.
Although a new chief of the general staff was appointed and the previously imprisoned officers were rehabilitated, the underlying grievance remained.
Turkey’s president has never ceased to stress he has been democratically elected – but so was Adolf Hitler. In a process similar to the Nazi party’s policy of Gleichschaltung (coordination) the AKP has gradually taken control of all aspects of Turkish society.
Like the Third Reich’s Sondergerichte (special courts), two years ago a system of penal courts of peace was established, each with a specially appointed single judge to take care of opponents of the regime.
Like Der Führer, Turkey’s Reis ("leader”) has a strong sense of mission and a cult of personality has also grown around Erdogan. One party supporter hailed the president with the welcome, "O messenger of God”, and an AKP deputy claimed "even touching our prime minister is worship to me”.
The downside is that when things backfire, even a prophet can get nasty. In his broadcast after the failure of the July 20 bomb plot in 1944, Hitler regarded his survival as "a confirmation of the task imposed on me by Providence”. Likewise, President Erdogan regards the failure of the July 15 coup as "a gift from God” and an opportunity to cleanse the military and clean "the virus” from all state institutions.
To date, some 60,000 have either been detained or suspended in an extensive purge of the military, police, intelligence organisation, local government, judiciary, education system and several ministries – all suspected members of FETÖ (Fethullahist Terrorist Organisation).
In addition, Erdogan has declared emergency rule for three months and a temporary suspension of the Human Rights Convention, all "to protect democracy” and "clean the state apparatus fully of members of the Gülen movement”. The president has guaranteed there will be no restrictions on rights and liberties, which hardly squares with the right to govern by decree and ban publications, speeches and public gatherings.
In the present chaos, Erdogan can reinforce his demand for an executive presidency. There is also talk of the return of the death penalty "by popular demand”.
A deeply divided country has now turned in on itself with the threat of mob rule, where Erdogan’s supporters roam the streets, attack his opponents and communities are split. Turkey is staring into the abyss but under the leadership of a vindictive president it is difficult to see what can prevent disaster.
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Published on Famagusta Gazette, 25 July 2016, Monday