December 26, 2014

Turkey’s descent into the abyss

Abdullah Bozkurt

It must be crystal clear by now that political Islamist zealots, led by the divider-in-chief Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, will do anything and everything to stay in power, even if that means suspending the rule of law and trampling constitutional rights.

The unprecedented crackdown on Turkey's top print and broadcast media outlets by the Erdoğan regime has escalated the campaign to punish and intimidate both current and potential opposition groups in the country that are against Erdoğan's tyrannical regime. The goal is not just to muzzle independent and critical media, but also to criminalize the legitimate right to freedom of speech and expression.

The fact that a fan group for leading football club Beşiktaş, known as Çarşı, was also tried in a Kangaroo court for trying to topple the government, just one day after the detention of prominent journalists, indicates the threat presented by the Erdoğan regime is not limited to the press. A couple of days later, police raided several buildings that belong to the first and second largest political opposition parties because of protest banners that spoke against the massive corruption allegations that implicated the government.

On top of that, this week police in Ankara and Istanbul detained three teenagers over their exercise of freedom of speech and right to assembly. Political pressure has also been applied on businesses that may have been affiliated with the opposition nationalists and social democrats, as well as civil society organizations that are not operating in line with the prevailing Islamist ideology of the government.

In short, Erdoğan has been trying to suffocate every stakeholder in Turkish society with a campaign of threats and intimidation that reaches into every corner of peoples' daily lives. Islamists insist on controlling every aspect of Turks' political participation. The regime tries to make people in Turkey believe that Erdoğan is above the law and should always be pampered with praise in the media.

Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen -- who was also vilified by Erdoğan over the last year because of the former's unwavering stance against corruption, abuse of religion for personal enrichment and advancement of political goals -- represents only a portion of a larger and sadder picture of Turkey that is quickly backsliding as regards the rule of law and fundamental rights and freedoms. Those who claim that the current democratic crisis in Turkey stems from a rift between Erdoğan and Gülen are doing a great disservice to this nation by losing sight of the forest for the trees.

By inventing an artificial and unidentified enemy called the “parallel structure,” Erdoğan's stated goal of cracking down on parallel elements has in fact become a convenient tool of pressure that is applied to every dissenting voice in Turkey. The government-controlled/subsidized media has run fabricated stories about “parallels” solely to distract the public from the Erdoğan regime's own shortcomings.

It is clear that the Erdoğan regime is determined to abuse the criminal justice system -- that already descended into chaos with the hastened anti-democratic legislation passed by the rubberstamping Parliament -- to prosecute, persecute and imprison high-profile critics in order to quell independent voices while trying to eradicate role models in an effort to knock down the opposition's willingness to battle the authoritarian regime in Turkey.

For the regime's survival, controlling information is key and having a robust and independent media are a direct threat to the government. By clamping down on the nation's largest daily, Zaman, and a leading TV network, Samanyolu, Erdoğan is sending a warning to the rest of the media that they won't be around to cover the next story if they do not abide by the government's undeclared censorship rules.

This is a challenging undertaking for the government considering that new media on the Internet, such as Twitter and YouTube, is flourishing, which makes it difficult to maintain tight control over the flow of information. Now the government is attempting, for the third time, to sever access to social media and news portals, this time via unaccountable administrative decisions.

In this climate of fear and with the rise of an anti-democratic legislative framework, the stance of the Zaman daily and Samanyolu networks has become a beacon of hope for Turks for a better future, good governance, democracy and freedoms including freedom of the press. With bold editorials, meticulous investigative reporting and exposés on the wrongdoings in the public and corporate sectors, these two media outlets have turned into a vibrant and dynamic source of accurate information that helps people in Turkey get a good grip on what is actually happening in the country. Their battle for freedom of the press is crucial given that the government-media is working day in and day out to confuse the public with manipulated stories and fabricated articles.

The admirable stance of Zaman and Samanyolu in articulating the real version of events in the face of relentless government pressure, which has led almost all other major media outlets to throw in the towel, has obviously infuriated Erdoğan. He wants to wipe out what is left of reliable and balanced sources of information about what is happening in the country. He reportedly gave explicit orders to detain top editors and managers of these media outlets based on trumped-up charges, according to Twitter whistleblower Fuat Avni, who has been revealing Erdoğan's dirty tricks from his inner circle.

The difficulty in securing a country where Erdoğan is always praised -- just as the sycophants and advisors circling around him do all the time -- seems to have frustrated Erdoğan further, making him an angry man. The fact that he has also been trying to incite sectarian violence to deliberately provoke political and social disturbances with a hateful narrative, brutal police crackdown and blatant abuse of the justice system, indicates that Erdoğan is a desperate man. This makes him a liability and dangerous wild card that will deal great harm to the interests of Turkey as well as its allies and partners.

As engagement with Erdoğan is no longer a viable option, issuing toothless critical statements won't make the cut in convincing Erdoğan to reverse his course. Having realized there is no opportunity for a graceful exit after the corruption scandals, Erdoğan has already unleashed a reign of terror against his rivals and continues to abuse matters related to Turkey's partners and allies for domestic political campaigns.

The more pressure Erdoğan applies, the more vocal and resentful the domestic opposition forces become. The rumblings against Erdoğan have also grown with the ruling political party. Against this background, Turkey's allies also need to send a stronger message calling for restraint and the immediate return to democracy, respect for the rule of law and compliance with fundamental rights and liberties. Time is of the essence leading up to the critical parliamentary elections as Erdoğan is quickly taking Turkey into the abyss of a dangerous dictatorship.

Published on Today's Zaman, 26 December 2014, Friday