December 14, 2014

Unite against one-man rule

Şahin Alpay

In Turkey, Dec. 17-25 of last year signifies the start of the public revelations of the gravest corruption probe against the government led by former Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Erdoğan, elected to the presidency last August, is -- in clear conflict with Turkey's parliamentary system -- assuming the powers of an executive president. He seems highly alarmed that the campaign being organized by the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) on the anniversary of the suppressed corruption probe will lead to mass protests against his Justice and Development Party (AKP) government.

Last week, CHP Deputy Chairman Sezgin Tanrıkulu posed a question to Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu as to whether the allegations that the government was preparing a mass detainment of opposition journalists, civil society leaders and businessmen all over the country in order to avoid mass protests against his government on the anniversary of the corruption probe were true or not.

On Thursday Dec. 11, a Twitter account run by a user named “Fuat Avni,” who seems to have access to official sources and has previously made reliable predictions about police operations, sent a message warning that the government was preparing to detain as many as 400 critics of the government, including 150 journalists and editors of the Zaman and Today's Zaman dailies. This was to be followed by another operation targeting mainstream media owners, well-known businessmen and writers. Later during the day, Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç -- one of the three main founders of the AKP, alongside Erdoğan and former President Abdullah Gül -- was asked in Parliament what he thought about the allegations. He said: “I have seen the tweets. I thought them serious and grave. What more can I say? I hope they prove to be unfounded or only partially true and that the law is not broken.”

Fuat Avni's predictions proved right after only two days and in early hours of Dec. 14, İstanbul police started an operation to detain dozens of people affiliated with the Hizmet movement, including the editor-in-chief of Zaman and the manager of the Samanyolu TV group. The operation is expected to be widened.

Not only is the growing authoritarianism of the Erdoğan government highly worrying but so is the attitude of some groups among the opposition. These groups maintain that what is going on in Turkey's politics currently is simply a power struggle between Islamists, between the AKP and its one-time ally the Hizmet movement and that this will, in the long run, help remove AKP from power or even enable it to return to a democratizing agenda.

I believe they are not only entirely mistaken but also deceiving themselves. Their attitude reminds me of the words of Pastor Martin Niemöller in Nazi Germany: “First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out, because I was not a Socialist. Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out because I was not a Trade Unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me -- and there was no one left to speak for me.”

The fact is that the government -- with Erdoğan in the lead -- is fast moving Turkey into a repressive one-man, one-party regime. Opponents are accused of treason and of being the tools of foreign powers engaged in conspiracies to weaken Turkey. The government is trying to silence the opposition and take control of the entire media.

The separation of powers has come to an end, as has the independence of the judiciary, and the rule of law is in shatters. Grave corruption allegations are being covered up. The so-called “process of resolution” of the Kurdish problem seems to be a ploy to collect Kurdish votes in the parliamentary election, which will be held in June at the latest and has a vital bearing on the future of the government.

Given the current circumstances, it is very important that all who want to live in a free and democratic country leave their differences aside and unite against one-man rule by Erdoğan. Otherwise Pastor Niemöller's words in Nazi Germany may prove correct even for Turkey today.

Published on Sunday's Zaman, 14 December 2014, Sunday