February 20, 2015

They’re jealous of Erdoğan

Abdülhamit Bilici

When I saw the headlines in the pro-government media about President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's declaration – en route from Cuba – that he didn't “care about Turkey's isolation within the wider world,” I began thinking how far Turkey has slipped in recent years.

Two years ago, as Turkish democracy and rule of law were advancing in the right direction, and as this country was busy developing relations in the East as well as the West, Erdoğan was truly one of the most popular figures in the international arena. Respect for him was high, not only in the capitals of the Middle East, but throughout the West, too. For this reason, Obama made Turkey his first trip abroad – Erdoğan topped the list of foreign leaders with whom Obama was in close contact.

As all this was happening, as Turkey was advancing rapidly in the direction of a more developed democracy and a stronger rule of law, the world press was busy applauding Turkey and its leaders. In fact, some of the Justice and Development Party's (AK Party) most fervent foreign supporters were newspapers like Le Monde (in France), The New York Times (in the US) and The Guardian and the Financial Times (in the UK). When the military e-memorandum of April 27, 2007 occurred, the Guardian, disregarding fears from secularists in Turkey, published these words: “Erdoğan is one of the real leaders of Turkey's EU accession process. In terms of human rights, it means bringing Turkey up to EU standards.”

In the same way that the Zaman newspaper and other important media in Turkey had opposed anti-democratic attempts to destabilize the ruling party in those days, The Washington Post came out strongly against the midnight memorandum from the Turkish military. An editorial published around that time in The Washington Post characterized Erdoğan as leading the most “successful government in recent Turkish history.” Labeling the military's memorandum as “unfortunate,” the editorial noted: “Pushing aside assertions that he actually has an Islamic agenda, the fact is that Erdoğan has implemented the innovative and advanced reforms that previous governments had failed at, thus leading the way towards EU accession. The Turkish economy is growing quickly, and modernizing. The greatest threat to democracy at this point comes not from the AKP, but from those opposed to it.”

All that applause suddenly ground to a halt once it became clear that Turkey was distancing itself from democracy. When attempts to silence independent journalism became more clear, when police raids on private homes due to Tweets started taking place, and when Turkish foreign policy started to lose its grasp on reality, the chorus of supportive voices for Turkey fell silent. Instead, heavy criticism started to be voiced against both Turkey and Erdoğan. The New York Times, which previously showered Erdoğan with praise, now characterized the president in the opposite fashion, calling him: “an authoritarian leader who accepts no criticism and lives in some sort of parallel universe.” An article titled “Paranoia takes over in Turkey” made clear that the raids against Zaman and Samanyolu were part of the politics of paranoia.

Had sharp criticism of Turkey only been coming from the West, it could perhaps be passed off by replies like “Well, the West is the enemy of Turkey anyway.” But the West is not the only source of this criticism. Recently, a notable African newspaper – The Leadership – published vocal condemnation of the Ankara government so apparently intent on destroying not only Turkish schools abroad, but the entire Hizmet (service) movement. In his article in The Leadership, journalist Vincent Kanayo noted his shock upon hearing that Erdoğan wished to see Turkish schools in Africa closed down.

One only needs look at international indexes of media freedom, democracy, corruption and transparency to see how far Turkey has fallen of late. Another more blatant sign of how trust in Turkey has slipped is that it was not selected to be a rotating member of the UN Security Council, receiving much less support from other countries than it did for the same honor in 2008.

In the meantime, Erdoğan offers up this really bizarre piece of analysis in light of the disheartening path on which the country is traveling. “One can talk about isolation among other leaders, but it is nothing but jealousy!”

What these words really mean is this: For as long as my leadership is in place, I don't care if Turkey loses respect in the world. It is painful to admit, but it appears we are at the point where words no longer mean anything.

Published on Today's Zaman, 20 February 2015, Friday