March 19, 2015

Is everyone else wrong except Erdoğan’s dictatorship?

Bülent Keneş

Here is a famous anecdote. You must have heard it.

Our hero, Temel, enters the freeway in the wrong direction. As a warning to drivers, a traffic cop makes an announcement on the radio. Meanwhile, as he moves ahead in the wrong direction, Temel is listening to the radio. "Attention please, one of the cars is traveling in the opposite direction," the cop cautions on the radio. "No, no, not one of them, but all of them are traveling in the opposite direction," Temel snaps in anger.

The case of the Erdoğan's dictatorial regime -- which vulgarly undermines and largely destroys all sorts of democratic and legal values and norms that prioritize fundamental rights and freedoms that make Turkey part of the civilized and free world and pulls Turkey away from the world to which it belongs and isolates it swiftly -- is like the case of Temel. Although it is crystal clear that it is traveling in the opposite direction, it continues to maintain its claim and propaganda that it is moving in the correct direction.

And this is how Recep Tayyip Erdoğan differs from the naive hero in the above-mentioned anecdote. Temel is unaware that he is driving in the opposite direction while Erdoğan sees that he has to move deliberately and in a planned manner in the opposite direction in order to save himself and his close circle from the shocking allegations.

Thriller films are rife with scenes in which thieves dash into traffic in the reverse direction in order to escape the cops tailing them. These scenes may excite their fans, but in real life, the thieves and criminals who enter traffic in the wrong direction create risks for not only their own lives but also those of the cops following them and the innocent drivers traveling in the correct direction.

I think in an extremely deliberate move, Erdoğan's dictatorship -- which is determined to destroy even the slightest remnant of law at home due to the allegations in flagrante delicto -- is trying to distance Turkey from the world. With this move, it seeks to avoid the risk of being called to account for the allegations that may fall into the jurisdiction of international law and international legal authorities. To push Turkey out of the domain of international law, there is no way other than turning Turkey into a country like Uzbekistan or North Korea. Turkey is already traveling in the wrong direction toward such a transformation.

Therefore, I have serious reasons for asking, "Is everyone else wrong except Erdoğan's dictatorship?" in the title. Everyone knows that numerous revolutionary democratization moves taken by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his entourage in their first two terms to start membership negotiations with the European Union were continuously supported, encouraged and praised by national and international democratic circles. Can it be a simple coincidence that the national or international groups, civil society organizations, free media outlets, opinion leaders, institutions and organizations which made those encouragements and praises in the past are now hurling harsh criticisms at Erdoğan and the gang near him?

If you like, let us have a look at the harsh criticisms voiced by respectable international circles and organizations against Erdoğan's dictatorship and his entourage that is known by its gang-like actions in recent months. This will certainly make it crystal clear that Erdoğan's dictatorship is traveling in the wrong direction.

European Union: The EU's 2014 Progress Report for Turkey, dated Oct. 8, 2014, contained strong observations and stern warnings about Turkey's regression regarding democracy and rule of law. The report stressed that the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK) and the judiciary, whose independence has been seriously undermined, must remain independent and harshly criticized the bans on Twitter and YouTube as well as the attempts to censor the press.

Moreover, the EU authorities made numerous statements concerning the coup against the media on Dec. 14, which constituted a major inflection point for Turkish democracy. The first statement came on the day the free media outlets were attacked. In a joint statement they made on Sunday, Dec. 14, 2014, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President of the European Commission Federica Mogherini and Commissioner for European Neighborhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations Johannes Hahn indicated that police raids and arrests were inconsistent with freedom of the press, which is a fundamental democratic principle. I must note that EU officials make joint statements only about the matters they consider highly important.

Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ): On Dec. 17, 2014, the CPJ issued a freedom of the press report specific to Turkey. According to the CPJ, Turkey is among the world's worst 10 countries in terms of press freedom and is in the same league as countries such as Eritrea, Ethiopia, China and Bangladesh. According to the report, Turkey ranks 10th among countries imprisoning the highest number of journalists. The CPJ notes that pressure on the press has increased by 10 percent compared with previous years.

National Union of Journalists (NUJ): The union, which has around 38,000 members, made a statement on Dec. 24, 2014, noting the fact that about 70 percent of the Turkish media was under the government's control. Drawing attention to the censorship of social networking sites and independent media organizations since the beginning of the year, the NUJ called on the UK government not to remain silent in the face of these pressures.

European Parliament: Erdoğan's dictatorship and the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) received the strongest-ever diplomatic warning from the European Parliament on Jan. 15, 2015. The resolution on the condemnation of the 'Coup Operation against the Free Media of Dec. 14' that targeted journalists including Zaman newspaper Editor-in-Chief Ekrem Dumanlı and Samanyolu Media Group Chairman Hidayet Karaca was passed with the support of 551 out of 593 members. Even the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR), of which the AKP is member, lent support to the resolution. The last minute lobbying efforts by some members of the AKP failed.

US House of Representatives: A total of 90 Democrat and Republican members of the 453-seat US House of Representatives sent a letter to US Secretary of State John Kerry on Feb. 2, 2015, harshly criticizing the attacks against press freedom in Turkey. Referring to police raids against the Zaman newspaper and the Samanyolu TV network, US lawmakers conveyed their 'deep concerns' to Kerry.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF): The RSF issued the World Press Freedom Index on Feb. 11, 2015 and ranked Turkey in 149th place out of 180 countries due to the serious breaches of freedom of the press and freedom of expression. With 44.16 points, Turkey came after Burundi, Cambodia, Myanmar and Zimbabwe.

Freedom House: The organization that provides ratings for democracy and freedoms placed Turkey in the "non-free" category in its previous reports, and in its 2014 Press Freedom Report, it categorized Turkey as a "half-free" country. Freedom House relies mainly on the number of journalists in jail and is criticized for not paying due attention to the unbearable pressures on media outlets.

Center for American Progress (CAP): The Washington-based think tank CAP, which is close to US President Barack Obama and which is known to be friendly with Turkey, issued a report titled "The US-Turkey Partnership: One step forward, three steps back" on March 12, 2015, which suggested, "The United States should let the AKP enjoy what pro-government voices have called the country's 'precious loneliness'."

Europe's opinion leaders: In an article they jointly penned on March 13, 2015 for the Project Syndicate, Europe's eight leading intellectuals including former presidents, prime ministers and ministers slammed Erdoğan-led Turkey in terms of rights and freedoms. "Freedom of expression, the separation of powers, and the rule of law have been progressively eroded under Erdoğan,” it was argued in the article titled: "An EU-Turkey Reset." The article was jointly written by Martti Ahtisaari, a former president of Finland and Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Emma Bonino, a former Italian foreign minister, Albert Rohan, a former secretary-general of Austria's foreign ministry, Wolfgang Ischinger, chairman of the Munich Security Conference, Hans van den Broek, a former Dutch foreign minister, Marcelino Oreja Aguirre, a former Spanish foreign minister, Michel Rocard, a former French prime minister, and Nathalie Tocci, deputy director of the Istituto Affari Internazionali in Rome.

Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC): In its report dated March 13, 2015, the leading US think tank BPC indicated that Erdoğan's regime's attacks on the judiciary, rule of law and freedom of expression were direct hits on the heart of politics and economy. The BPC's report listed increased authoritarianism, restrictions on freedom of expression and corruption as Turkey's chronic problems. It noted that the government's intervention with publicly traded companies (like Bank Asya) and its unjustified inspections on foreign investors were portents of anti-democratic trends that adversely affected the investors' already diminishing confidence.

New York Times (NYT): Like many Western media outlets that are concerned about democracy and human rights, the NYT frequently publishes analyses on the dictatorial developments in Turkey. In an article published on the NYT, which is known to be close to the Obama administration, on March 13, 2015, it was noted that Erdoğan-led Turkey is increasingly becoming more and more authoritarian and starting to cut its ties with NATO.

US Senate: Eventually, Democrat and Republican lawmakers from the US Senate set aside their differences in sending a letter to US Secretary of State John Kerry on March 18, 2015 to express concern over violations of press freedom in Turkey. This historic letter, undersigned by 74 out of 100 senators, harshly condemned the coup against free media of Dec. 14.

Actually, we can add many items to this list, but I think that is enough. My point is that before it is too late, someone should reach out to Temel, who is relentlessly speeding in the opposition direction and risking everyone's lives, and firmly shake him and make sure he understands that he is acting in a completely foolish and dangerous manner. Is there anyone who can do this before it is too late?

Published on Today's Zaman, 19 March 2015, Thursday