October 8, 2015

Before Turkey loses it

Michael Chinda

Something very positive emerged from Turkey this week. It was the news of Turkey intercepting one of the aircraft Russia was using to bomb opposition strong­holds in Syria – on behalf of Syrian tyrant Bashir Al- Assad. Until that incident, not too many cheery things had been coming out of this great country with one leg in Europe and the other in Asia.

Although I grew up around a lot of Islam and very tolerant and understanding Muslims in Nigeria, it was in Turkey that I ever went beyond the adjoing rooms of a mosque to step right inside a mosque – and, wait for it, it was in the very thick of worship. During the afternoon prayers.

That confirmed to me that this overwhelmingly Mus­lim country bends over backwards to defend its secular­ity – a rare trait in several other countries that proclaim secularity but always end up pandering to one religion or the other.

During my visit, I also noticed that the staying power of Turkey was democracy. All of the culture, religion neutrality of state, the burgeoning economy, the attrac­tion to the EU, its positive inroads towards exporting Turkey and its values to the rest of the world was hinged on security and non-negotiable democracy at home. Now, I fear that recent developments in this core of the former Othoman Empire are putting Turkey on the verge of losing it all.

What I see as the root cause of all these is nothing but the growing intolerance of the present regime in Tur­key. According to a recent report by four senior British lawyers, President Recep Erdogan of Turkey has forced himself into the fold. The old fold referred to here is the era of dictatorship, with the Turkish leader gradually transmogrifying into a despot, in the mold of Idi Amin Dada, Kim Jong-Il and the like.

An insider’s analysis of the report reads in part:

“The report, authored by Rt. Hon. the Lord Woolf C.H., Professor Sir Jeffrey Jowell Kcmg Qc, the Rt. Hon. Sir Edward Garnier Qc Mp and Sarah Palin, some of Britain’s best legal minds, alleges gross human rights abuses by Turkey – and it is not just about the clamp­down on the media and perceived opposition elements.

The authors insist that a corruption scandal, which fin­gered then Prime Minister Erdogan and his cabinet mem­bers, ignited the abuses. The scandal consumed four prin­cipal government officers and their sons, and almost swept away Erdogan’s regime. But how did he survive the heat? He resorted to blackmail.

“Even though many officials were arrested during the scandal, Erdogan would rather pick on one ‘foe’. He ac­cused famous cleric, Fethullah Gülen of fuelling the crisis. Thus, he immediately removed the prosecutors leading the investigations from their positions and reassigned 350 po­lice officers, including many senior officers.

“The report alleged on 25 December 2013, the police refused to carry out orders for the arrest and detention of a further tranche of suspects and the prosecutor leading the second investigation was removed from the case. On the same day, the four ministers who were accused resigned from the Cabinet. Thousands of police and hundreds of public prosecutors, judges and civil servants, perceived by the Turkish government to be followers of the Hizmet movement, have since been dismissed or reassigned, and in some cases arrested and detained in custody.

“In September 2014 all charges against the suspects in the corruption investigation were dropped by the newly appointed public prosecutors. Mr. Erdoğan attempted to deflect the accusations against him by ascribing them to Fethullah Gülen, and his followers in the state apparatus, mainly those in the police and the judiciary, and accusing them of an attempted coup d’état and of forming what he described as a “parallel structure” which had infiltrated the state to work on Mr. Gülen’s behalf.

Now, knowing what mischief foreign human rights groups get to when reporting on countries they hardly un­derstand their inner workings, it might not be totally cor­rect to hold the Turkey leader guilty as charged. However, certain other allegations contained in the report lead to some even more tempting conclusions.

For instance, the report says: “Since December 2013, the government has taken unprecedented steps to exert ex­ecutive control over Turkey’s judiciary, to interfere with and derail the corruption investigation, to stifle criticism in the media and on the internet and to purge supporters of the Hizmet movement from public life and to obstruct their humanitarian and educational institutions and busi­ness and professional associations. The government has brought the main institution responsible for the judiciary, the High Council of Judges and Prosecutors, under its con­trol by purging its members of anyone suspected of oppos­ing the AKP government, including those believed to be supporters of the Hizmet movement and replacing them with loyal supporters. It has introduced a more restrictive internet law, and after leaked audio recordings supporting the corruption allegations emerged on Twitter and You­Tube, blocked access to both sites throughout Turkey in the run up to local elections in March and April 2014 and the general election in 2015”.

Two judges who were removed were said to have been so removed after they released some suspects for want of evidence to prosecute them. The government was said to have had interest in keeping the ‘suspects’ behind bars.

Of course, the media is not spared, especially, perceived opposition media. It even got to a point that the editor of Today’s Zaman, the leading newspaper in the country, was arrested. Press freedom is taking a bashing in Turkey to­day, so also is the civil society.

The belief is that a lot of this is targeted at a familiar foe, Gulen, head of the Hizmet movement, a civil society movement consisting of a network of loosely connected individuals and religious, humanitarian and educational institutions. So he has not only called members of this group violent people, but has indirectly labelled it a ter­rorist organisation.

Ironically, much of the good face of Turkey many non-citizens, Nigerians and Africans inclusive, see is through the Hizmet movement and its affiliated organisations? Ni­gerian students have stood tall in international academic contests, particularly the world maths Olympiad, thanks to the Nigerian Turkish International Colleges. Hizmet-affiliated charity, Ufuk Dialogue Foundation, has tried to contribute to peace in the country by promoting interfaith dialogue and unity.So, the government in Turkey may have to put all these into consideration, before Turkey loses ev­erything

Published on The Sun, 8 October 2015, Thursday