December 29, 2015

Bleeding wounds

Bülent Keneş

We have arrived at the end of one more year, a lackluster, weak year, one reminiscent of a wound that never seemed to heal or scab over.

We somehow managed to add even more wounds this year to the unhealed ones from previous years. Behind us lies a year that featured pain and worry in every arena, one in which not only were we unable to treat and heal the wounds from previous years but in which we added new ones. The destruction and disaster from this past year is now so heavy both physically and emotionally that even as the new year dawns, our hopes are dulled.

One brief but poignant example: The pain from the Dec. 28, 2011 incident in which 34 of our young citizens were killed by air strikes as the result of a fatal mistake by military intelligence, which has never been dealt with. Despite the passage of four whole years since that massacre, those responsible for that terrible event have never been revealed. Justice simply never gets served. And all we do is sit back and allow for more and more injustices to pile up, meaning that the wounds just keep on bleeding. Perhaps the most terrible aspect to this all is that those who are actually responsible carry on with impunity, contributing to the opening of new wounds.

But of course, since Roboski, we've also added incidents like the massacres in Suruç and Ankara to the tally. The powers behind these deaths have remained in the shadows; those killed join the ranks of their fellow dead. And sadly, so many of these bleeding wounds are shouldered silently by those immediately affected while the country simply forgets, ultimately abandoning them. Not long ago, they killed lawyer Tahir Elçi, a defender of human rights. It was just as he was talking about damage to an important piece of human legacy, the minaret of an historic mosque, that Elçi was killed by one of those same mysterious bullets against which he had fought his whole life. This murder resounded deeply in the hearts of anyone with a conscience in this country.

As Elçi lost his life -- after treating the lives of others as sensitively as he did historical buildings and legacies -- civilians living in cities and towns in the region began to lose theirs due to a military and police response to the terrorist Kurdistan Workers' Party's (PKK) urban warfare. Schools were closed. People were trapped in their homes. Hundreds of thousands fled, with many caught in crossfire, booby traps set by the PKK and stray bullets shot from armored vehicles.

During this all, it seems we've quickly become accustomed to witnessing what look like scenes from Syria but are now inside our own borders. In becoming accustomed to this, we've lost so much. Babies, old men who try to save them, bodies left lying in the middle of streets; we've all wept.

In the meantime, not only the tyranny of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad but also the ambitious policies of the regime of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan have worked to undermine the Syrian people. So far, nearly 3 million Syrians have been forced to take refuge in Turkey. How painful it is to see that Erdoğan has used even this tragedy as a blackmail tool to help his regime escape from its isolation and paralysis on the international stage. While Ankara's blackmail policies looked like they had brought Europe to its knees in some respects, the hearts of all Turkey wept in pain and humiliation when we saw the images of baby Aylan, who had washed up on our shores.

Another case of a wound that has never healed can be seen in the terrible mine accident in Soma, where 302 were killed. A full 1.5 years has passed since that occurrence but not a single person has been brought to account, neither politically nor management-wise. Likewise for the tragedy at Ermenek, where 18 miners died. As these wounds fail to be addressed with justice, they turn into enormous societal wounds. Making things worse, not only were no apologies issued to the poor families who had lost these mineworkers as the result of serious neglect but those who kicked and insulted their loved ones after the disaster were draped in awards from Ankara.

The wounds from which Turkey suffers are not only in bodies and souls, of course. What about the evidence of corruption and bribery that was revealed in the week of Dec. 17-25, 2013? Since then, democratic principles and values have been systematically destroyed; in fact, so have legal institutions and laws. A functioning independent justice system has been replaced by project courts whose aim is to terrorize innocent people, while helping to cover up the crimes of the powerful.

The ongoing witch hunts and hatred-fueled operations carried out on the orders of the Erdoğan regime have meant that hundreds of crèches, schools and dormitories have been targeted in heavily armed police raids. The most successful private Islamic bank in Turkey, Bank Asya, was also the target of efforts by the Erdoğan regime to bankrupt it. When these efforts failed, it was simply impounded. This method was then used against other successful private business entities, notably Koza İpek Holding, the İpek Media Group and Kaynak Holding. And in the midst of it all, we witnessed the utter disregard for freedom of enterprise and private property. The economic institutions and financial values that have been carefully constructed in Turkey since the era of the late President Turgut Özal have thus been recklessly destroyed and the trust previously held by both local and foreign investors in Turkey has been grievously wounded.

Threats against Turkish media outlets and journalists reached new heights in 2015. Newspapers and TV channels belonging to the İpek Media Group were forcibly taken over. The 14 channels run by the Samanyolu Broadcasting Group were driven off the air. Opposition journalists and editors from a variety of different media groups were forced out of their jobs. Illegal efforts were made to drive various TV channels off the platform of a national cable server and in the process, hundreds of journalists and their families are now suffering.

But the media landscape is actually worse than that. At this point, hundreds of journalists, many of whom are notable for their opposition stances, face legal charges of “insulting the president,” “helping form a terror group” or even “spying.” Many of them, like me, have been rendered unable to work because of ongoing court cases and the continuous threat of arrest and imprisonment. With 32 journalists behind bars right now, Turkey nears the very top of the list of countries with journalists in prison. Freedom of thought lies in chains, journalists have been handcuffed, critics threatened and intimidated and the independent media silenced. In such an atmosphere, of course, the truth and reality are also deeply wounded.

Fake courts created by Erdoğan -- courts that operate with no attention to the principles of independent and objective justice -- mean that no-one who lives in this country has hope or belief in the justice system any more. Run by partisan prosecutors and judges, these courts are another weapon for the Erdoğan regime, used to eliminate the opposition, even when it comes from the justice system itself. The loss of blood from the justice system and the law has been so great that it has nearly destroyed the structure. And this destruction in many ways parallels the hopes and dreams that were once held that Turkey would become a democratic and free state of law.

Published on Today's Zaman, 29 December 2015, Tuesday