December 27, 2015

Turkey’s ‘terrorist’ inflation problem

Sevgi Akarçeşme

Turkey has never fully enjoyed the benefits of the rule of law under any government in its history. For citizens of this country, it meant to feel both blessed and cursed at the same time. With its rich history, unique and strategic location and natural beauties, Turkey makes one feel blessed, while unending political crises and the high degree of human suffering in any era is enough to make one feel cursed. In this respect, many would argue that we have almost a schizophrenic mindset, thanks to our political history.

One exception in my lifetime when we had hopes of breaking this vicious cycle was the first term of the Justice and Development Party (AK Party). The late President Turgut Özal introduced economic liberalization in 1980s, but failed to pair it with political liberalization. Since the AK Party unexpectedly implemented unprecedented reforms against all odds in the early 2000s and because it was the underdog, I was among the young people who gave it my support despite my reservations about political Islamism, because after all, the AK Party, by its own admission, had changed. And since actions speak louder than words, we had to take them at their word. What I and others failed to do was to continue to hold at least a grain of skepticism about anything political. If we had done so, our disappointment with the AK Party, which turned into nightmare for anyone who refuses to pledge full allegiance to the party, would not have been this big.

As always, actions continue to speak louder than words. There is no trace of the Turkey that was the closest in its history to joining the EU a decade ago. Pressure on independent journalists and free speech turned from being an exception to the rule under this government. Following the infamous, massive 2013 corruption investigations that implicated the top office in Turkey, the deterioration gained momentum. The AK Party had the opportunity to choose to be held accountable or to cover up the dirt. As we all witnessed bitterly, it chose the latter at the expense of an independent judiciary, free media and believers in democracy. In other words, had the government not had the test of the Dec. 17 and 25, 2013 corruption investigations, its spell could have continued, despite its failure to properly handle the Gezi protests in the summer of 2013.

Actually, the trend of declaring anyone who is critical a terrorist, a spy or a domestic collaborator of vague foreign forces started with the Gezi protests. It was an old habit of the Turkish state that had been in hibernation. When the AK Party realized how useful such a tool had become, it began to employ it in every instance. After two years of an intense smear campaign against the Gülen (a.k.a. Hizmet) movement, which was chosen by the government as the scapegoat for anything that could go wrong in the country, it is crystal clear that we suffer from delirium as a country. Turkey is experiencing an inflation in the number of “traitors,” “terrorists” and “spies” despite a lack of any evidence in almost all cases. What matters is that such rhetoric, constantly covered by the pro-government media and beyond finds an audience. Thanks to the old maladies of the Turkish state, people tend to buy the argument that Turkey is surrounded by foreign and domestic enemies, mistakenly equating the state with the governing party. I would not be surprised if some smart minds within the government were also caught off guard by how easily their terrorism card has been accepted by the public. Of course, all those in government and some among the people pretend to buy a “parallel structure” argument because they are scared of losing the goodies they gained under this government. Accusing others of being a terrorist, traitor or “parallel,” whatever that means, is a convenient tool for anyone who has dirty business. The fact that a theology professor who allegedly downloaded child porn argued that it was “parallel plot” against him must be telling enough.

Amid all this paranoia and irrationality, new sets of critics are detained and silenced. A prominent international relations scholar, Professor Sedat Laçiner, is the latest example of the witch hunt apparently conducted with pleasure by the government.

If Turkey manages to retain some level of normalcy against all odds, these days will be a source of shame not only for those who are orchestrating this witch hunt, but also those who remain silent in the face of such overt oppression.

Published on Sunday's Zaman, 27 December 2015, Sunday