February 29, 2016

I thought they had learned to respect democracy during the Feb. 28 period

Abdülhamit Bilici

The postmodern coup of Feb. 28, 1997 haunted Turkey's religious groups like a nightmare.

Girls wearing headscarves were expelled from universities. Graduates of imam hatip schools suffered from "coefficient" discrimination in university entrance exams. Certain businessmen were blacklisted as "green" (Islamic) capitalists. Some parties were banned. Opinion leaders like Esad Coşan and Fethullah Gülen were forced to go into exile because lawsuits were launched against them, seeking capital punishment.

Then, things changed. Imam-Hatip schools were no longer discriminated against. The headscarf issue was settled. Those who were denigrated in the past came to power. Those who were giving democracy the cold shoulder, seeing it as a "streetcar" to get on when they need it and get off when they no longer need it, started to stress that they had learned their lessons and had come to realize the importance of democracy after the Feb. 28 period. They said they had removed their old robes and had secured the support of many democrats both inside and outside the country. This approach, which seemed to be a synthesis between Islamic values and democracy, inspired hope in me as well. We started to believe that the days of darkness and oppression would be left behind as Turkey became a democratic country in line with European values and standards and acquired the place it deserves in the international community.

Unfortunately, in stark contrast with our dreams of living in a more democratic Turkey with full freedoms, those who were in power went through such a change that the country found itself in a situation that was worse than the Feb. 28 period. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his close associates started to label those who had divergent views or voiced even the slightest objections as traitors even if they were the party's founders like former President Abdullah Gül, former Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç and former Foreign Minister Yaşar Yakış.

There is an ever-growing list of enemies including Can Dündar, Fehmi Koru, Gülay Göktürk, Hidayet Karaca, Etyen Mahçupyan and Hasan Cemal. During the Feb. 28 period, headscarved students and teachers weren't allowed to enter schools; now they are being handcuffed and sent to prison.

In the Feb. 28 period, schools and dormitories would frequently go through "reactionaryism" inspections; now, trustees are appointed to them. Dormitories are shut down in the cold of winter and boarding students who were to sit for the university entrance exam within 20 days are left without accommodation. Prep schools are shut down despite court decisions prohibiting it.

People who gather in a house to chat with each other are profiled and face oppression, and the police attempt to detain a 91-year-old bedridden philanthropist on charges of funding school construction and providing scholarships to students.

When the buildings of the Mahmud Efendi Complex belonging to the İsmailağa religious community were demolished, Marifet Association President Muhammed Keskin described the difference between the past and today as follows: "During the Feb. 28 period, [our buildings] wouldn't be demolished like this; they would just be sealed. And we would be able to enter them from another door." This is the picture giving Doğu Perinçek the happiest days of his life.

"The Feb. 28 period is still under way but in a more violent manner," says deputy Hüda Kaya, who was a headscarved victim of the Feb. 28 process, saying that those persecuted in the past are now engaged in worse acts of persecution. Mehmet Bekaroğlu, who was a deputy of the Virtue Party (FP), which was shut down during the Feb. 28 period, stressed that what the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) is now doing to people with different views is worse than what was done during that time.

During the Feb. 28 period, a prosecutor sought capital punishment for Mr. Gülen based on the slander of media outlets controlled by the coup perpetrator. Mr. Gülen was acquitted of these charges in 2008. Now, a prosecutor is seeking life imprisonment for Mr. Gülen on charges of membership in the “parallel state” and a terrorist organization.

Pro-government media outlets were caught red-handed telling lies regarding the Kabataş incident -- in which then-Prime Minister Erdoğan claimed that a headscarved woman and her baby were violently attacked by a group of around 80 protesters at the Kabataş ferry station in İstanbul at the height of the Gezi Park protests -- and they were ordered by a court to pay compensation to deputy Umut Oran for a slanderous lie about an attempted assassination of Erdoğan's daughter Sümeyye Erdoğan. But they gave unabashedly held Mr. Gülen responsible for the Feb. 28 coup. This illogical mentality puts the blame for the rise in the price of beans or the decline in tourism revenues on the parallel state but oddly enough, these people are unaware even of what their leader says. Then-Prime Minister Erdoğan told the following to the parliamentary commission that investigated the coups: "The statements of the group, community and opinion leaders who invest their time and energy in the elimination of social problems of our country and the performance of spiritual work made with the purpose of protecting the public with a sense of responsibility cannot be treated as having been part of the postmodern coup. Indeed, these groups eventually became the victims of the coup and faced injustice, legal proceedings and lawsuits."

Given the current state of our democracy and their hurry to deny their past deeds and remarks, isn't it obvious that their claim that they learned their lesson about democracy very well during Feb. 28 was nothing but smoke and mirrors?

Another TV station fades out

Democracy is characterized by diversity. The media constitute an essential ingredient of democracy because they act as a check on the major powers in a democracy. But we live in a period when it is impossible to talk about democracy or the rule of law. Today, we are witnessing how even the most fundamental standards are being destroyed one by one.

The İMC TV channel is the latest victim of this. When an interview with Can Dündar and Erdem Gül, who were recently released from prison, was being aired, the channel was dropped from the state-run Türksat satellite and the channel's broadcast was effectively suspended. There was no court order. The Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTÜK) didn't issue a decision about the matter.

But the channel was shut down upon the request of a prosecutor. Previously, the Bugün TV and Samanyolu TV channels were dropped from Digiturk and Türksat. The same threat applies to every TV channel. Normally, the RTÜK is supposed to deal with the broadcasting policies of TV channels. The RTÜK could have given a warning or imposed a fine if there was any breach of the law.

With every TV channel that fades out and every journalist who is silenced, democracy and the right to information are damaged. No society can find the truth through stereotypes. If Turkey continues to implement such moves, it should seriously consider changing the name of its system of government. Indeed, the government's actions can hardly be called democracy.

Published on Today's Zaman, 29 February 2016, Monday