July 28, 2016

When will we learn from history?

Shannon Ebrahim

Is what Hitler did in his first few months in power not being 
replicated by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan?

The measures taken to exert complete control over the society are strikingly similar, but this is not to say that Erdogan or his government have genocidal intentions, or are even as draconian as some other leaders in the world today.

But if we do not pay attention to the recent trend in Turkey of crushing media freedom, taking away civil liberties and violating human rights, we will not have learned from history.

We must not forget that Hitler won a democratic election in 1932, and within three months of taking office in 1933 he had exerted total power over Germany.

Immediately on coming to power, Hitler had a list compiled of officials and judges to be disposed of. He proceeded to move against any opponents perceived as a direct threat to his political power.

The opponents which he neutralised included members of the military, conservatives and, within months, over 1 000 political opponents had been arrested. In Erdogan’s case, the list of opponents neutralised by his recent purges is around 70 000.

While Erdogan has been in power for 13 years as a democratically elected head of state, what restrained his dictatorial impulses was the desire to secure Turkey’s membership into the European Union.

The migrant deal was supposed to have paved the way for Turkey’s entry into union, but once the deal fell apart and it became obvious that Turkey’s inclusion into the 
European club was not likely to happen, it removed any incentive to safeguard democracy or human rights.

Erdogan had already begun to purge critical voices from the independent media last year, first through intimidation and then by taking over media houses and television stations owned by the Gulen movement.

But it wasn’t only the Gulen movement that was targeted, but all press that was critical of the government.

One of the most highly regarded newspapers, Cumhuriyet, read by many of the Turkish elite and critical of Gulen movement, was also targeted. Its editor, Can 
Dundar, was jailed last year following his publication of footage showing Turkish intelligence sending weapons to ISIS in Syria.

The takeover of independent media houses in Turkey sent shock waves around the world. Unfortunately, the South African government turned a blind eye to these purges.

On being asked by a Turkish journalist what the South African government thought of the attack on media freedom in Turkey at a Dirco press conference a few months ago, Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane said she knew nothing about it, but only knows that South Africa has good relations with Turkey.

This was despite the Independent Media Group in South Africa having covered this story on a weekly basis at the time.

Just as the German government under Hitler had used holding companies to disguise their new ownership of newspapers shortly after coming to power, last year the Turkish government took over Koza Ipek, one of Turkey’s largest companies, which owns media outlets critical of the government.

The appointment of managers from pro-government media outlets to head Koza Ipek’s media arm showed the intent to control coverage completely.

The government’s justification for taking over one of the largest media groups in the country – Zaman – earlier this year was that the news agency was owned by the Gulen movement.

But the ruling AKP party had been in an alliance with the Gulen movement, which had supported its rise to power in 2003, and Erdogan had frequently praised Zaman’s news coverage.

That was until Zaman started criticising the corruption of Erdogan, his family and his ministers. Then the Gulen movement became, in Erdogan’s words, “an enemy of the state”.

The Turkish government now claims that the Gulen movement is a terrorist organisation, but has consistently failed to provide any evidence of its claims.

What followed Hitler’s suppression of the independent media in the first few months of his rule was the eradication of civil liberties and democracy.

Hitler had looked for an excuse to establish a state of emergency, and he used the burning of the German parliament in 1933 as the rationale behind establishing a state of emergency.

The decree suspended the provisions of the German constitution and gave the state the right to arrest, detain without cause, with no limits on the length of incarceration.

This is similar to what has transpired in Turkey over the past few weeks. The government has used the excuse of a poorly organised attempted coup by a small segment of the armed forces to establish a state of emergency.

The three-month state of emergency has curtailed freedom of movement, expression and association. The government has even forbidden Turkish academics from leaving the country and directed the academics outside the country to return.

Cumhuriyet’s Dundar has said the state of emergency means that Turkey now has “an oppressive regime where law and liberties will be suspended, press censored and parliament eliminated”. According to Dundar, “Lists of all sorts of ‘dissenters’, 
not just journalists, circulated immediately”.

“Nearly 60 000 people – including 10 000 police officers, 3 000 judges and prosecutors, more than 15 000 educationists and all the university deans in the country – have either been detained or fired, and the numbers are growing daily.

Torture, banned since the military coup of 1980, has resurfaced. A campaign has been launched to revive the death penalty, which was abolished in 2002. It is the biggest witch-hunt in the history of the republic.”

Amnesty International and other human rights organisations have backed up these claims.

Where is South Africa’s condemnation of these excesses? Or even an expression of grave concern?

We can only hope that the minister of International Relations 
has been briefed and fully understands the gravity of the situation in Turkey, and like Madiba and ANC leaders after him will 
speak up for those whose voices have been silenced.

*Editor’s note: Hizmet Movement Blog reaffirms its non-endorsement policy of the various viewpoints expressed throughout the articles that are solely shared for the convenience of the readers.

Published on Independent Online, 28 July 2016, Thursday