By Vijay Prashad
February 20, 2018
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, it is said in Turkey, now channels the French monarch, Louis XIV — l’état, c'est moi (I am the state). Anyone who crosses Mr. Erdoğan is seen as an enemy of the state, regardless of his or her politics.
Most recently, some intellectuals have been found guilty of this crime and sentenced to ‘aggravated life imprisonment’, the highest sentence in the country (the death penalty is banned). These people are distinguished journalists, novelists and academics and hold differing political opinions.
Ahmet Altan (journalist and novelist) and his brother Mehmet Altan (professor of economics) are both left-liberals. Nazli Ilicak (journalist) is an archconservative. Ahmet Altan has been accused of giving “subliminal pro-coup” signals on a television programme two years ago.
After the failed coup of July 15, 2016, Mr. Erdoğan began a purge of all institutions in Turkey, removing anyone who he felt differed with his agenda. Taking its orders from the President, the state machinery has since detained and arrested thousands. Well over 100,000 people have lost their jobs. For the past 19 months, the government has ruled by decree, an emergency form of government that has been enacted in the name of preserving Turkey from a military coup. A coup against democracy, in other words, now operates to prevent a coup against democracy.
Anyone who opposes Mr. Erdoğan’s war in Syria or in Turkey’s southeastern provinces is seen as anti-national. After the Turkish Medical Association issued a declaration that stated the truism that “war is a matter of public health”, the authors of the declaration were arrested and removed from their jobs. When 1,200 academics signed a petition that stated that ‘they shall not be complicit’ in the Turkish government’s war against the Turkish Kurds in the south-east, the government got them all fired and has filed criminal charges.
Selahattin Demirtaş, the squeaky-clean leader of the People’s Democratic Party (HDP), has been in prison for more than a year, along with others from his party. Numerous elected parliamentarians and mayors belonging to the HDP have been removed from office, arrested or accused of supporting terrorism. This is despite the fact that the HDP — Turkey’s third largest party in Parliament — has stated its opposition to terrorism and commitment to the peaceful resolution of the Turkish-Kurdish conflict. What Mr. Demirtaş and the HDP did, however, was to prevent Mr. Erdoğan’s monopoly over political power. In the general elections of June 2015, the HDP won 13% of the vote, denying Mr. Erdoğan a total majority in Parliament. He has sought to punish the HDP ever since.
Another Myopic Instance
For the past four months, liberal businessman Osman Kavala, who has supported worthy causes his entire life, has been in prison. The pro-Erdoğan press has dubbed him the “Red Soros” and claims that he supports terrorism. There is no need for facts when the judgment is so quickly produced by a jingoistic media and a myopic government.
About 150 journalists are now in prison, many never having been charged. On the day that the sentence was announced against the Altan brothers and Ms. Ilicak, Turkey released Turkish-German journalist Deniz Yücel, part of a deal worked out between Mr. Erdoğan and German Chancellor Angela Merkel; he is like much of his fraternity.
Many of the journalists in prison are from the opposition newspaper, Cumhuriyet. One of them, Ahmet Şik, has a strange story to tell. He was arrested, prosecuted and imprisoned for writing a critical book about Fethullah Gülen, the Turkish cleric who lives in the U.S. At one time, Mr. Erdoğan and Mr. Gülen were friends, but have since fallen out. So Mr. Şik is now accused of being a follower of Mr. Gülen. Logic is dispatched and Mr. Erdoğan has begun to resemble the Queen of Hearts from Alice in Wonderland; “off with their heads” is the common cry.
We are in the age of the strongmen. Democracies such as Turkey, the U.S. the Philippines and India are now ruled by caprice, with the full force of the state being used to cast dissenters as anti-national. Turkey is in the lead here. It is important that democratic and progressive people awaken to the dangers posed by strongmen and their will to power.
Vijay Prashad is the Director of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research and a columnist for the Turkish daily, ‘BirGün’