Political situation in Turkey is worsening.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been tightening his grip on the polical structure of Turkey, and all its institutions.
He has been getting almost all the screen time on all the TV channels that report news. Opposition party leaders and their speeches are rarely mentioned in the media.
He has been getting involved in everything, and every decision. In Turkey, the president’s role has been more ceremonial normally. Similar to the European model, not American. The head of the executive branch is the Prime Minister in Turkey, not the president. And the president doesn’t have the right to legally interfere with the executive decisions.
But Erdogan has been an unusual president. He established a one man rule, unlike anything that was seen in Turkey since the time of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk and İsmet İnönü, who were the first two presidents of Turkey, and they also had one man rules. But those were different times (between World War I and World War II, and immediately after World War II). The whole world was going through turbulent times back then, and even the most advanced countries were under one man rules.
Throughout most of the second half of the 20th century, and in the first decade of the 21st century, Turkey has been somewhat a working democracy. Of course there were military coups (multiple times), and the political faces didn’t change much for decades, but there were multiple political parties, fair elections, and a system where the ruling party transitioned the power peacefully to the winner of the election. This is a lot better than what was seen in the most of the muslim world.
Turkey has been a role model for the muslim world, a European type secular democracy that has been the envy of many other nations.
Just when we thought Turkey learned democracy, and that we were a developed nation, and a European secular democracy, Erdogan’s pro-islamist party AKP came to power in 2001. Everyone was cautious, but there was no immediate threat to democracy initially. In fact, the first 10 years of AKP’s rule (they kept winning every election since 2001) was considered a success by many people, inside and outside of Turkey. Secular wing of the Turkish political scene, and the western minded and the secular side of the society has been suspicious of this party since the beginning, and they saw many red flags even in the early days of the AKP’s rule. But despite all these warning signs, people were blindsided by their political and economic success.
Erdogan’s now famous statement about democracy, in which he said democracy is like a train, and you can get off of it when you reached your destination has been an obvious red flag for people who knew and understood Turkey.
Now, when 2016 is ending, Turkey is a nation with one of the highest number of jailed journalists in the world, if not the highest, internet bans reached a degree that even people’s attempts to circumvent those bans using VPNs are being banned, and as of today more than 100,000 people were affected by the government’s purge of the supporters of the US based cleric Fethullah Gulen.
The last item deserves an article on its own, since an incredible witch hunt is being run by the government for this group since the failed military coup attempt of July 15, 2016.
Not that I personally have much doubt that this group (“Gulenists” is what they are called in the west, and FETÖ is the popular term for them in Turkey now, which means “Fethullah Terror Organisation”) was at least partially behind the failed coup attempt, but they are now made to become a scapegoat and being accused of anything that goes wrong in Turkey, and they are also made to look like a violent and militant terrorist organisation.
This was a dangerous group, do not get me wrong, but not because they were a violent terrorist group, but because they were operating a very long term and calculated plan to take over Turkish democracy and establish an Islamist rule in Turkey, with a very similar goal to the Islamist revolution in Iran.
The interesting thing is, so was AKP and Erdogan. Gulen’s group and AKP have been best buddies until just a few years ago, and they marched towards the same goal together all this time. Only after they fell into dispute in the control of the country, they turned into rivals and tried to bring down each other.
Now, all supporters of this group within Turkey, whether they were just sympathizers of Gulen’s religious views, or actually his leutenants within his organisation are being detained, prosecuted, jailed, labeled a traitor or worse.
These people are police officers, judges, prosecutors, lawyers, teachers, military officers, even business people who donated money to this group.
Whoever is being suspected of being a member of this group, or being a sympathizer of the group are fair targets now. They are even targeting people who use a mobile phone app called bylock, since this group has been communicating via this app among themselves. Now, being caught with this app installed on your mobile phone is a reason in Turkey for being considered to be a member of this group. All the rules of logic can turn upside down in an oppressive regime, and people can find themselves “presumed guilty until proven innocent” situation, which is very common in fascist regimes.
This FETÖ operation and all this purge reached a degree that now whoever doesn’t like Erdogan and his party are scared of voicing their opinions because of the fear of being labeled as a member of this group and being prosecuted.
Even some journalists from secularist newspaper Cumhuriyet are detained and under investigation for the suspicion of being a member of this group.
And the funny thing is Cumhuriyet is one of the newspapers that have been warning Turkish public for the dangers of Fethullah Gulen’s group even before anyone paid much attention to this group.
Now, it is very easy for any critic of Erdogan and AKP to become labeled as Gulenist and being prosecuted.
Another problem is the Kurdish problem, and how the elected Kurdish officers of the Turkish parliement are being targeted with the accusation of being a member of the terrorist group PKK. The political immunity of the members of the Kurdish political party HDP is lifted, and their members are jailed and being prosecuted in Turkey.
PKK is a terrorist group, no doubt about that, but HDP is a legal political party with some democratically elected members in the Turkish parliement. And they are also now being targeted just because they didn’t support President Erdogan’s election campaign during the referendum that elected him to become the president, and also because they didn’t support his plan to change Turkish political structure to give more powers to the President.
That is another goal of President Erdogan by the way, to change the constitution to give himself more powers. His party AKP recently passed a proposal to change the constitution for this purpose, and now this proposal will be put to the vote in a general referendum.
Considering the political power and the support of this group (AKP and Erdogan) from the Turkish public, it is very likely that this proposal will be accepted, and Erdogan will officially become a dictator.
But, how did all this happen? How did a promising muslim democracy turned into a dictatorship within a decade?
The fact is, Turkish democracy was always fragile and vulnerable.
Turkey wasn’t really ready to allow any islamist leaning political party to even become a legal candidate to enter the elections.
AKP’s predecessor Refah partisi (the previous islamist party of 1980s and 1990s) was dissolved by the Turkish Constitutional Court in 1998 for being a “center of activities contrary to the principle of secularism” and six of its leaders were banned from political party activities for five years.
Similar action should have been taken for AKP, and its leader Erdogan.
In fact, it was done initially, to some degree. Erdogan was convicted and jailed in 1999 for 4 months for reciting a poem that “incites hatred based on religious differences”. He was the former mayor of Istanbul at the time, and this legal action was due to the fear that he was becoming a dangerous political power, and the secular elites of the time wanted to prevent him from becoming even more powerful. This conviction also stipulated a political ban, which prevented him from participating in parliamentary elections. In 2001, Erdogan established AKP, and his party won a landslide victory in 2002, taking nearly two-thirds of the seats. But Erdogan himself could not become Prime Minister as he was still banned from politics. Abdullah Gül became Prime Minister instead. In the next election in 2003, Erdogan was able to run this time, thanks to a legal change made possible by the secularist main opposition party.
I believe that was a mistake. He should have never been allowed to run for any political positions.
Of course this is not an action that would be condoned in any modern democracy, I realize that completely, but that is exactly my point. Turkey was never ready to be considered a mature democracy and treated with the same standards of all other advanced democracies.
The transformation of the public into a completely secular, educated and democratic population was never accomplished in Turkey completely. It was an ongoing process, and within a generation or two, maybe it would have been possible, but Turkey wasn’t ready to allow any islamist party to run the government yet.
It still is not.
Western world wanted to treat him and his party like the Christian parties of the western democracies, and they drew some parallels between them. But their mistake was their ignorance and unfamiliarity with islam’s influence in a country where most people are muslims.
Now, all the media in the West is criticising Erdogan of becoming too authoritarian, and some even call him a dictator.
And the people like me from Turkey say “We told you so”, but nobody even notices, since our voice is not loud enough I guess.