A few days ago, a friend commented on my blog that, according to Austrian weekly magazine Profil, there are four major areas of immediate concern in the world today:
- A possible Trump presidency
- Crisis in the EU as a result of the Brexit vote
- Erdogan’s increasing autocracy
- Terrorist attacks
I was surprised, yet not surprised to see that a potential Trump presidency is among the four top global concerns. The U.S. has long been considered a leader in foreign policy, and now … here we are considering perhaps the most radical madman since the days of Adolph Hitler to lead our nation … into … what?. History is cyclic, they say. History repeats itself, they say. If we in the U.S. are in abject terror of this demagogue and his lemming followers, it stands to reason that the rest of the world cringes to think of this madman with his finger on the proverbial red button. And I am working on that one … I have written post after post about the escalating danger of one so fanatical, so bigoted, so … what is the word I want? A man who admires Kim Jong-un, Vladimir Putin and Saddam Hussein … who can blame the world for being unnerved?
But today, I turn back to the 3rd on the list, President Erdoğan and the ongoing situation in Turkey since the failed coup on 15 July. It has been almost two weeks since Erdoğan declared a three-month state of emergency on 20 July, giving almost unlimited power to the president and his cabinet. What has happened in those two weeks?
One of Erdoğan’s first moves, predictably, was to further limit the power of the press. A decree published in Turkey’s official gazette demanded the closure of more than 100 broadcasters, newspapers, magazines, publishing houses and distribution companies, including three news agencies, 16 television channels, 23 radio channels, 45 newspapers and 15 magazines. Just this weekend, 17 prominent journalists were arrested (see photo above), and warrants have been issued for some 70 more. The journalists are charged with membership in a terrorist group.
Lest you begin to think that Erdoğan has no heart, in a surprising move on Thursday, he announced that he was withdrawing, as a one-time-only gesture, all lawsuits filed against people for insulting him, a move he said was triggered by “feelings of unity against the coup attempt”. “I forgive them,” he said. And yet … I see this move not as a true conciliatory gesture, but as the crumb of bread thrown out to keep the dogs at bay. Please pardon my cynicism, Mr. Erdoğan. Earlier the same day, he called for the west to “mind your own business” and harshly criticized western nations for failing to show solidarity with Ankara.
“When five-10 people die in a terror attack, you [Western countries] set the world on fire. But when there is a coup attempt against the president of the Turkish Republic, who always protects the democratic parliamentary system and who was elected with 52 percent of the general vote, instead of siding with the government, you side with the perpetrators.”
I would question the statement “always protects the democratic parliamentary system”, as we have seen evidence over the past two years that the notion of ‘democracy’ in Turkey has been diminished by Erdoğan’s policies, rather than protected. Now it would appear that Erdoğan has thrown all caution to the wind, and Turkey’s chances of joining the EU have gone from slim to none, at least for the foreseeable future.
Turkey continues to claim that the coup was a plot by exiled cleric Fethullah Gülen who currently resides Pennsylvania in the U.S., and the Turkish government demands his extradition. The Turkish government claims to have evidence to support the theory that Gulen and his followers within Turkey were responsible for the coup, while U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry says that he has not seen credible evidence. I have read what information I could find, and admittedly I can understand the Turkish claim, but there are too many unknowns, too many unanswered questions. An excellent article about this can be found in a weblog written by Dani Rodrik who was born and raised in Turkey, and is now a professor at the Harvard Kennedy School.
My initial take after the failed coup, was that Erdoğan himself may have had a hand in staging the coup as a justification to further strengthen his power and to further reduce certain democratic freedoms, most notably freedom of the press. I still consider this a distinct possibility, though I admit there may be compelling reasons to think otherwise. In a nutshell, I do not know, and am not certain whether we will ever know all the details.
Regardless of who was actually behind the coup, the results of the last two weeks have furthered President Erdoğan’s goals of weeding out many of those he saw as a threat, those who offended him. Unfortunately for the citizens of Turkey, the result has ensured that they are now more in the dark than ever and are destined to hear only that which Erdoğan chooses for them to hear. Three leading press freedom organizations have condemned the Turkish government’s crackdown on the media following the failed coup, including the UN special rapporteur on the right to freedom of expression, David Kaye. However, beyond issuing protests, these groups have little power.
I began writing this post a few days ago, but other things cropped up that I deemed more “time sensitive”, so I put it aside for a few days. In the interim, when I thought Erdoğan had given up on EU privileges, the Turkish government has said that it would have to abandon the March 18th Turkey-EU migrant deal reached with the European Union to stem the flow of migrants into the bloc if the EU did not grant visa-free travel to Turkish citizens. European Commissioner Guenther Oettinger said recently he did not see the EU granting Turks visa-free travel this year due to Ankara’s crackdown after the failed military coup in mid-July. “It is up to Turkey if there is or there isn’t visa liberalization,” Gabriel said during a trip to northern Germany, according to Reuters. “Germany and Europe should under no circumstances be blackmailed.”
Stay tuned, as I have a feeling this ball of yarn has only begun to unravel. To my U.S. readers, I just want to make the point that during the time I have been studying and writing about Erdoğan and his power-hungry tactics, I have seen remarkable similarities between his personality and that of republican candidate Donald Trump. It might behoove us all to pay closer attention to the tactics being used in Turkey, because they are not dissimilar from those that I believe Trump intends if he should win the election in November.