I had every intention of writing about Tuesday’s vice-presidential debate, but I just couldn’t do it … it depressed me. I have not written about the situation in Turkey for some time now. First, information about Turkey does not flow as freely as it once did, and second, I have been kept pretty busy writing about the upcoming election here in the U.S. A couple of articles came to my attention today via Al Monitor, that were of interest, so I decided to write an update to the ongoing ‘state of emergency’ in Turkey. (I will post links to my previous posts about the situation in Turkey at the end of this post for any who may have missed them)
State of Emergency is Extended
The State of Emergency that President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan implemented on 20 July, in response to the failed coup of 15 July, was to be for three months, and would have ended in just over two weeks from now. However, the National Security Council, an advisory body chaired by the president and whose members include the highest-ranking military and security officials and a number of ministers, convened Sept. 28 and recommended that the state of emergency be extended beyond the initial three-month period. “It has been agreed to recommend an extension of the state of emergency in order to ensure the continuity of the effective implementation of the measures aiming at protecting our democracy, the rule of law and the rights and freedoms of our citizens.”
Erdoğan said, “Extending the emergency rule for three months will benefit Turkey. Be patient, maybe even 12 months will not be enough.” Who could have seen that coming? (sarcasm is intentional)
Turkish Schools Re-open
The latest information I have, which is admittedly dated, is that some 21,000 private school teachers, 21,700 Ministry of Education officials, and 1,500 University deans were fired, suspended, or forced to resign in the days immediately following the failed coup. Two weeks ago, schools re-opened for the first time since July. Huseyin Ozev, President of the Istanbul Teachers Union, said there were fears the academic year would begin in chaos because of huge staff shortages. “It is believed that this school year will take place in general chaos, as there are 40,000 to 50,000 vacancies and no preparation on the side of the ministry of education,” he said.
“Students arriving at school on Monday were handed pamphlets from the education ministry commemorating “the triumph of democracy on 15 July and in memory of the martyrs”.
Pupils will also be shown videos, the ministry said, one of them featuring Erdoğan reading the national anthem along with a series of images depicting tanks and war planes firing in the capital Ankara as the coup attempt unfolded.” – The Guardian, 19 September 2016
Germany Drops Case Against Jan Böhmermann
Jan Böhmermann may be breathing a bit easier today. As predicted, German prosecutors have dropped an investigation into the satirist/comedian accused of insulting Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The prosecutors said they had not found sufficient evidence to continue the inquiry against Böhmermann. However, his troubles are not over yet. On 2 November, a Hamburg court will decide whether a private prosecution that Erdoğan himself has brought against the comic can go ahead. Erdoğan’s lawyer, Michael-Hubertus von Sprenger, said his aim was to enforce a complete ban of the poem.
Last week, Moody’s Investor Services downgraded Turkey’s debt to junk. The Government of Turkey’s long-term issuer and senior unsecured bond ratings were lowered last week from Baa3 to Ba1. In late July, Turkey suffered a similar downgrade by Standard & Poor’s (S&P). Moody’s cited the economy’s exposure to foreign outflows, dwindling foreign exchange reserves and muted growth prospects in downgrading its credit rating. “The risk of a sudden, disruptive reversal in foreign capital flows, a more rapid fall in reserves and, in a worst-case scenario, a balance of payments crisis has increased,” Moody’s said. – Financial Times, 26 September 2016
Since then, Erdoğan has called private bankers “traitors” for not dropping interest rates, causing a weakening of the Turkish lira, as well as a 4.4% drop in the stock index. It seems to me that Mr. Erdoğan has no one to blame but himself. Given the signs of a deteriorating economy, would running the country under a long-term state of emergency be sustainable? Financial experts are clear on this issue: Their consensus is no. Turkey cannot for very long continue in the direction it has been going.
Smurfs and SpongeBob SquarePants Caught in Erdoğan’s purge
The children of Turkey are no longer able to see their favourite cartoons. The voices of Papa Smurf, SpongeBob and other cartoon characters have been silenced. Zarok TV (Kid TV) is the first children’s channel to be shut down for allegedly backing “separatist and subversive” activities in Turkey. The September 28 closure order, which covered 23 radio and television stations, took effect abruptly late in the evening, leaving many people bewildered in front of empty screens. Zarok’s chief broadcast coordinator, Dilek Demiral commented, “We are a cartoon channel. We broadcast cartoons from the Cartoon Network and similar channels after dubbing them into Kurdish and Zazaki. Those include the Smurfs, Garfield and SpongeBob. How could we possibly engage in separatist and subversive activities?”
With the State of Emergency extended for at least another three months, and hints from Erdoğan that it could be a year or more, many political analysts predict that it may become the “new normal”. When the state of emergency was introduced, Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag said that the necessary emergency measures might not even require three months’ time. I did not believe that, and I doubt many astute observers did. According to the Turkish Constitution, a state of emergency can be declared for a maximum of six months. I go on record now as saying that I believe it will endure long past the six-month mark. Purges and arrests continue, with more than 100,000 arrested thus far. Bozdag spoke of the possibility of a new wave of arrests and emphasized that the “process,” meaning the relentless crackdown, was still underway. I strongly suspect the extension of the state of emergency will also diminish Turkey’s chances of joining the European Union (EU) any time soon.
There is an economic theory called “the bicycle theory” — if you stop pedaling for too long, you fall. One needs to keep pedaling, maintain the momentum. The same theory may well be applicable here. After the failed coup, the relentless crackdown on the dissents that Erdoğan associates with the alleged Gulenist conspiracy against his power was adopted as the most effective form of rule to guarantee Erdoğan’s survival. If Erdoğan allows Turkey to return to a pre-coup norm, his current level of power would certainly diminish, and he is not likely to allow that to happen. We shall have to wait and see, but I believe that as of today, the government of Turkey is a democracy in name only. In the words of Baskin Oran, a retired professor and prominent writer, “He is openly purging the democratic society.”
A few of my previous posts about Turkey: