Erdoğan’s ‘Global Legitimacy Tour’ to reach its successful finale in Brussels

President Erdoğan’s march on the road map, very clearly defined by him for long, proceeds with no hurdles.

On Sunday, he was re-elected as party chairman after nearly 1000 days of absence, and, after gaining control in most of the state institutions, including the army, he is now a Commander-in-Chief with a party affiliation – unprecedented in modern Turkish history.

The march will now reach its climax, when he meets NATO and EU leaders in Brussels.

The world has been watching a rise, which can only  be compared in 1930’s Europe. Yet, although the similarities are striking, the march has been met with much apathy, and a bewildering indifference. So much so that even when his body guards were involved in beating peaceful Kurdish demonstrators in Washington, there was not much of a reaction.

Let’s now have a look at the ‘grand global tour’ Erdoğan launched, some weeks ago, which so far included China, Russia, India and – finally – the USA.

The much-anticipated meeting between US President Donald Trump and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan last week ended as it began, a mere blip.

Or so it seemed.

It was the Turkish president who raised expectations when he described the agenda by saying “our talks will no longer be about commas but with full stops.” The allusion was to the idea that, what he could not achieve with former US Presi­dent Barack Obama, he would seek to conclude with his successor.

The meeting took no longer than 22 minutes but, even with a working lunch with the delega­tions added, there were question marks about full stops. Nothing of that sort emerged from the talks. Ankara is only left with an anticlimax.

In many ways, Erdogan went to Washington with a mission impossible: There was no way to make Trump revoke his decision, prompted resolutely by the Pentagon, to arm the Syrian Kurds. All he could do was grumble in a news conference about it, in subtly threatening terms.

At times Trump grinned nervously and many took it for granted that his mind was much more on the controversy of leaking sensitive intelligence to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov than feeling sympathy for his Turkish counterpart. It appeared that the talks were rather devoid of meaning.

Erdogan was certainly aware how tightly squeezed he was. For months he had protested about the role of the Syrian Defence Forces (SDF) and the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) in the fight against the Islamic State (ISIS) and Trump’s decision had pre-empted much of Erdogan’s expectations.

On his way to Washington, Erdogan met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Sochi and in Beijing. The Russian president inflicted even more wounds. As Erdogan stepped onto the plane heading for the United States, Putin said the Syrian Kurds had his country’s full support, no matter what.

It was clear that this double blow paralysed Erdogan’s arguments and offers. This also showed how Turkey’s erratic policies in Syria helped some­what align the regional policies of Moscow and Washington, specifically on the extermina­tion of ISIS and other jihadist forces as the highest priority.

Erdogan knew perfectly well that the extradition of Fethullah Gulen, whom he blames for inciting the attempted coup in Turkey last July, from the United States was a half-hearted demand. He likely believes the cleric, his formidable foe, better remain in the United States for political reasons. The contro­versy will help Erdogan conduct as fierce a campaign in 2019 to cement his autocracy. Erdogan bets on the prospect that the process of extradition will take years.

The US federal court case of the Iranian-Turkish gold trader Reza Zarrab, which implicates Erdogan’s family and close circles in organised crime allegations in bypassing an Iranian embargo is really Erdog­an’s main headache but even there he knows that he has enough time to try to have the case watered down.

There was debate among Turkey analysts, after Trump’s decision to prefer Kurdish militia to Turkish armed forces, about why Erdogan did not postpone his visit to the White House. Some argued that by doing so Ankara would have sent the message to the Americans that these Turks must have a reason to keep tensions high.

Erdogan, though, did not turn a hair. This explains why, after all, his visit was a success from his vantage point. This may also explain what he meant by “full stop.” Soon after his highly debated referendum victory, marked as “shady” in the official reports by the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), Erdogan deliber­ately launched a global tour simply aimed at the legitimacy of the result. He went to Russia, India and China, meeting with top leaders.

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Erdogan was emboldened by a congratulatory phone call from Trump the day after the vote and the visit to Washington was simply payback and a crowning moment that he, after all, was to be seen as a recognised leader to do business with. So, the photo-op in the White House was added to those from Russia, India and China.

If there is any dimension of success, this is it. All those analysts who claimed much ado about nothing may be missing a point: It was much ado about one thing — a continuity of a leader­ship, despite high criticism.

The tour for legitimacy will come — to use again the term of Erdogan’s — to its full stop when he reaches his final destination: To meet with leaders at the NATO summit as well as the top figures of the European Union. It will be all about mutually polite smiles, however false, and weak hand­shakes, frozen in snapshots.

For the moment, Erdogan seems satisfied. When it comes to Turkey and its interests, well, that’s an entirely different story.

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Live and let die: Are hunger strikes a cynical tool for ‘martyrdom politics’?

”If the power targets the very life, then the life itself becomes, per se, a resistance to power.” This motto often at display in strikes and social resistence in public spaces, has carved itself into memory.

In the past week or so, it was revived again, in turbulent Turkey, where decree after decree darkens the lives of the citizens of various professions, especially school teachers, academics and journalists, by making them jobless, eternally blacklisted for careers, punished for hunger, simply because they are in open disagreement with the power, solely represented by President Erdoğan. As the purge has intensified, a powerful debate has erupted among the intellectuals about the right to live, individual manipulation, flock mentality, and whether or not will to die for a cause is an act of high morality. At times it has turned so acrimonious that curses and cussword have flung about; but also so powerful that in involved Spinoza, Derrida, Marx, Kant, Sartre, Edward Said and many others. Overall it is so interesting that German reader should be made aware of its context and content.

At the epicenter of the debate are two activists, Ms Nuriye Gülmen and Mr Serdar Özakça, two teachers sacked arbitrarily from their jobs last autumn. It was first Gülmen who last November started to demonstrate individually, evey day, with a plakate, ‘I want my job back!’, only to be taken to custody routinely by the police, then to return to the same square with the same demand the following day.

She was later joined by Özakça, another fired teacher. Early last March their civil resistance evolved into hunger strike. Their demands were also enhanced: Lifting of the emergency rule, end to arbitrary sackings, job security for the public employees and – this one showed a broad partisan bias – reemployment of all ‘revolutionary democrats’ sacked (as if to say, ‘we don’t care about the others’).

Nearly two and the half months after, their action has great attention. While the pro-government columnists accuse them of being members of underground leftist networks, AKP supporters’ mockery in social media goes virile by questions why they don’t lose weight. Some sent meals to the square in Ankara where they sit.

Police visits the spot to disperse those who want to show solidarity.

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But this is not what caused the debate. The action had enough contagious effect for the left to mobilize a campaign not only in signature campaigns praising those two, but also further hunger strikes nationwide. Some columns by leftist pundits were dedicated to mythbuilding that the couple were ‘multiplying a silent cry by defying death in waves, which meet other voices; with those who fear death at one side and these who love life but face death willingly…’

This campaign led to powerful objections by some intellectuals, led by the internationally renowned philosophy scholar, Zeynep Direk, with Koç University, who questioned the moral legitimacy of what they call ‘a mirror martyrdom culture’ – comparing to that of jihadists’.

When I was tipped by a scholar friend of its rapid follow-up, I found that the social media was a wrestling ground. At the firing line was Ms Direk, who apparently had started it all, and she had to endure a lot of slander from the activist left flanks. ‘Shut up!’ was the most polite expression directed at her, I found out.

She was extremely sturdy and defiant. ‘I will voice my conscience’ she kept writing, supported also by a group of concerned intellectuals.

Initially, she had asked a question. ”Yes, we know that the state decrees sentenced you to hunger” she wrote in facebook. ”But you have your friends, your solidarity circles. One can live together until one returns. Does the hunger strike to death not damage the confidence we must have in these relations?”

She took the issue further.

According to Direk, Gülmen’s initial action was a noble civilian stand.

She wrote:

”Yet we now witness an academician, who every day with a smile stood by herself in a street and was served tea and food by the shopkeepers and passers-by, to be turned into a suicide activist. Let’s not say her own will; because the will itself is under everything and everybody. Probably, we see a surrender to those forces who exert influence. Everybody who supports a process which in the name of defending life leads to a Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome is responsible. Life is not defended this way. I take a distance from all those groups and structures who by being behind this action serve utilitarian mentalities. This is my moral stand.”

Finding herself under verbal lynching, she went on to say:

”I don’t address the state, because it is no longer. I address the individuals and groups. There is nothing defendible if one responds morally in a wrong way to maltreatment. The thing to do is to convince Nuriye and Semih that theitr action is wrong. This must be the stand of the academicians. We have to use our minds and tongues, and not inflict harm on ourselves. Let me quote Spinoza: We have to support joyful resistance; not sorrow and obstinacy to death…”

At this point some of those who joined hunger strikes in 1990’s in the prisons joined and many of them agreed with Direk; that there was a huge difference between a prisoner who was left with no choice in total isolation and those who demand a job back. One of them, a former far-leftist, wrote:

”Necrophilian politics obviously sees something shameful in ‘logos’ and ethical politics. It suggests that we should be ready for celebrating the next funeral. Necrophilian politics are aimed at silencing and h-ypnotising people, that’s why they are so hostile to intellectuals.”

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”Resilience” wrote Direk to some who quoted Marx to her, ”is a will to build a new life. If the state looks like everything except a state, then all we should do is to fight so that it is ‘reset’ to its basics and to acknowledge human integrity. Resilience, survival, rational debate, solidarity, friendship and patience offered by time; these are the ways.Now you tell me, Kant again? Bourgois liberalism again? What about a little Marx? It can be hard but this is the time Kant may be ahead of Marx, don’t you think?”

”If we put aside intellectuals like Edward Said who stod by people resisting conditions alike a colony, should an intellectual defend the sacrifice of the lives of the children of her/his country? At the end, when the state crushes those children, how can you look into the faces of their mothers? Wouldn’t those peoples be cross with you? Look, the souls of the intellectuals who back violence rot sooner or later. They end up thoughtless under the weight of those deaths they have helped cause. We have so many minds suffering depression and enmity to the thinking itself. So, no matter what our conditions are, please try not to be one of those intellectuals who sublimate death and act like grave diggers.”

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As much as Direk represents a minority in the current turbulence of crisis-ridden Turkey, the despair of the Marxian left is also a naked fact. It has no political correspondence with the rather submissive masses – be them pious or Kemalist-secular – which exposes the copy of a ‘death wish’ of those in other far end – of jihadists.

The danger, now looming, is a repetition of modern Turkish history.

The two hunger strikers approach death by every day, somewhat ‘captives’ of the support campaign, and if a tragedy happens, the state certainly will not care a bit. Families and friends will suffer, and all those who favor (self) violence will only feel a victory that the hatred will enrich a mythology which is fed by a willful loss of human lives.

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Taboo-breaking Belge Publishing House raided: ‘Black history of Turkey is back’

When I heard the news, I called him first thing in the morning.

At the other end of the line, there was this elderly gentleman – 70 years old – known as one of the boldest taboo-breakers in Turkey.

‘Good morning’ I said to Ragıp Zarakolu.

His publishing house, Belge, was raided in Istanbul, the night before.

‘No good news I am afraid, although nothing comes as a surprise anymore’ he told me.

The police had called his assistant in the late hours and told him to come quickly to the door of the Belge office, or else they would have to break in.

The raid was, Ragıp told me, probably due to some ‘ridicolous’ suspicion that Belge was linked to an underground violent leftist organisation, known as DHKP-C. That’s what the police briefly had told his aide Mehmet Ali Varış.

The search went for a long while. Copies of two books – one titled ‘Kurds Without a State’ and the other, ‘Choices Harder than Death’ – were first on the raiders’ list. ‘There is a court ruling on confiscation of those’ they told Varış, who had not heard of it before.

Then, the search was enhanced. When the raid was ending, the police had seized 2.170 copies of various publications of Belge. The reason? ‘They all lack banderols on the back side’ the officers said. ‘It’s against the law.’ What they referred to was a tax label, which is obligatory for the books. Varış told them that many of those books were published before the ‘banderole law’ was issued, and they were kept in the office for archive purposes.

‘Should we have burnt those copies?’ he asked them.

No answer. Officers even picked up two rare books dating back to late 1960’s by the now defunct leftist publisher, ANT – a predecessor to Belge – citing the same law.

‘One doesn’t know if one should laugh or cry’ Ragıp said over the phone.

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As a fiercely independent left-liberal intellectual, a ‘lone wolf’, his memory is loaded. The painful part for him is that the harrassment patterns have now returned with full force, after a brief period of ‘thaw’ in Turkey some ten years ago, thanks to the EU reform process then.

Sunday’s raid took place as Belge was celebrating its 40th anniversary, with over 850 books in its portfolio. It was also subjected to various court cases on ‘subversive content’ for over 45 times during this period.

Zarakolu and his late wife, Ayşe Nur – who he says was the real ‘engine’ behind the activity – had started by publishing books on Marxism and, later, European modern Left, often drawing rage from the dogmatists. Belge survived a lot of hardship throughout the 1980’s, and in early 1990’s Zarakolus thought time was ripe to break Turkey’s tightest-knit taboo of all: the Armenian Genocide. And it was with those books on the issue Belge came to be known as a pioneer.

It plunged into the academic literature – such as the large-volume books by the genocide scholar Vahagn Dadrian, narratives of the survivors of the extermination, by Vergine Svaslian, Franz Werfel’s ’40 Days in Musa Dagh’, Wolfgang Gust’s massive collection of German archive documents on the events in 1915. It published a long series of memoirs of Anatolian Armenians.

‘Turkish-German relations during WW1 was kept under the cover of the official narrative so much in Turkey that we published ‘Berlin-Baghdad’ by Lothar Rathman, ‘Ottomans’ by Ernst Werner” Ragıp told me.

Arnim Wegner, who is known as the ”photographer of the Armenian Genocide” was the one who had turned Zarakolus’ attention to the subject, so he was published, as well as Eva Gropler’s ”History of Anti-Semitism”.

”It was very important for us to inform readers on the situation of the universities during the Nazi period, because ‘cleansing of the academia’ in Turkey is a tradition” he said. ”Look at the purge now, it is the largest ever…”

Belge’s activity was a huge challenge in Turkey, which has been swamped in denial from top down. The more it published books on ethnic cleansings of Ottoman folk groups during the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, the more it was branded as an ‘enemy’.

The breaking of the Armenian Taboo had begun with Belge in 1993, with the publication of ‘History of Armenian Genocide’ by the French historian, Yves Ternon. They were followed by the books about massacres of Alevis in Dersim province, and works by Georgios Andreadis on the mass annihilation of Greek natives of Pontos, at the Black Sea coast of Anatolia.

”As a result, Andreadis was declared persona non grata. His entry ban to Turkey went on for 20 years, until his death.”

Yves Ternon’s book caused outrage of the authorities and the far-right, and Belge publishers felt how isolated one can be.

The entire left had left them alone while they were under threat; it was painful, Ragıp said, to sense the lack of solidarity, as opposed to the one that existed regarding the Kurdish struggle.

Ragıp added that ‘one did not have to come from a leftist background’ to raise awareness of the genocides and crimes of humanity.

”If you are a human rights activist and had read the UN Convention thereof, being disengaged is your shame. For us Armenian Genocide was not a taboo; because it involved summary executions, ‘missings’, massacres… But in those times, in 1970’s and 80’s, it was only seen as an event in history; some intellectuals even saw it as an ‘obsession’ if you opened the subject. ‘Stop whining, it’s past’ was a common reaction. For the leftists, even among Armenians of that flank, it was the future that was important.”

”Belge broke the taboo of the military, by publishing a Human Rights Watch report on attrocities in Kurdish villages in early 1990’s. We paid a price for that, but won at the European Court. It was also thanks to Ayşe, who pushed a publication of book titled ‘Kurdistan as an Interstate Colony’, Belge helped break Kurdish Taboo at that time.”

So, clearly, Belge with its vast portfolio on the ‘lost history’ of Asia Minor comes immediatey to mind when one seeks literature. An amazing achievement, an act of intellectual bravery, against all odds: a valid reason to be targeted whenever the winds of tyranny blow.

”Freedom to publish in Turkey is severely endangered, and raises concern’ Ragıp concluded. ”Citing coup attempt of last year as a pretext 29 publishing houses were shut down, and their assets were seized. It began with Gülen Movement, followed by Kurdish publishers.

The regime has three bags now: Left, Liberals and Kurds. All the oppositions voices are linked with terror and crammed into these bags. There is no longer any respect for law. Civilian courts are forced the issue ruling that are out of their jurisdiction. Turkish law actually says that if a book is not charged within a certain time, it gains immunity and can not be subject to indictment. Now, any court anywhere in Turkey can issue a ruling for confiscation. It had happened during the military regime in 1980’s. Now it is a so-called civilian one that does the same thing.”

He sighs deeply over the line.

Brief silence.

Then he speaks in a low voice:

”There is a very profound reality behind all this… I am afraid this country will never, ever be able to change for the better. It couldn’t win for losing… This black history will simply keep repeating itself….”

”Until it gets the history’s big slap on its face…”

 

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Is Erdoğan on a collision course with Trump on PYD/YPG against Jihadists?

Clash or accord?

When Turkish President Erdoğan meets the President of the USA, Donald Trump, on May 18, the fog which blurs the future of the relations between the tow allies will disperse.

The key issue on the agenda, from Erdoğan’s standpoint, is what will happen with the spectacular ‘Zarrab case’, a Turkish-Iranian goldtrader, who stands charged in New York Federal Court. Zarrab was a key figure in Erdoğan’s close circle, and the case indicates allegations of involvemenet of the close members of his family.

Forget about the rest for the moment.

What’s at stake in Syria and with ISIS is secondary for Erdoğan, they are simply bargaining chips in his talks with Trump, which he places on the table as elements of swap, with the condition that, if Zarrab case is ‘watered down’ or, better, ‘evaporated’, Erdoğan will be ready to accept the alliance that is built between the PYD/YPG and the USA (also Russia).

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But it seems that the swap Erdoğan hopes for is endangered. Trump has made up his mind – most probably by the men he chose from Pentagon into his administration – and he will be set to tell Erdoğan that, no matter what, the march to the ISIS stronghold Raqqa is going to happen with the Kurdish YPG combat units as the main force on ground.

Yet, it was a long process which kept the ground tense, and helped encourage Turkish Armed Forces to flex some muscles at the Syrian-Turkish border, with airstrikes against the YPG. That led to the American protests, and there are now US armored vehicles and soldiers patrolling the border. Two allies are at odds with each other, when an enemy is well-defined.

US-led-coalition-patrols-Turkey-Syria-border

Here is the background of how the discord developed between Ankara and Washington DC, as described by Foreign Policy:

”In the closing days of the Obama administration, the Pentagon made a similar request to arm the Kurds for a Raqqa operation but President Barack Obama decided it was too big a step to take so close to Trump entering office, especially given Turkey’s stance.

Senior officials in the Obama administration and military officers briefed Trump’s aides on the plan days before he was sworn in and urged them to move quickly with the operation.

“We viewed this as a high priority and one of the top national security issues in our transition discussions,” said one former White House official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. But the Trump White House chose to hold off and has been conducting a review of war strategy since January, despite the president’s vows to defeat Islamic State “quickly.”

Ankara, in the meantime, has lobbied Washington to pursue a different approach that would rely on Turkish troops deployed in Syria and a largely untested Arab force, the Syrian Free Army.

But U.S. officials “have explored what Turkey had to offer and found that it did not have that much to contribute militarily,” said Linda Robinson, an analyst at the Rand Corporation who has advised American forces and recently returned from a visit to Syria with U.S. commanders.

During the Obama administration, senior officials also came away unimpressed with Turkey’s proposals.

Despite Turkey’s misgivings, the Trump administration has concluded that including Syrian Kurdish forces in the lead represents the only realistic way to push the Islamic State out of Raqqa, which the group has referred to as the capital of its “caliphate.” But to avoid aggravating relations with Ankara, the White House and the Pentagon chose to postpone any decision on Raqqa until after Turkey held its referendum last month.

Turkish warplanes also struck Kurdish forces in northern Syria late last month, killing 18 of the U.S.-backed fighters in a raid that occurred less than six miles from where American forces were based. The attack prompted the Pentagon to send another detachment of U.S. Army Rangers to the border as a buffer between the Kurds and Turkish forces.

 Last week, the commander of U.S. European Command, Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, told his Turkish counterpart Gen. Hulusi Akar that the strikes were dangerous, because Ankara gave U.S. forces less than an hour’s notice before the bombing began.

 On Wednesday, one of Erdogan’s advisors suggested that the Americans could be struck by Turkish missiles, comments he quickly walked back the next day. Pentagon spokesman Eric Pahon told FP the comment was “irresponsible and unacceptable.”

The angry words and the Turkish air strikes on Washington’s Kurdish allies in Syria underscore the risks of going ahead with the plan to take Raqqa, and the fragile state of U.S.-Turkish relations. The tensions will require delicate diplomacy to reassure Ankara, which fears the Kurds have been promised a possible independent state on Turkey’s southern border.

 After months of training efforts, U.S. commanders are pinning their hopes on the mixed Kurdish-Arab contingent — known as the Syrian Democratic Forces — to take Raqqa. Ankara considers the Syrian Kurdish fighters to be aligned with the Kurdish PKK, which it regards as a terrorist group, and paints them both with the same brush. Washington, however, makes a distinction between the two groups.

At this late stage, U.S. officials are reluctant to scrap their plan and entertain a major role for forces trained by Turkey. One Pentagon official said that although the U.S.-trained forces are mixed, the Kurds occupy almost all of the leadership positions. Any move to introduce the Turkish-backed militias would complicate the operation, as the Turkish-backed force has previously attacked the Kurdish fighters in northern Syria.

U.S. military officers say that Washington will ensure that Kurdish forces will not operate unilaterally or be allowed to rule over Raqqa once the Islamic State is forced out. They also say they are looking at options including rationing ammunition to Kurdish troops to allay Turkish concerns about a Kurdish militia stockpiling U.S.-supplied weapons to create an independent state.”

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Erdoğan had sent three men of his closest circle – Chief of Staff, Gen Hulusi Akar; Chief Aide, Ibrahim Kalın and Intelligence Chief, Hakan Fidan – to Washington, but the President’s men seem not to have noted much progress in persuading their counterparts.

Now, once more, it is to be noted that Turkey is now squeezed tightly between the USA and Russia, both favouring Kurdish fighters in their battle against the common enemy: Jihadists.

As journalist Mahmut Bozarslan wrote in Al-Monitor:

”What is happening now resembles the days when the Kurdish autonomous region was being set up after the first Gulf War. The region emerged with US support despite Turkey’s fervent opposition. Today, we also have Russia on the stage. Both the United States and Russia clearly are not going to give up on the Kurds. The most likely scenario will be for Turkey to modify its policies accordingly.”

This is an open question. Erdoğan’s priorities differ from the remnants of the Turkish ‘inner state’ he has chosen to surround himself with. The forged US and Russian cooperation with the Syrian Kurds will shake his ground, leave him with a narrower room to operate in Ankara, if the advances towards Raqqa happen without Turkey.

Consequently, more to expect.

If Ankara is determined to pursue the same anti-Kurdish hard line, the tension is held, and the meeting in DC will define its dosage with uncertain consequences.

 

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Post-referendum Erdoğan: No mercy!

Some optimists had predicted that once Erdoğan had won the referendum, he would feel a little more relaxed, and start showing signs of softening.

How wrong they were.

These are the days Turkey is exposed an endurannce test over how far cruelty can go.

Following the referendum, party membership was once more possible for Turkish president. In an apparent haste, Erdoğan was keen on being ‘approved’ in a ceremony some days ago, and delivered his first speech as a member.

It was the same rhetoric, as loud as ever before.

Talking about those affected by the purge, he said:

”There could be those who would meet you, shedding tears. Don’t you ever show mercy for those whining! If we show mercy, we turn into those to be shown mercy!”

Meanwhile, decrees keep landing. Two new ones meant that nearly 4.000 more people were sacked. Among them, 484 academicians; which has brought the number of ‘cleansed’ scholars above 8.000, since the coup attempt. Totally, nearly 150.000 people are without a job.

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Take it for granted that the pattern of decrees is to stay, since it leaves no doubt that the dominating mindset in Ankara is for shaping a new state format, based only on employees with loyalty as the only ‘merit’ required.

Little attention is paid, though, to the toll of ‘cleansing’.

A recent report by the main opposition party, CHP, underlines that since July 20 last year – the date of the implementation of emergency rule – at least 37 people committed suicide – most of them civil servants. Only after the latest two decrees two police officers ended their lives, using – like many others – pistols provided to them by the state. Two others, who after a long time were returned to their jobs after being ‘proven’ innocent, could not get over the depression, the report says.

BBC reported about a senior teacher, Ergül Yıldız, who soon after being purged killed himself in ‘Teachers’ Day’ last November. His brother, Bekir, said that he was unable to get over being sacked. ‘His blick and movements changed. But what upset him most of all was that people were turning their faces away whenever they saw him on the street. People he knew had stopped talking to him. We felt it too, we were branded…”

Then, there are those who seem to doomed to an existence in the twilight zone. When I was going through some information on how the suspicion and fear was spreading into Anatolia as a pandemic, I have received a mail from a human rights activist who had attached a letter, with his personal note: ‘Reading this, I have felt a deep shame on my being human.’

The letter, written by the wife of a prisoner, Hacer Çakmak, was originally sent to Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu, a human rights monitor, known for his pious-moral stand. Since it summarizes the the state of agony, generated by the state of emergency in a land eclipsed by arbitrary rule, I would like to share with you parts of it:

‘My husband, Seyfullah Çakmak, a former prosecutor in the province of Kocaeli, remains in detention for 270 days as part of the investigation on FETÖ (‘Fethullahist Terror Organisation’, yb). He has been held in isolation, allowed only one hour of walk in the yard. We have three children. Two of them are disabled, confined to bed. My husband was sacked from his job; I am a housewife without any social security. We have no income, nor any immovables.

Our 18-year long marriage has been to a large extent spent in hospitals… In September 2007 I gave birth to my eldest daughter, Tugba. She was diagnosed with some form of genetic metabolic illness. Now 9 years old, she is fed through her belly, and needs care all day. Out third child, born in January 2014, stayed in a coma for a month in hospital with me. It was my detained husband who was the greatest help for me to take care of my children.

In short, part of our life is spent in hospitals, at least 40-60 days per year. My husband managed to conduct his job in between his efforts in his office, a hardworking man, admired by others. He is now in detention for ‘membership of a terror organisation and for violating the constitution. He has absolutely nothing to do with those accusations; nor is there any proof. He was never part of any group, except abiding by the rule of law. His guide was our constitution and he pays a price for it.

There is nobody here to hear my voice. Judges and prosecutors in Turkey are so frightened by being branded as FETO members that they are unable to enforce the law. ‘There is nothing we can do’ they tell me in private.’

Gergerlioğlu went deeper into his inquiry about the agony of the family. He learned from Mrs Çakmak that her husband in solitary confinement had fallen into a ‘major depression’, but despite a medical report confirming his demand, he was still kept in there.

His other appels were not responded.

His wife was left with nothing when her husband’s salary was cancelled. She received also a letter saying that her two disabled children be separated fromher and sent to a protection center, which she refused. Her appealed for a salary scheme for disabled children, to no avail.

”It’s a scandal that these children are deprived of a salary’ Gergerlioğlu wrote. ‘Is it not clear how people are isolated socially and driven to suicide?”

But, the line drawn by Erdoğan seems clear:

Show no mercy.

One of those who had listened to Erdoğan’s reinauguriation as an AKP member was Oya Baydar, a renowned author and one of the few remaining voices of conscience in Turkey.

”While listening to you, I felt a pity for you” she wrote. ”I wonder if you are aware, Mr. President, that not only are you at a loss wit this world, but also you have lost your afterlife… When I heard you speak, I realized that everything about this wave of unjust suffering, which has become so indiscriminate, so random, was happening at your very orders. It is therefore these judges and prosecutors; these courts and police forces, the gendarmerie are so ruthless because they get the directives of being unmerciful from you. It’s the reason why they don’t shy away from breaching the rights; that they so blatantly put hundreds of thousands of innocent people into the clink, having them been fired, their properties seized and devastate the lives of their wives and children.”

 

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In Malta, the European Union held the funeral of Turkey’s membership bid

According to Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Çavuşoğlu, the key meeting of the EU foreign ministers in Malta a few days ago could be summarized in five words:

‘They have realized their mistakes.’

Really?

Was the whole fuss about this?

Çavuşoğlu was very self-confident in explaining what he meant after meeting some counterparts, after a long period of spats which included him and another Turkish minister having been deported de-facto from the EU soil before the Turkish referendum.

‘They started asking me how they can repair the relations with Turkey’ he told press. ‘And I told them openly what their mistakes were. If they want to continue their relations they have to approach us in a way freed from political obstacles. They have to see Turkey as an equal partner. I saw that they realized this mistake. Now there is a positive air. If they are not since, though, it can vanish soon.’

How Çavuşoğlu’s perception of reality is a question, unless, of course, he by these words has only the domestic audience in mind.

Malta meeting ended with two key messages on Turkey.

  • The EU acknowledged that it sees referendum result as legitimate.
  • The EU made clear that the ministers agreed that the accession talks with Turkey are not to be suspended.

It was, as reported by AP:

The European Union is keeping the door ajar for Turkey to become a member, but says Ankara must provide clearer signals on whether it intends to meet the entrance criteria in such areas as human rights and rule of law. EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said that despite the doubts expressed by some foreign ministers during a meeting Friday, the EU for now favors continuing the protracted accession talks with Turkey.

“It is to them to express their willingness to continue to be a candidate country, to continue to be interested or not to join our family,” she said.

While some ministers are calling for sustained relations with a pillar of the NATO alliance and a major partner in controlling the flow of migrants into the EU from Syria and beyond, others are calling for change.

There are so many areas where we need a correct, friendly and productive cooperation that we have to see, together with our Turkish colleagues, how we can improve the situation,” EU Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn said.

At the end of the meeting, the EU put the membership ball in Erdogan’s court.

“The accession process continues. It is not suspended or ended, but as you might know, we are currently not working on opening any new negotiating chapter,” Mogherini said.

What do these messages mean?

Do they mean that the EU has ‘realized its mistakes’?

In plain English, they mean the following:

  • By acknowledging the result of the referendum as legitimate, the EU showed hastiness, not waiting for the OSCE monitors’ final report on the irregularities in the Turkish vote. And, by this acknowledgment, it shows clearly that it takes a few steps back from Erdoğan. In short, the EU leaves him alone, by withdrawing its interests; letting him deal with the hardship and challenges in Turkey, as well as with NATO. Its message to him is: ‘We know of the troubles. We do acknowledge also that further row with you helps you gain strength to our disfavour, we are not in this game.
  • By not coming to an agreement – as driven by Austria – that the accession talks are called to be suspended, the EU also sends a similar message to Erdoğan: we know that you want, for your personal political gains and survival, us to be the ones to throw in the towel. We shall not let you come in and win in the blame game, by doing what you expect us to do.
  • We do know that you know that the memberships negotiations have been on life support more or less since the end of 2013, that no tangible progress has been noted. Ever since Gezi Park protests Turkey has marked a massive regress. But, we do not want to terminate the negotiations, because of some factors.
  • Cyprus talks have stalled. Termination of talks with Turkey would spell badly for the momentum there. So, not suspending the negotiations will keep the dynamic of settlement, however tiny, alive.
  • We are aware of the vibrant oppositional dynamic in Turkey, But we are also aware how ‘slippery’ and hypocritical the main opposition is: it is unable to pose an alternative to your power. Better wait. And, we need you where the staunch authoritarian exercise is needed. You have the control to keep the refugee influx down, or in blockage. You now with the emergency rule at hand have been ecercising travel bans and passport restrictions to stop also local dissidents and underdogs from Turkey to seek asylum in the EU. You are useful to us.
  • You are also the perfect Turkish leader for many Turkoskeoptics in the EU – someone in his person symbolizes all the arguments that speak against the membership of Turkey. Half of Turkey rejects the EU norms, and you take sides with that half. We don’t approve of but fully understand your intolerance about being reminded of human rights and about democratic mindset, and together with the above, we are set to seek an alternative way to membership. We may come to terms with it by offering you something you can not refuse, namely a reform of Customs Union, enhanced free trade, a sui generis format of privileged partnership, which will liberate you, your party, your loyal supporters and, yes, us, from monitoring your administration on Copenhagen Criteria. Let us work on a new path.

These hidden messages show clearly that the EU ‘understands’, not its mistakes, but the new conditions that arose under Erdoğan, and chooses utility before values. This will be debated, but it is now the reality.

Çavuşoğlu – or anyone else – from the AKP may continue to try to sell the version that the EU realized its mistakes, but the fact is also that the EU also realized that as long as such profiles as Çavuşoğlu sit at Turkish cabinets they themselves will never realize.

The bitter truth, after Malta meeting, is clearer:

Turkey is now seen as a Central Asian republic, and will be treated as such. It will be handled with care, true; but also from a ‘distance’. At best – and that’s an optimistic assessment – its relations will look like Israeli – EU relations.

The worst part is, Turkey’s vibrant, hopeful, resistant civil society will continue to suffer.

As the EU watches.

 

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Were Turks, Kurds and the foreigners ‘guilty’ of getting Erdoğan wrong?

I have the bitter sense that we passed that despicable threshold, perhaps to a point of no return. The result of the referendum was the sealing of an autocratic rule; a stamp for legitimacy for the leader who so wished to establish it, however much the opposition claims fraud. Stamping the no man’s land of lawlessness, with the emergency rule on his side, Erdoğan has alread made it clear he will ignore all the objections: the more rational they are, the more fiercely and resolutely.

Many of us observing Turkey, who in different political colours but in honesty and hope as common denominators had hoped for a democratic order and end of suffering in Turkey, have been delivered another severe blow by a vote in PACE of Council of Europe. Turkey has become downgraded to a second league, where Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia, Bosnia and Moldova are squeezed into, whose badly deteriorated state into lawlessness is now placed to be monitored at least a year. The vote in April 25, 2017, coupled with the domestic vote in the referendum that gave President Erdoğan unchecked executive powers spells the end of Turkey as we know it.

It was the 360 degree turn of the AKP story, which has dominated the past 15 years of Turkish political scene, that in the past three-four years became the funeral march of the country’s aspirations for stability, serenity and predictability for its citizens.

So, many of us in the media (so many now in jail or in exile), in academia, think tanks and elsewhere, somewhere in the world are now left with the big question mark: Where did we get Erdoğan wrong? Was the AKP story from the very beginning a mirage, a constant stream of illusions for ist observers? Did it fool us all, at home and abroad? Or are we being too harsh on ourselves as intellectuals? Perhaps this was the story that had to happen, because there was no other civilian political counter-dynamic to stop it anyhow?

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Now that Erdoğan’s spectacular power-grab is reaching its completion with lesser and lesser obstacles, this soul-searching is inevitable. Equally expected are also some views now surfacing, after being buried for a long time, in a vindictive manner, targeting various bulks of intellectuals in Turkish society including the Kurds, and, all the Western institutions and bodies (State Department, Venice Commission, the EU Comission, the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs, European Court of Human Rights, the IMF, the World Bank, the Council of Europe etc…) accusing of them being duped, all in one package.

This is a huge package, that all got Erdoğan and the AKP totally wrong, according to those self-righteous. This type of ‘we knew it all along, better than all of you, that this would happen’ accusations are aired; ‘We told you so”, in all colour-tones of cynicism, has found a fertile ground.

I need not go further than saying that such outbursts, accusing Turkey’s reformists, liberals, leftists, Kurdish intellectuals, civil society organisations, pious Gülenist community grassroots; non-Muslim minorities – all united in a hope for some change – of such ‘apparent naivete’ exposes an urge for simplifications about Turkey, its people, its history. And, as I will explain further on – it lacks a moral compass.

Yet, we are here, in a deep swamp of authoritarianism. Part of my discussions with intellectuals at home or expats is about to detect if we were all accomplices, fellow-travellers in a journey Erdoğan at later stages took control of.

Was democracy for him a means to an end?

If so, why couldn’t we see it?

How could we all get it wrong?

Or, did we?

”For many Turks and Western analysts, the answer is straightforward: Erdogan is, and has always been, an authoritarian” wrote Steven Cook, one of the most astute Turkey observers in the USA, in Washington Post.

And, he went on to express what I also wholeheartedly believe:

”For all its appeal, though, the claim is a little too neat and fails to account for the messy contingencies of politics, missed opportunities and competing worldviews. It is impossible to know what is in people’s hearts and minds, but Turkey’s return to one-man rule may be as much about the dynamic interaction of the country’s domestic political struggles, the choices that Europeans have made, those that Americans did not make and, yes, Erdogan’s worldview.”

Cook reminds the readers that Erdoğan had overseen several rounds of political reforms, strengthened the freedom of the press, did away with the state security courts, changed the penal code. For these he had a staunch backing of key AKP figures such as Abdullah Gül and Ali Babacan, both globalists and reformists.

But there was a counter-dynamic, a non-civilian one: reconciling with the dark past of Turkey, diminishing the dominant role of the military in politics, and pushing for real justice for the oppressed threatened the old order. Encouraged by the Greek Cypriot rejection of the unification of Cyprus, these forces launched a series of moves to cripple the AKP rule, as exemplified by coup-plots revealed by the independent press, an e-memorandum, and a closure case against the AKP, in 2008.

Cook concluded in his article:

”These episodes amounted to victories for Erdogan, but they convinced him that Turkey’s elites would never rest until the AKP was brought low. That helps explain why, in the years that followed, he reined in the military, used state organizations such as the tax authority to intimidate unfriendly members of Turkey’s traditional establishment, and transformed the country’s once-freewheeling but decidedly flawed press into a virtual ministry of information.”

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In a new documentary about Erdoğan, titled L’Ivresse du Pouvoir‘ (by Guillaume Perrier and Gilles Cayatte) one of the founding fathers of the AKP, Kurdish ‘elder’ politician Dengir Mir Mehmet Fırat, explains ‘from inside’ in a similar manner that the conditions brought out the worst out of Erdoğan: the more lonely he became at the top, the more despotic he evolved to be.

Turkish reality is far too opaque and complicated to be boxed in.

True, there were many – especially in Kemalist/UltraSecular flank – who stricly disbelieved the sincerity of Erdoğan, often ignoring the civilian base his party initially represented. For the others, including myself, this categorical rejection posed a lack of moral stand. The English proverb came in handy for those who gave an elected party benefit of the doubt: ‘The proof of the pudding is in the eating.’ Any honest intellectual was obliged to give the AKP credit.

And they did. Each and every one wrote a check, – let’s say – with different amount of moral investment. And, as Erdoğan started showing a change of attitude, each and every intellectual stepped out, in his/her defined deadline – often by noting an event which had them say ‘enough, my credit line is over.’

The point I noted an end to AKP’s reform policies was when Erdoğan in January 2011 had visited Kars, and seeing a huge ‘statue of friendship’ at the Turkish-Armenian border, by the master sculptor, Mehmet Aksoy, had ordered it to be demolished. He called it a ‘freak statue’ and was obeyed rapidly. The obedience was a symbolic act that, I thought, marked a path towards poisonous autucracy.

I don’t believe that there was a hidden agenda from the beginning. The secular opposition failed to reform itself, while the EU – led by Merkel – lacked a lucid long-term membership strategy for Turkey; it let Cyprus hijack reformists’ aspirations for a strong eastern front, including Armenia, and the cunning ‘old establishment’ managed to dig holes to reclaim shares of Erdoğan’s powers, with success; as the post-coup Turkey shows.

‘We told you so!’ side misses the point that everyone analysing Turkey including themselves had a political agenda. No part can ever claim a moral upper hand over the other.

Could Venice Commission have missed the broad perspective on democratic constitution for Turkey? Hardly.

Were all the EU Progress Reports filled with lies?

No.

Should Turkey’s millions of Kurds not back the Peace Process, refusing to believe Erdoğan?

Of course they wouldn’t.

Put together, the blame that all outsiders who invested political credit for Erdoğan were a bunch of fools, therefore, translates into an insult for social groups at home and decision makers abroad.

Most of them, be them individuals or institutions, did their best. I have no doubt about it.

The core point, after all, is, that all this perhaps had to happen. Now is the time for conclusions much farther reaching that ‘we told you so’ slogans: the AKP story confirmed, as a field study, in bold letters, that political Islam and democracy are not compatible, and a new democratic alternative must be shaped to overturn it.

After all, ‘we told you so!’ is nothing but a disguised expression of desire to turn back to ancien regime, to remain in it, is it not?

 

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‘Back to square one’: what downgrading of Turkey by PACE means for its relations

So, in a move that came as no surprise, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) has voted to reopen a monitoring procedure against Turkey.


It means a downgrading of the country’s status, in a way ‘moving it down to the second league’, after 13 years.

(Turkey was ‘lifted away’ from the monitoring procedure 13 years ago and entered the post-monitoring phase. It has now become the first country in respect of which the monitoring procedure was re-opened.)

A most remarkable development in PACE vote was that the Turkish MP’s of the main opposition party, CHP, who had raised constant criticism at home against the ruling AKP, voted together with the latter, for rejection of the downgrading. By doing so, they have sent a message that they are also ‘against’ a legal and political monitoring of the collapse of institutions and breach of human rights.

This schizoid attitude has raised eyebrows in the Socialist groups in Europe, as well as parts of the anti-AKP camp in Turkey.

”CHP could have abstained, and it would have been understandable” told a western diplomat (who wanted to remain anonymous because of his position) to me and went on:

”Its disgraceful act to side with the breachers of basic human rights not only increase doubts among observers about its sincerity, but also all those in democratic members who had been skeptical found a new pretext for their saying: Bonne pour l’Orient.”

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Today’s vote, with 113 votes in favor and 45 against, came as a result of international tension, following the introduction of the Emergency Rule after the botched coup, last summer, wide-scale purge and much debated April 16 referendum which critics say brought Turkey into an autocratic rule.

So, if the April 16 referendum marked a full reversal of Turkey from its path to democracy, April 25 vote in PACE underlines that the reform process which was launched 13 years ago with the upgrading of its status within CoE, to pave way for EU membership negotiations, is formally over.

With the escalating deterioration of its relations with the western political and legal system, Turkey is now set on a course on which its crisis will be projected much more powerfully.

Its negotiating partner status to be discussed is next, possibly at the end of this month in Malta, where EU members like Austria, Belgium and Cyprus will demand suspension of the accession process.

Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn yesterday (24 April) urged the member states to reconsider what kind of relationship the EU should have with Turkey, ahead of a foreign ministers meeting in Malta on Friday (28 April).

At best, Turkey’s relations with the EU face a downgrade simply to trade.

Earlier today at PACE, the co-rapporteurs of the monitoring committee had recommended that the assembly “re-open the monitoring procedure in respect of Turkey until its concerns are addressed in a satisfactory manner.”

During the in-depth discussion, some members of the Assembly proposed additions and amendments for the report, but none of them were approved. Hence, the provision on re-opening the monitoring procedure in respect to Turkey remained.

Ingebjørg Godskesen and Marianne Mikko’s report titled The functioning of democratic institutions in Turkey called on Ankara to lift its state of emergency and release the many politicians and journalists arrested in the wake of the failed coup in July 2016. The text expressed serious concerns about the constitutional amendments that passed in Turkey’s 16 April referendum.

While the report acknowledges the difficulties posed in the aftermath of the coup attempt and by the ongoing terrorist threats, it also criticises Turkey for “a serious deterioration of the functioning of democratic institutions”.

Since July 15 last year, CoE rapporteurs issued at several warning texts, studies of human rights breaches and collapse of the rule of law.

One report focused sharply on the attacks against the media, while Venice Commission scrutinized the referendum with a caution that it would demolish the remnants of the democratic structures in the country.

For months now, extensions of the Emergency Rule and issuing of decrees has increased the tension, raising concerns within both CoE and the European Parliament. A solid front was established to have the measures lifted, purges stopped and jailed dissidents – especially journalists – released from prison.

Amnesty International said that the Council decision “sends a clear and powerful message that Turkey must end its crackdown on human rights”. The human rights group added that it “has made it clear to the authorities that human rights cannot be trampled underfoot without scrutiny and, ultimately, consequences”.

Yet, it was met with concern that, given Erdoğan’s temperamental outbursts, and measures helped by Emergency Rule, there will be furher consequences in Turkey. Erdoğan had for months expressed desire for reintroducing the death penalty, refusing to release of dissidents – including 13 members of pro-Kurdish HDP party – from prisons, and repeated that it was up to Europe to cut off all ties. ‘We are set to go our way, regardless’ he said.

His outbursts against Germany and Netherlands with remarks as ‘Nazis’ alienated also large bulks of the European political blocs which had remained behind Turkish accession and Turkey as of today seems more lonely and adrift than ever before.

Before the PACE vote, the clash of political cultures and abstinacy of the AKP delegation was apparent.

Until the very last moment the AKP members pushed for amendments to water down the crtitique and have Gulen Movement acknowledged as terrorist organisation. They were rejected. The anger will project even more sharply over the upper echelons of the AKO from now on.

After today’s vote, the Turkish foreign ministry said in a statement that it “strongly condemns this unjust decision of PACE taken with political motives in contravention to the established procedures”.

(The ministry is headed by Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu who, ironically, was PACE president between 2010 and 2012.)

The ministry also warned that the decision, which “will serve terror organisations”, “leaves no choice to Turkey but to reconsider its relations with PACE”. Turkey was one of the first countries to join the Council of Europe when it was established in 1949.

Yet there is no reason Ankara will dare go any further to quit CoE.

It is apparent that the ‘tense coexistence’ which defines f ex Azerbaijan’s relations with CoE will be seen as a model. This will be a fact even if Turkey reintroduces capital punishment. There are some members of CoE that have it.

The real issue is, how the vote will reflect on

  • The decision making processes on Turkey’s accession on whether or not it will have to be discontinued now that it has fallen radically behind the Copenhagen Criteria,
  • How the behaviour of the main opposition party, CHP, will be any longer demand any credible stand against the AKP, now that it has voted together with the AKP.

In a nutshell, another tragic day for Turkey, and, without a doubt, deepening crisis.

What fades its democratic dreams is the lack of a comprehesive, credible opposition at the center.

 

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Why the odds are not on the opposition’s side in post-referendum Turkey

The brawl that erupted after the referendum will not easily go away. So, as predicted, post-referendum Turkey is now dragged into a deeper crisis.

‘No’ camp had dreaded secretly that if ‘yes’ side had won with a big margin – say, 55 % or more – it would have fallen into a sucidial mood, but when the close call was darkly overshadowed by what the opposition strongly believes was polluted by vote rigging let loose fresh energy.

Streets and squares now look as attractive as before, for those who disagree with the ‘path to tyranny’ Erdoğan relentlessly drags the country onto.

The rift that has developed between the opposition and the international observers from OSCE and CoE at one side, and Erdoğan and tightly controlled judicial bodies – High Electoral Council and the Constitutional Court – at the other, seems to have made the machinary of lies and treachery even more exposed for the opposition at work.

‘No’ camp woke up in April 17 with even more fear and loathing for the power they disagree with.

But at the moment it is only a tumult, nothing else. It can develop in any way imaginable. It can snowball into something that resembles a wave of resistance as in Venezuela. Also, as we have seen before in Turkey, be postponed or vanish.

This is an ever more critical time in Turkey as to what opposition will or may do matters more than anything. As soon as I was clear on the ‘official’ result, I had no longer any doubt on what Erdoğan and the AKP would do next.

Forget about ‘he has become weaker’ theories, or ‘pyrrhic victory’ claims. Erdoğan may not have won big, but he hasn’t lost. Those statements are filled with wishful thinking, does not match with the reality. Erdoğan had come out even weaker in elections in June 7, 2015. But, it took him only four months to shift it into a ‘repeat elections’, in November 1, 2015, he emerged even stronger than ever before. Just like that.

And now, he has what he didn’t then: Emergency Rule – which he extended immediately the day after the referendum -, power to issue further decrees at will, and nearly full control over the military. He is now heading with full speed to the crowning moment of his adventure. He plans to win the presidential elections in August 2019, and declare the mission as accomplished, in terms of irreversible regime change.

This is clear.

But what about the opposition? Can it still turn the tide?

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From the ‘day after’ I focused on the choreography of this deeply fragmented ‘no’ bloc. It was remarkable what this ‘blessed mixture’ had achieved, despite the absence of diverse and independent media, and public harrassment, often physical. But to display a jointly succesful resistance by the result was one thing, and meeting the defiance of Erdoğan afterwards – who ridiculed the cries of vote fraud with ‘don’t beat the air, ot’s too late already’ statement – was another.

In the past days I sensed a lot of despair, especially from the young Turks. They mostly agreed with what I thought: Turkey as we know was over, and it had waved goodbye to democratic dreams.

This is a real and lasting sentiment and nothing wrong with that, because it expresses a sense of being adrift; of not having a real, concrete alternative in political landscape.

Who could blame them?

Then, in between my talks, I saw some interviews done by CNN International with some urban youngsters. There, I learned something that I had wondered about for a while.

One of them, called Yasin, commenting on the result, said: ‘

“We’re in a strange position where we haven’t reached the boiling point quite yet.” The other one was a girl, called Merve, who added:

“I don’t think that people will continue to be silent against this high-pressure environment — the oppressed will find the power in themselves again. But this time we will be moving slower and more calmly because of the experience we gained during and after the (Gezi) protests. Of course now our motivation and energy has taken a blow. But instead of going out to the streets right now, we have to find ways to renew ourselves and come together — to give each other hope. We do feel oppressed right now but we know that we have to move strategically as well.”

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While the secular urban youth seem to have its senses of ‘being sentenced to live on a political no man’s land’ with broken illusions, both the Kemalist main opposition, CHP and some parts of the Turkish left seemed once more stuck in legalism, as if they were tying all their hopes that the referendum would be annulled by the judiciary.

It was remarkable that the main bulk of the secular-left still maintained such false illusions that there ought to be a rule of law in Turkey. For example, Erdoğan’s words about Die Welt correspondent Deniz Yücel, that ‘this terrorist will never be sent to Germany, as long as I sit at this post’ had apparently not left a trace in their minds.

They suffered a memory loss, to the extent that they had forgotten how defiant Erdoğan to the constitutional order had been: when he was elected president in August 2014, he had blatantly refused to resign from prime minister’s post and from chairmanship of his party, although he was obliged to.

They had forgotten that when in those days Erdoğan was asked by a trembling reporter in late August whether or not he ‘would consider’ resigning, he had said, ‘What resign? Everybıdy go mind their own business!’ and walked away. CHP had then screamed the place down on ‘foul’ but its – justified – complaint was rejected bluntly by the Constitutional Court. From that day on, until April 16, Erdoğan continued as he pleased, by breaching the constitution umpteen times, ignoring and ridiculing the main opposition.

CHP is now again at the top court’s door, handing in a new complaint. But, given the post-coup atmosphere, emergency rule and the massive purge within the judiciary, it is even more unlikely that the referendum is annulled. To others in the opposition, CHP’s obsessive and narrow-minded legalism works as limiting its possibilities to mobilize a more efficient, democratic resistance and delaying the aspirations that the only thing that can defeat Erdoğanism is a united opposition.

CHP’s critics in the left, many of them Kurds, have a strong point in that the CHP played an important role in making the referendum happen in the first place. It could have refused to play a game whose rules were set by Erdoğan, and reject participating in the joint parliamentary commission which prepared the draft amendments on such a regime change, they say.

CHP knew it would be a minority in that commission, and its resistance was easily crushed by the Islamist-Nationalist bloc built by the AKP and MHP. The only contribution CHP had was to give the entire process a legitimacy. It lost, and its efforts to have the AKP-controlled state admit fraud was in vain.

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What if a ‘miracle’ happens and the referendum is annulled?

Here, it can be as some cynics say: a repeat referendum can because of fear of the pious masses end up with a bigger ‘yes’.

Very likely indeed.

With the pro-Kurdish HDP facing jail and even closure, what will the CHP do? One possibility to challenge what it claims a ‘hijack of vote’ would be to resign en masse from parliament, paralyse the political process, force new elections by meeting a crisis policy with another one. But this option seems prevented by CHP’s well-known political conformism.

Meanwhile, the pressure cooker called Turkey will go on boiling. The deeper the crisis, the more painful it will be.

 

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Referendum moment: Will Turkey say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to Erdoğan’s power grab?

That the race in Turkey’s existential referendum is neck and neck is in itself self-explanatory. A nation sharply divided by half, not simply in civilized disagreement, but turned against each other in mistrust, enmity, vengeance.

A day before the country’s nearly 55 million voters go to the polls, it stands clear Turkey is at a point to plunge into a deeper crisis from Monday on, no matter what the outcome.

Fate of the nation is on razor’s edge, as reliable polls point out a narrow gap that varies between 49-51 % either way. As of Thursday there was still around 5 % undecided voters, and the historic record of a late ‘yes’ turnout make the AKP side hopeful. On the other hand, the higher the turnout, the more chances for the ‘no’ camp is noted.

Erdoğan went this time with full force, determined on victory, by emphasizing stability and security. His rhetoric has done a strong job on playing onto public fear of a return to a past filled with poverty. He underlined continuity in public services and it is clear he is seen, like Putin, as a symbol for national pride. It is with those notions that he injects he seems to be mobilizing a mass support.

As a case of extreme populist, Erdoğan has known that merging Islamism with militarism under the banner ‘Turko-Islamic Synthesis’ would be a winning formula for his hypnotized masses, and his intense efforts in that direction since mid-2015 bore fruit.

He prepared the ground for autocracy when he masterfully transformed the murky coup attempt last summer into a contra-golpe, with an immense purge and oppression as a result. It is apparent that, with the State of Emergency in place, he sees the ground ripe for a ful-scale power grab.

In that context, those observers who draw comparisons between the 1934 German referendum – following the Reichstag fire a year before – and Turkey’s upcoming one, do seem to have a valid point.

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‘No’ camp, irreparably fragmented because of rigid, obsessive and obstinate identity politics within itself – it is composed of Secular-Centrists, Kemalists, Kurds, Alevis leftists, Gülenists and some disgruntled ultra-nationalist Turks – has campaigned in separate ways, but with only one point in common.

They were united in deep fear that a one-man rule will turn Turkey into a Central Asian republic with strong Baathist and Ottomanist ingredients, where Erdoğan will be the untouchable supreme ruler who will treat all who are not in support for his autocratic model as pariahs, and display no respect for rule of law and human rights. It is this post-coup ‘new Turkey’ as envisioned by him that is perceived as a nightmare.

‘If you don’t say no this time; nobody anymore will ask you anything’ a slogan by the no campaign went.

‘You will be asked if you are an idiot or not. All you have to do is to answer yes or no!’ was another call, circulating in social media.

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But, regardless the outcome on Sunday, Turkey will see its crisis, profound and existential, become even more complicated.

By a ‘crisis politics’ based on steady polarisation, Erdoğan managed to bring the worst out of the people, and in a deeper sense, he wants a majority to say yes to a rule heavily stained with corruption, to absence of justice and to a police state constructed on its rotten institutions.

So, this vote will be about an approval of ‘mobocracy’, or not.

Yet, the result will make a little difference. If the majority votes yes, Erdoğan will have a carte-blanche to rule for another 14 years, remain unaccountable and claim legitimacy before the western allies who, after all, may see more ‘benefits’ under him than otherwise. Meanwhile, with the separation of powers and rule of law vanishing, Erdoğan will continue to complete his autocratic architecture towards a ‘dynasty format’.

If the majority votes no, turbulence will be imminent. The ruling party, AKP, will use its powers to extend the State of Emergency to control the power, while Erdoğan will feel obliged to tighten his grip even further to repress a possible rebellion inside the party, and raise the pressure for all the opposition groups – topped by the Kurds – who will feel emboldened to challenge his power.

In this sense, a ‘no’ victory will light up a tiny flicker of hope for a return to democratic order; it will only help win some more time.

 

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