‘Autumn of the Patriarch’ approaching

History, with all the dynamics inherent and inevitable, runs it own course. What sometimes happens here and there is summarized in the Turkish proverb, “You can tell the coming of Thursday from Wednesday.”

 We are now faced with an almost clear-cut case — that Erdoğan is to be elected as president of Turkey. What such an outcome suggests is only a long series of concerns, including a farewell to all the dreams held for a transition to democracy.
It is, then, time to return to late Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s famous novel, whose title I used for this column. For those who have not had the chance to read it, here is a description by Wikipedia:
“A universal story of the disastrous effects created by the concentration of power into a single man, one of the book’s most striking aspects is its focus on the God-like status held by the protagonist and the unfathomable awe and respect with which his people regard him. Dictators and strongmen managed to hold sway over the populations of their nations despite internal political division. García Márquez mocks the practice of the overspending of their families and cronies. A frighteningly accurate portrait is drawn of the intelligence director who soon directs the general’s every move and constructs an apparatus of terror and political repression.”

Whereas his book tells of the late stages of a lonely autocrat in a Latin American country, what is striking is the different meaning of the word “autumn” linked with Turkey: Following August, the country is bound to face a new phase in politics, turning into an interesting stage where we will witness an attempt to enforce a regime change, deviating even further from whatever is left of its democracy.

It would not be an exaggeration to prepare for the coming autumn as Erdoğan’s — if he wins as predicted — test season of a Turkish “autogolpe” (auto-coup).
Autogolpe? The word that may have inspired Garcia Marquez for this theme is “a form of putsch in which a nation’s leader, despite having come to power through legal means, dissolves or renders powerless the national legislature, establishes defiance to the judiciary and unlawfully assumes extraordinary powers, not granted under normal circumstances.”
Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines, Alberto Fujimori of Peru, Vladimir Putin of Russia come to mind.
As Turkey’s domestic forces of democracy and circles for reform watch helplessly, Erdoğan is now setting the stage for a similar experiment, not by dissolving Parliament, perhaps, but by reconstructing a subordinate judiciary, enforcing a submissive media and strongly hinting at a de-facto position as head of the executive, challenging the Constitution beyond its limits to sideline an elected prime minister. If successful, this attempt will end up as a massive power grab.
Turkey as of today is adrift on the arbitrariness of powers. Its already-weak, inefficient judiciary is on the verge of throwing in the towel. It has been a stage for breaches of fundamental rights (of expression, of assembly).
Accountability of the government has been reduced to zero. Enforcement of law in key court cases has been more or less suspended. Nobody has any idea whether or not four ex-ministers accused of corruption will face any serious investigation.
Erdoğan’s repeated breaches of the Constitution in the past six months remain unaddressed. Critical trials such as Sledgehammer, Ergenekon, the so-called Zirve massacre (of Christian missionaries), assassination of Hrant Dink, etc., now risk collapse because of the contagion effect of disrespect for the rule of law, and defiance for its enforcement is now spreading everywhere. It is completely unclear what kind of impact the enhancement of operational powers given to Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MİT) will be.
The rhetoric of Erdoğan when accepting the nomination for the presidential race suggested a new era, with an endless stream of references to religion, and a blind flight towards majoritarianism despite the lessons to be learned from Egypt.
This hints at an existential choice: an exclusive “İhvanization” of Turkey, which will mean the construction of a new social hierarchy. If so, prepare for a painful roller coaster, and a farewell to European values, perhaps forever.

To read my full column, click here.


About yavuzbaydar

Yavuz Baydar has been an award-winning Turkish journalist, whose professional activity spans nearly four decades. In December 2013, Baydar co-founded the independent media platform, P24, Punto24, to monitor the media sector of Turkey, as well as organizing surveys, and training workshops. Baydar wrote opinion columns, in Turkish, liberal daily Ozgur Dusunce and news site Haberdar, and in English, daily Today's Zaman, on domestic and foreign policy issues related to Turkey, and media matters, until all had to cease publications due to growing political oppression. Currently, he writes regular chronicles for Die Süddeutsche Zeitung, and opinion columns for the Arab Weekly, as well as analysis for Index on Censorship. Baydar blogs with the Huffington Post, sharing his his analysis and views on Turkish politics, the Middle East, Balkans, Europe, U.S-Turkish relations, human rights, free speech, press freedom, history, etc. His opinion articles appeared at the New York Times, the Guardian, El Pais, Svenska Dagbladet, and Al Jazeera English online. Turkey’s first news ombudsman, beginning at Milliyet daily in 1999, Baydar worked in the same role as reader representative until 2014. His work included reader complaints with content, and commentary on media ethics. Working in a tough professional climate had its costs: he was twice forced to leave his job, after his self-critical columns on journalistic flaws and fabricated news stories. Baydar worked as producer and news presenter in Swedish Radio &TV Corp. (SR) Stockholm, Sweden between 1979-1991; as correspondent for Scandinavia and Baltics for Turkish daily Cumhuriyet between 1980-1992, and the BBC World Service, in early 1990's. Returning to Turkey in 1994, he worked as reporter and ediytor for various outlets in print, as well as hosting debate porogrammes in public and private TV channels. Baydar studied informatics, cybernetics and, later, had his journalism ediucatiob in the University of Stockholm. Baydar served as president of the U.S. based International Organizaton of News Ombudsmen (ONO) in 2003. He was a Knight-Wallace Fellow at University of Michigan in 2004. Baydar was given the Special Award of the European Press Prize (EPP), for 'excellence in journalism', along with the Guardian and Der Spiegel in 2014. He won the Umbria Journalism Award in March 2014 and Caravella/Mare Nostrum Prize in 2015; both in Italy. Baydar completed an extensive research on self-censorship, corruption in media, and growing threats over journalism in Turkey as a Shorenstein Fellow at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.
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