Turkey’s annus horribilis

What a vicious circle Turkey’s story has been. While writing this column — the last one of this year — I first came to think of the event which apparently was the harbinger of the downward spiral to come: the bombing of 34 Kurdish villagers in the border village of Uludere/Roboski.

Nothing, absolutely nothing, in the name of accountability for the powers responsible or in the name of justice has taken place in the three years following what looks like a massacre of innocent civilians.

Nineteen of those killed were teenagers — under 18 — and what is left is the deepest pain any mother could ever feel, and a sense of hatred for the lack of conscience among those who rule.

The tragedy is one of those major episodes that help us explain and understand why Turkey has turned into a land of broken dreams in the past three years.

It highlights a social process in reverse, one in which the people are somewhat doomed to live with immense doubt and sharp mistrust of one another, and now, at the end of 2014, deprived of whatever remained of illusions about a common destiny and a sense of unity in democratic harmony.

If the year 2014 nears its very end with the same tensions and bloodshed in the predominantly Kurdish southeastern provinces, now with different Kurdish political groups (probably pushed at) each other’s throats, go back and read about the Roboski events as a manual of what’s next.

Also, as strongly advised by yours truly, abandon all illusions about a “happy ending” with the so-called “peace process.” Perish all thoughts that the process in itself will by any means count as a measurement of how advanced Turkey’s democracy will be.

After three years of total indifference to basic human suffering, the so-called “Kurdish process” should only be read as another chapter of self-delusion and deceit, feeding the mutilation of a society that 12 years ago had hoped for a decently written, new social contract that would guarantee equal rights and freedoms to all.

Two aspects of Uludere/Roboski then snowballed into powerful harbingers:

It was already known that the government had made the Turkish media submissive by the end of 2011, setting a pattern of self-censorship and compliance with power.

It — as I mentioned — revived the oppressive reflexes of the state in such a way that Turkey’s notorious, hate-mongering culture of impunity, God help us, was not abandoned, but on the contrary, was nurtured.

So, what we witnessed during the Gezi protests and two massive graft probes would only help confirm for us that the Justice and Development Party (AKP) leadership no longer had anything to do with the normalization of Turkey: All it aspired to — under the “Erdoğan doctrine” — was a “new order” that meant that the new elite of the AKP would embrace the values of an oppressive regime the party had emerged to demolish.

This is what makes 2014 an annus horribilis for Turkey.

We are all very close to a point of no return: Turkey at the end of this horrible year is a country run by a mindset that defies sound reason, invites evil patterns, incites hatred and is set to crush all civilian dissent, however peaceful.

The upcoming elections next June — or earlier — will most probably put the final nail in the coffin of democratic ideals. The year 2014 showed us that two key estates in any democracy-building process, the media and the judiciary, face extinction.

In 2014 we saw on a day-by-day basis how the Constitution was suspended, how the independent segments of the judiciary were intimidated and invaded by the political power, and how the media — particularly the influential medium of TV — was cunningly taken under the control of a single ruler. New courts reminiscent of the era of former Soviet leader Josef Stalin were introduced along with draconian laws, escalating the politicization of law enforcement.

We have seen mass firings of journalists. We witnessed how the national broadcaster, the Turkish Radio and Television Corporation (TRT), was turned into a mouthpiece of power as never seen before. We are now left with the Cumhuriyet, Zaman, Bugün, Taraf and Birgün dailies; Bugün TV and STV; and a tiny number of online news sites as the handful of outlets still reporting news.

The year 2015 will come to mark the end of the independent judiciary and the media.

Once that is accomplished, all you will be left with will be a ruthless autocracy.

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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