It’s Turkey’s very ‘elite’ that’s the significant part of the problem

Is Turkey’s elite part of the problem, or the solution?

This one is, definitely, part of the big question we are facing about the case of Turkey.

It’s the one I’ve had time to think about, even more than before these dark days, watching all our aspirations on democracy drifting away with accelerating speed.

My colleague, Sevgi Akarçeşme, who brifely served as the chief editor of Today’s Zaman until it was brutally seized and shut down by Turkish authorities, raises this question powefully, as she tells her personal ordeal in Europe recenty.

Weeks before the coup attempt, Akarçeşme left Turkey in rage, and in disillusion, when she witnessed a police raid at her newspaper.

She found shelter in Belgium, and had decided to continue her path as a fellow at a university in the USA.

”On July 27, just minutes before my flight from Brussels to Newark was due to take off, a United Airlines staff member approached and asked me to leave the plane” she tells in an article published by the New York Times.

Here is what happened:

I felt humiliated by the unspoken assumptions of nearby passengers, but I was not shocked: I knew that Turkey was canceling people’s passports to punish those it regarded as critics of its increasingly authoritarian government.

Back in March, the government seized control of the English-language newspaper Today’s Zaman, of which I was the editor in chief. I had fled Istanbul, my hometown, to avoid frepercussions, but the state was not satisfied with forcing journalists like me into exile.”

With my plans to work as a visiting fellow at the City University of New York seemingly in ruins, I couldn’t help shedding tears as I was escorted to the airport police station. I discovered there that my passport had been revoked two days earlier, making me one of more than 50,000 Turkish citizens who had their travel documents canceled as part of the purge that followed the attempted coup on July 15.

A few hours before my flight, I’d awakened to a message from a neighbor in Istanbul that the police had raided my apartment. Given the arrests of colleagues trapped in Turkey, I’d known that this was a matter of when, rather than if. A warrant for my detention was issued the same day. My neighbor in Istanbul was extremely nervous and asked me to delete all our messages.”

The police confiscated a couple of books, I later learned, one of which was in English and had a cover photo that featured the word “coup.” These days, in Turkey, that’s enough “evidence” to get you arrested and accused of terrorist activity.

The coup attempt was despicable and, despite the huge dragnet of arrests, has not been properly investigated — yet within hours, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called it “a gift of God.” No wonder: It gave him a perfect pretext to root out anyone not completely loyal to him.

Turkey now seems to me on an irreversible path toward dictatorship.

The social climate was polluted by the introduction on ‘domestic enemies’, in which the chief blame was put on Gülen Movement, declared in official language as the ‘mother of all evil’ over what’s happening in the country. (Soon afterwards, the target was coupled by the addition of the pro-Kurdish party HDP, and its sympathizers, voters, so on.)

Akarçeşme complains, rightfully, about the destructive effects of the climate, where flock mentality helped cause havoc and internal enmity in society.

‘Politicians from across the spectrum jumped on the bandwagon to label the movement the Fethullah Terrorist Organization, or FETO, despite the absence of any credible proof of terrorist activity’ she writes and comes to the point:

They were joined by numerous commentators and newspaper columnists, even self-described liberals, who uncritically adopted and legitimized this evidence-less label.

We expect despots to create enemies, foreign and domestic, in order to rally the nation behind them. But what to say about Turkey’s craven elites? On Sept. 1, senior judges gave Mr. Erdogan a standing ovation at his lavish palace as the president confirmed himself as the head of the legislature, the executive and the judiciary. Turkey is a society of black and white; there are no shades of gray. Intellectuals are not immune from this dichotomy. In such a climate, genuine democrats — already in short supply — can barely make themselves heard.

This selective application of democratic rights by Turkey’s intelligentsia only helps Mr. Erdogan consolidate his power. In their double standards, he finds tacit approval for his purges. Turkey lacks not only sturdy institutions that guarantee a system of checks and balances and the rule of law, but also a critical mass of citizens with the courage and integrity to demand them. I look on at my homeland and the failure of Turkey’s intelligentsia, I find it hard not to despair.


Rather than the limited scope of intelligentsia as she describes it, it’s the the elite of Turkey, in a broader sense, which encompasses also major business circles, bureaucracy and even members of bar associations that have contributed to the problem.

When the country was clearly facing a one-party domination, they did almost nothing to push for an alternative, that could challenge the AKP during its rule over 14 years; and create a reasonable symmetry in the political stage.

All this elite did was to sit back, partly in fear, partly in apathy, partly in cynicism, and watch scheme towards autocratic rule develop.

The elite itself was part of the acrimonius polarisation, and it still remains so.


One explanation is the ‘fear of the state’, which has taken root in the DNA of this timid elite. For decades it has been fiercely dependent to the mercy of the state institutions and leaders – earlier, the military; now, the AKP – who ran them stiffly.

Another aspect is the ‘well-offness’ of this segment. It is well-heeled, in other words, and simply does not bother.

Thus, the absence of civilian courage; a collective indifference, which makes the conditions even worse.


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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