Wherever he touches ground, Erdoğan makes sure he leaves traces that speak clearly of his unstoppable march towards absolute power. In between his referendum victory and regaining full control over his party, he kept busy touring the world, meeting the leaders of Russia, China, India and the USA, with the sole purpose of guaranteeing legitimacy, after a vote whose validity was questioned.
The tour was, in that context, full success, with its cycle to be closed by the photo ops with full of smiles in the NATO and EU meetings. There was one slight glitch, though, the one with his security detail beating the hell out of some Kurdish and Yezidi demonstrators, shouting only anti-Erdoğan slogans, outside the the Turkish Embassy residence in Washington.
It was for the first time in the modern US history a foreign delegation was involved in teaching a ‘physical lesson’ to those publicly disagreeing with the policies of its leader. Blood was spilled, faces were smashed, Congress was up on arms and an investigation underway. But, given the global conjuncture, the incident promises to be a mere parenthesis in history; just like those incidents in Germany and Netherlands, again with Erdogan at its epicenter, not long ago.
”Where were we?”
With this question Erdoğan had begun, last Sunday, yet another speech of victory, to the wild cheer of crowds, with their eyes and ears fixed to him. It was shortly after he had easily sealed a return to his party, AKP, as a leader, once more. He had seen to it that Turkey from April 16 on would be run by a president with party affiliation. For the outside world it was just a formality: he had never let it out of control, made it only ‘de jure’.
The tragic part, of course, is the developing story with the growing torment in Turkish soil, which gives the observers, like me, a bitter sense of total despair. This has to do with the ‘carte blanche’ the ‘leader’ and his ruling party takes for granted, since no democratic counter-dynamic at home or among allies exist anymore.
Take the examples of Nuriye Gülmen and Serdar Özakça, whose 75 days long hunger strike had caused some impact – a campaign for solidarity and a debate on the ‘morale’ of such action.
Some days ago, ‘carte blanche’ was implemented as I feared: they were brutally arrested in the middle of the night, taken from their homes; soon after they were sent to pre-trial detention with the motive ‘if not detained these two by the hunger strike would continue to obstruct justice..’
Yes. And don’t ask me, you figure out the logic behind it, to decide if this is not an exercise of pure fascism, then what is. Most likely that these two will be subjected to forced feed, and that will be all.
But the hunger is already forced to hundreds of thousands who have lost their jobs. Using ‘divisive terror’ (PKK) and ‘FETÖ’ (Gülen Movement) as some sort of ‘master keys’, the figure of those ‘cleansed’ from public sector has reached – according to the latest figures by Justice Minister, Bekir Bozdağ – 150.000. Of those 48.636 people are in detention, including 166 generals and more than 6.000 officers. Countless others, civil servants are left to struggle in daily life.
What’s brewing is a tragedy.
“They don’t allow us to leave the country, they don’t allow us to work…what do they want me to do?” One of those interviewed, in a most recent, striking report prepared by Amnesty International (AI), summarizes the dilemma, the agony, of the new ‘pariahs’ in Turkey.
Titled, No end in sight: Purged public sector workers denied a future in Turkey finds that tens of thousands of people including doctors, police officers, teachers, academics and soldiers, branded as ‘terrorists’ and banned from public service, are now struggling to make ends meet.
“The shockwaves of Turkey’s post-coup attempt crackdown continue to devastate the lives of a vast number of people who have not only lost their jobs but have had their professional and families lives shattered. Tainted as ‘terrorists’ and stripped of their livelihoods, a large swathe of people in Turkey are no longer able to continue in their careers and have had alternative employment opportunities blocked” Andrew Gardner, AI’s researcher on Turkey said in the report. He called it ‘professional annihilation.”
Interviewees all described how in the absence of other means of support including social security benefits, they were forced to live off their savings, rely on support from friends or family, take jobs in the irregular economy, or scrape by on small handouts from their trade unions. Many dismissed workers are forbidden to work privately in professions regulated by the state, such as law and teaching.
Dismissed public sector workers have had their passports cancelled removing the possibility of working overseas and thereby severely restricting their job opportunities still further. One former local government employee told Amnesty International: “If anyone wants to erase you from the institution, they just give your name as a Gülenist…”
The figure of ‘cleansed’ from the academia has approached 8.500. This one is a resistant segment, surely. And through their exposure, we learn how the suffering of one part leads to a pattern of opportunism and apathy of the other. Florian Bieber, renowned Professor of Southeastern Studies at University of Graz, most recently issyued an open letter to a Turkish colleague, Prof Gülnur Aybet, who had been appointed as Chief Advisor to Erdoğan and as ‘thanks’ for the favour, had written an op-ed article in the NYT, defendng fiercely the Turkish referendum as aiming ‘good governance’.
Aybet is known for her academic career in University of Kent in the UK and Yildiz Teknik in Istanbul, in international relations.
This was the end of their long friendship, we learn.
Let me share with you some of the bitter remarks Bieber delivers in his blog to her colleague.
”I happened to be in Washington last week—the same time as you were there as part of Erdoğan’s entourage. I was discussing with US State Department officials how to prevent a slide towards authoritarianism in the Balkans, while you stood next to president Erdoğan as his bodyguards and supporters beat up protesters. This is no longer a matter of different perspectives on an issue: you have become an apologist for an authoritarian regime.
You have called the referendum on the hyper-presidential system a “good governance referendum” when it is far from it—all key observers, including the highly respected Venice Commission, consider it a “dangerous step backwards” for democracy. I cannot remain silent as you advise, promote and defend an autocrat. … over a hundred who lost their jobs and/or have been arrested at your university, Yildiz Technical University, your department lost 14 academics (3 of them Assistant or full Professors).
I have met some of those who have lost their jobs or are living in fear. Many are excellent scholars: curious, courageous and independent thinkers. They have lost their jobs; many others have lost their freedom.
I cannot expect anybody working in an environment such as Turkey today to stand up against the regime and risk their career or freedom. But you don’t have to embrace it. Advancing your career on the back of massive human rights violations is unforgivable. A
dvising and thriving under the current regime cannot be justified… Your support for Erdoğan—standing by, quite literally, as his goons beat up demonstrators (you will probably call them terrorist supporters)—is unacceptable to me, and I want you to know this. There are choices we make and they have consequences.
I am deeply saddened by the choices you made.”
Yes, after all, it’s about choices; individually or in groups. Turkey, dragged into the direst of straits, will continue to suffer more.
What is needed is to stretch a hand from wherever, to its civilian society, exposed to shock and awe.