The ‘Grand Regress’: Turkey’s unbending resistance starts worrying its president

His name is Alparslan Ege.

For some days, he has joined the March for Justice, mixed in a crowd, whose number is growing day after day.

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”What do we want?” asks a cheerleader.

”Justice!”

”They won’t give us!’

”We will take it!”

Alparslan is 12 years old. A reporter saw him walking with his uncle, wearing a t-shirt with ”I Missed Mom and Dad” written on it. He is also carrying a placate, on which, a demand: ”I only want justice for my my mom and dad”.

His parents, reporter lets us know, has been kept in prison for 10 months, accused of belonging to FETÖ – an acronym found so useful by Erdoğan’s government that it applies to anyone who disagrees with his rule – and with no indictment in sight. We learn that his father, Ali Erdoğan, served as the mayor of the western Anatolian city of Uşak for two election periods. He had been a candidate for the main opposition party, CHP, in the parliamentary elections, in late 2015. His mom was an urban planner, having her own private office. Now, his both parents are in the prison of Bandırma, near Istanbul. ”I just want an indictment, and justice, that’s all” he told the reporter.

As the boy is walking by the Ankara – Istanbul Highway, people of Turkey wake up to an uglier reality every day. The justice system of Turkey – backbone of ny democratic order – is torn to shreds.

The vortex of torment has become a threat for whatever is left of the inner social stability of the country.

”Corridors of the courthouses are like a nightmare” wrote my senior colleague, 74-year old Hasan Cemal, recently. He had spent four days in the giant ‘palace of justice’ in Istanbul, covering a spectacular trial of prominent journalists. He was appalled by what he saw.

”Nightmare, because the justice fell off the map” he continued.

”Whoever you lend your ear, your conscience – if you have one – aches. To whoever you turn your head, be them with or without headscarf, be them Kurdish, Alevi or Sunni, it becomes more than apparent, stark naked indeed, how this great land is passing through a period without any rights or any law at all. The stories that you hear from the relatives or defence lawyers of the accused show in all nakedness what a gut-wrenching time we all live in. The pulse of those corridors is such that this country can’t go on like this; the day will come when it explodes. As you breathe this air of nightmare, it becomes so clear how far away from freedom and rule of law Turkey has been thrown. Let me tell you: Where Turkey with zero law and zero freedom will end up is the pit of hell. This is the summary of my four days spent in the corridors of Çağlayan (palace of justice).”

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After months – not say years – of systemic regress, this is where many of Turkey’s concerned, disgruntled citizens resorted to: Notion of justice, to be demanded, as the highest priority. The more shackles the judiciary produced, the more obvious it has become that democracy rises and falls with that word. Given the nearly complete governmental control over the judiciary, Turkey’s case is of a free fall, where bottom does not seem to be (yet) in sight.

Yet, Turkey’s approach to the territory of lawlessness has shown, as many of us observers had guessed, how resilient its social segments have remained. Erdoğan may go on, and he will go on, to construct a Central Asian type of a rule; but those who disagree with his project will never let it slip away quietly.

The resistance to Turkey’s deplorable ‘grand regress’ takes, though, different forms; all sending its own alarm signals about old and new problems which have kept the country in its tentacles, and pushed it to the abyss.

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The march column, led by the main opposition, CHP, keeps on, by increasing number of people, of all political colors, joining, in peace and quiet.

So far, no incidents, although the risk of a violent confrontation under the severely oppressive circumstances, seem almost inevitable. We will see how Erdoğan and his party will react if – or when – the crowd is counted by tens of thousands at the gates of Istanbul, the final destination. Pro-Kurdish HDP so far stayed away from joining, out of concerns for provocations, but now we know that there will be an encounter of two opposition parties, at the junction of Kandıra, where one of the leaders of HDP, Figen Yüksekdağ, is jailed, for months. From then on, it will be easier to see if the March of Justice has any potential to turn into a ‘democracy front’ to challenge Erdoğan’s rapidly brewing autocracy. How may he react at that moment? Will he use the state of emergency as a pretext to block the march, even attempt to crash it? Nobody knows.

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Then, you have others who demand justice by a hunger strike. Nuriye Gülmen and Serdar Özakça, two teachers purged by the government, and sacked for good, have passed the critical 110 days, having lost some bodily functions. Their case shows, no matter how morally justified such form of resistance is, how sturdy its tradition within the ‘left of the left’ remains in the country; and how strong its memory. There is no sign – and there will not be – of mercy of the authorities for giving their jobs back, and concerns for their lives are now so high that in the 111th day of the strike 111 intellectuals issued a petition, calling them to end it. One of those who later sent a message was Selahattin Demirtaş, co-leader of HDP in jail, who ‘begged’ them to do so.

March for Justice was triggered by the sentencing of 25 years of Enis Berberoğlu. He was the first deputy from the CHP to be jailed, and it worked as a wake up call for the party. Berberoğlu, who is also one of the two journalists with an earlier chief editor position (of daily Hürriyet) sitting behind bars, sent his support and thanks to the marchers.

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There are other forms of resistance. Ahmet Altan, the second former chief editor – of daily Taraf – declared in a spectacular trial last weekend that he doesn’t demand justice. Because, he argued, you don’t demand one in a place where there is absolutely none. Altan is accused, along with his brother, Prof Mehmet Altan and Nazlı Ilıcak, a 73-year old ‘grand lady’ of the Turkish Right, of inciting a coup by sending ‘sublminal messages’ in a TV show the night before the coup attempt.

”Your prison matters not a whit to me. I will keep telling the truth” he told at the end of a 70-pages long defence statement, which was labelled as a cracking manifesto by the foreign observers of the trial. He concluded:

”I am not the kind of man you can frighten. I am not the kind of man who will act in cowardice and squander the many decades behind me for the sake of the few years ahead…. Over 160 journalists of all stripes – leftists, Kurds, liberals, Kemalists, nationalists, conservatives – are in prison today. What is the common feature of all these people with such different viewpoints? That they all oppose the AKP. This simple fact by itself demonstrates what kind of state freedom of expression and the rule of law are in this country today. The whole world sees this fact.”

”I don’t trust the present day justice system – a system that arrests people without reason and tries them with untruthful indictments. Therefore I don’t have any requests either. Your ruling will not have anything to do with me… In one of his novels, John Fowles says that all the judges in the world are judged by their own decisions. So true. All judges are judged by their own decisions. You, too, will be judged by your own decisions…”

His detention will continue, indefinitely.

Meanwhile?

Well, meanwhile, Erdoğan continues to wage a political and cultural revolution. Not only evolution was dropped from the education, but also the pupils are now forced to study the basics of sharia, as each and every school will have a praying annex (Mescid). The entire property of the Assyrian community in Mardin is handed over to the Sunni tutelary structure of the AKP; Directorate of Religious Affairs (Diyanet), which also refused in a new directive to summer schools the Alevi identity. Torture is back to become a systematic practice. After Sur, the historic Kurdish settlements in Silopi is also to be demolished. A new decree will make it possible to send all the purged who didn’t do the military service will be forced to be conscripts.

Meanwhile, if any, Turkish civilian resistance will gather around the demand for justice, in pursuit of rights and freedoms.

A very tough battle await all.

 

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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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