Perhaps it is my fault.
I can no longer understand the naivete – some would call it wishful thinking – of the people I know, that no matter how badly the current ruling factions of Turkey under the banner of Erdoğanism hit at those who disagree, we should have a reasonable discussion with the oppressor.
I have known Özlem Dalkıran for ages. One of the most conscientuous – and humorous – folks I met in Turkey, she had always been on the forefront to stand for the underdogs. She lined up behind those who were keen on breaking the age-old taboos of Turkey.
A friend of the late Hrant Dink, the Armenian-Turkish colleague slain ten years ago, she made his family’s pursuit of justice her own. Wherever there was trouble with the oppression, one could spot her smiling face around.
‘How can they do this to her?’ was the question I heard, when talking to her friends. Then, as soon as her time for arrest was extended along with 9 other human rights activists, the tune had changed. I was told by some optimists that it was an act that amounted to a mistake and their release was imminent and inevitable.
I was stunned to hear that. ‘Are you living in a parallel universe?’ was all I could mutter to one of them, whom I felt close enough to express my bewilderment openly. ‘Are you not aware of what sort of barbarism Turkey is exposed to?’
I tried my best to explain to her how Stalin had orchestrated those show trials by inventing enemy out of every one he disliked, and how endless and how irrational everything about these roundings-up have been and would be. Such conversations ended up me shaking my head in surprise about the naivete of theirs.
Nothing to do, really; these were the well-educated, highly intelligent acquaintances, who had been lost in the aquarium of brutality.
They believed in what they in despair wanted to believe in.
Days after came the ruling, in early hours of the day. I had a very bad sleep, somewhere outside Turkey; got up at sunrise, only to find out that Özlem and her five activist friends were placed in pre-trial detention. Adding to the groups of hostages, with the addition of the Sweedish citizen Ali Gharavi (IT consultant) and Peter Steudtner (well being trainer). Not a surprise. New hostages. No holds barred. A German father of two children is now behind bars, along with other dreamers of a dignified life for the oppressed, for swaps in dirty international politics.
Not a surprise either, that their arrest had taken place when Kemal Kılıçdaroğu, leader of the main opposition party, CHP, was on the verge of completing his 430 km long ‘March for Justice’ in Istanbul. The raid aimed at ‘catching the criminals on the act’ in Büyükada (Prinkipo) island outside Istanbul was apparently to mock the goal of the march; a slap in the face of the opposition, as well as the leaders of G-20, who were meeting Erdoğan in Hamburg.
A few understood the latent meaning of the arrests.
Ruthlessly keen on displaying how in alliance he was with the mindset and patterns of Putin and Sisi, Erdoğan dared the world that he would not blink even a bit for opening a new phase in cracking down on whosever stands on his way. Kurds, Gülenists, leftists and liberals, academicians and journalists and judges did not suffice.
Now, he and his dark supporters in the state apparatus felt the time was mature to go to the next phase: the very people who had been dedicated to struggle for human rights of those who were targeted.
The message could not have been clearer. Criminalisation of the very commitment to the rights and freedoms meant a direct assault on whatever was left on the conscience of the nation. This is well known pattern of the rise of fascism everywhere – from Italy to Iran and beyond – that paralysation of the compassion for the ‘other’ opens the gates to an Orwellian society.
My surprise is that such large segments of the intellectuals and all those who care for an open society could imagine that Özlem and her friends would be released. How could they believe that, when thousands of others were kept as political prisoners, I wondered. What was their ‘privilege’? No, the despair was now so deep that all hopes clinged to a hope.
Days before the judge’s decision to send Özlem, Peter, Ali, İdil, Veli and Günal to prison, some of those friends were shocked to hear Erdoğan’s voice in their mobile phones, in the night of the coup anniversary. The main GSM service provider, Turkcell (whose board is appointees by the AKP – hello Orwell!) had organized a favour for Erdoğan that he could in person speak to each and every citizen, to express his thanks that the nation had ‘indeed’ saved democracy from the putschists last year.
How could it be? they asked. How was it possible? I tried to explain the best I could, that Turkey was more or less hijacked by a coalition of dark forces under the leadership of a person, whose intentions and vision was very serious. The tragedy of those shocked was that they had underestimated the determination and Macchiavellian intelligence of the leader, miscalculated totally how far he would go. He will.
When I hear these days the commentary that Erdoğan had become ‘frightened’ by the March for Justice of the opposition, I can not help but bitterly smile. He is not. Not a bit.
If these comments were not a product of yet another wishful thinking, they express only misjudgments that he is blinking for his goals set for an Sultanic rule. Never.
His design for absolute power is that this is a journey for political life or death. Erdoğan will never shy away from the political, legal and social ammunition he accumulated; he will spend it in full, if necessary. He is beyond fear. If any sensation to speak of, it is frustration or anger. Once you know this, I told my acquaintances who remained in shock, your picture will be clearer. Then, you’ll know your action or non-action plan better.
Then you will know whether or not the political opposition grasps the ugly reality of the rise of Turkish fascism.
Speaking at the rally for the anniversary of the coup, Erdoğan went as far as reprimanding his justice minister, Bekir Bozdağ, on why he had ‘released’ Ahmet Türk, the ‘grand old man’ of Kurdish struggle for human dignity over decades, from the prison. 75 year old Türk was not only stripped off brutally his elected position as the mayor of Mardin, but also put behind bars for ‘terrorist activity’.
He was let go because he was very frail, due to heart issues, and later had joined the March for Justice, albeit briefly as a symbolic act.
‘What kind of a sick man is this?’ Erdoğan roared, looking at the minister in the crowd. ‘How come he was released? Then he attends the march. Minister, did this man get a health report from a proper hospital? Were you shown the report at all? How come did he get this thing with a release? He should have been under surveillance!’
Erdoğan was speaking about a man, who enjoys all the Kurds highest respect.
He was one of those who had been subjected to the severest torture during the military rule after the coup in 1980. Yet, he has remained a most moderate voice for peaceful co-existence between Turks and Kurds.
My concern more tan anything else is, how the valuable human dimension in Turkey becomes a waste.
Ümit Kıvanç, a colleague, is also a friend of Özlem and many others.
‘They are stealing years from human lives’ he wrote. ‘They are committing this big crime with a ruthlessness that goes far beyond any reason and conscience; with a dirty and poisonous joy of destroying the peoples’ lives. Without a shred of regret.’