Turkey: on the brink of a systemic suicide

If ‘holding your breath together’ would apply to large masses of concerned people, it is that rare moment.

On Sunday some 55 million voters in Turkey will go to the ballotboxes in a referendum which will define the country’s identity, and future, for many years to come; and the result, regardless of the outcome, will drag it into an even deeper crisis.

The race for the referendum is, disregarding the propaganda of all sides, neck and neck. And, all indications are, confirming those who argue that Erdoğan has always been in for winning, that the ‘yes’ side is on the rise, as days go by.

This is the point of tremendous rupture that 15-year long story of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) under the undisputed leadership of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has brought it to.

After a turbulent period, marked by initial economic success and a long series of social benefit reforms, but also by an acrimonious and steady struggle for power, Erdoğan seems determined not to let go of his lifetime ambition to establish a system, in which he wishes to be seen as the ‘supreme leader’, a sole decision-maker on all issues – be them on macro or micro level – without the burden of accountability and transparency.

”The new system has no parallel in the modern world. It eviscerates the power of both the legislative and judicial branches of the government in favor of the executive, which will be concentrated in the hands of one person’ wrote Henri Barkey, – Director of the Middle East Program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and an expert on Turkish affairs – in an article for Washington Post recently.

He went on:

‘The proposed constitutional changes have been tailored to Erdogan. The hitherto nonpartisan president would now be allowed to lead his party even as he runs the country. He would appoint cabinet members who would be accountable only to him and not to parliament. He would have the option of appointing one or more vice presidents, who, again, would not report to lawmakers. He would also appoint all senior civil servants and would have the power to directly and indirectly select almost all judges on the high judicial bodies, including the constitutional court.

 ”There are other hidden gems in the constitutional proposal. One is a tiny two-word amendment to the powers of the State Supervisory Board, a presidential body that oversees the activities of public and private bodies, including unions, business chambers, football clubs and non-profit organizations. The amendment would give the board prosecutorial powers over these institutions, meaning that the president would have wide authority to police civil society.”

 ‘‘And though the president would be limited to two five-year terms starting in 2019, when the changes take effect, a loophole would allow him to win a third mandate if national elections were held before the end of the president’s second term. The new constitution, if approved, would almost automatically allow the incumbent to run for a third term. A quick back-of-the-envelope calculation shows that Erdogan could have an additional 14 years at the helm starting two years from now.”

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After 15 years, Erdoğan has managed to keep a majority of voters convinced that, if Turkey needs stability under a tough, strong, unrelenting leadership, he is the most suited choice.

He kept his stamina intact, and with a lot of luck on his side, he used his ‘wise guy’ skills to steer the fragmented opposition in a fierce battle with each other over identity politics, as he responded to the international challenges with a policy based on inventing crisis that adversaries feel forced to negotiate with him.

At home, while he expanded his control of the state apparatus to maximum, he managed to minimize his concept of democracy solely to the ballotbox, excluding all else – mainly by (ab)using religion as a tool to cement power among grassroots.

This happened at the cost of dividing Turkey into two halves: a roughly 55 % which favor a political rule based on nationalism with strong Sunni ingredients, and the other 45 % with secular leanings, divided withing by urban non-pious, Alevi and Kurdish identities which all are against what they see as Islamisation of Turkey.

This division has now turned Turkey into a battlefield, where the result will be equal to the result if it were chosen as a laboratory where Islamism, polluted by profound corruption, would still be seen as compatible with democracy.

Much of what happened in Turkey in the past decade, marked by power-driven tactics and abuses of power, has been about just that: where, in terms of morality, the surging pious middle class that the AKP has ‘produced’ would choose be. Would it favour a management format that resembles that of Azerbaijan, or a Turkic Central Asian republic, or would it follow the example of Tunisia – however fragile it might be – to prefer a path on which a complex society would go for a risk investment for a peaceful coexistence?

Regardless of all explosive, externally destructive rhetoric which Erdoğan with his fierce temperament has remained responsible of, this is, at the essence, what it is all about. And this makes next Sunday’s choice a ground-breaking moment which will have consequences far beyond Turkey’s borders.

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A key point is that the referendum will be held under a strict State of Emergency. The demolishing of the structures of Turkish administrative system having begun even before the last summer’s bloody coup attempt, the country is, nine months after the military uprising, socially and economicially tarnished. The massive purge and wave of arrests turned the national stage into a wreck.

”Although hard numbers are difficult to come by, the sheer scale of the purge is staggering, with approximately 47,155 arrested and over 100,000 detained so far, according to a recent statement from Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu” wrote Howard Eissenstat, a Fellow at the Project for Middle East Democracy (POMED).

”More than 125,000 people have been sacked from civil service positions. Tens of thousands of teachers have had their licenses revoked. The day after the attempted coup, the government suspended nearly 3,000 judges and prosecutors, with more removed in the following months as the purge expanded. It was obvious that the lists of those targeted for suspension had already been drawn up. In the judiciary, as elsewhere within the state, the coup provided the AKP with cover to complete a merger of state and party which had been underway for many years.”

 ”Assets of those detained are routinely frozen. Hundreds of businesses purportedly owned by Gülenists have been seized. The government makes no attempt to demonstrate individual wrongdoing in the vast majority of these cases; vague “affiliation” is enough.  When a court ruling recently released 21 journalists and others in one case (after many months in pretrial detention), the chief prosecutor objected; by evening all were back in jail.  The three judges who heard the case were then themselves suspended from their positions.  Perhaps most alarming, torture has once again become widespread.”

”In a sense, the coup attempt and the purge that has followed represent an ugly last chapter to the consolidation of power under the AKP. The press and judiciary—the very institutions that are meant to check abuses of power—are now under ever fuller ruling party control. Avenues for peaceful opposition are closed and criminalized. The basic structures of a once vibrant civil society are being systematically dismantled.”

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What if Erdoğan wins, even by a marginal ‘yes’?

In its latest note of alert, Human Rights Watch summarized it as such:

Two changes would take effect immediately. The president would have increased authority over the body that administers the judiciary and controls the appointment of judges and prosecutors, and the prohibition against the president having a formal party affiliation would be lifted. The courts in Turkey are already under political influence and these changes would further reduce judicial independence.”

”Further changes would take effect following presidential and parliamentary elections scheduled for November 2019, when the role of prime minister would be abolished. The president would be given sole power to appoint or dismiss vice presidents, ministers, and high state officials. The president could legislate by decree and secure the presidency’s budget without parliamentary approval being a precondition. The president would have the power to dissolve parliament and trigger parliamentary and presidential elections. The president would be able to run for two five-year terms and, in the event that parliament were dissolved before the end of the second term, a third.”

”The Turkish government has framed the referendum as a victory for democracy”, wrote Eissenstat.

”It is not.  To be sure, the constitutional system currently in place in Turkey is in bad need of reform.  It suffers from inadequate protections for individual liberties, weak protections for minorities and a marked inability to check government abuses or protect judicial independence.  But the referendum would resolve none of these issues, and exacerbate many of them.”

Marc Pierini, a former EU ambassador in Ankara who is currently a Visiting Scholar at Carnegie Europe, commented in a fresh analysis that, ‘The outcome of the April 16 referendum will make little difference.”

”If the yes camp prevails, Turkey’s leadership will be comforted, and the country’s rule-of-law architecture will remain at its current very low level for many years to come. If the no side wins, emergency decrees will stay in place, and a de facto executive presidency will remain the rule. In addition, the government might call a snap parliamentary election in the hope of reinforcing its current majority. In either case, Turkey’s religious-conservative societal concept will prevail, and the country’s democrats will suffer.’

”The consequences for Turkey are simple” according to Henri Barkey.

”A ‘no’ vote could potentially unleash a period of profound uncertainty and instability. By contrast, a ‘yes’ vote would institutionalize a populist authoritarian system that risks cataclysmic collapse, similar to what is currently happening in Venezuela, except that Turkey is far more important. In either case, there would be a crisis. A ‘no’ vote would result in an immediate shock to Erdogan and his AKP, potentially allowing for a search for alternative leadership. A ‘yes’ vote would simply postpone the reckoning until much later.”

I agree fully with Barkey’s conclusion.

Crisis continues no matter what the result, while Turkey remains face to face with a legal, administrative rubble as a result of Erdoğan’s policies of power concentration.

What about the relations with its negotiating and main trading partner, the EU, in post-referendum?

Pierini saw three trends coming together, more or less, since Erdoğan was elected as President in the summer of 2014.

”First, Turkey’s economic successes are being impaired as the rule of the arbitrary takes over, and the public is increasingly feeling the domestic consequences. Second, the country’s recent foreign policy evolution risks making Turkey a pawn on Russia’s continental chessboard, where Moscow’s game is distinctly anti-EU and anti-NATO. Third, the tactics of constantly bullying the EU, a major political, economic, and social partner, for domestic political purposes have now reached their limits, especially concerning future relations between Turkish and EU leaders.”

He concluded:

”These developments leave EU leaders with a decision to make on both the style and the substance of future relations with Turkey. To maintain an active relationship, EU and Turkish leaders might agree on a package of policies: modernizing the EU-Turkey Customs Union, which has brought immense benefits to both sides and for which the European Commission has submitted a modernization proposal to the EU Council of Ministers; cooperating on counterterrorism; and implementing the refugee assistance deal to which Brussels and Ankara agreed in March 2016. Such a package might seem rather thin, but if accepted by all EU governments, it might offer a realistic way forward…”

”EU leaders have no appetite to sever all ties with Turkey and ignore the aspirations of liberal-minded Turks, but Turkey’s interference in Europe’s political life has reached clear limits.”

Yet, Europe’s strained leaders will have to choose between a ruler with an iron-hand, who they may perceive in many aspects as a symbol of stability, or continued confrontation over basic human rights and democratic values.

I agree with Barkey once more, when he lays out his assessment:

”Paradoxically, the same European and U.S. leaders who are now being maligned by the Turkish authorities are afraid of the potential instability a rejection of the new system would engender. They are, therefore, quietly rooting for Erdogan to win with a convincing majority.”

Needless to say, be that a yes or no, the result will see Turkey in an even deeper turmoil.

It has already become a ‘party state’, surrounded by an oligarchy feeding off of a system out of checks and balances.

Kurdish issue is unresolved, as many other social demands remain unanswered.

Unlike, for example, Tunisia, Turkey lags far behind with a constitution that is failing to meet the needs of the day.

And it is rudderless after a series of severely erratic decisions in its foreign policy, making it part of the problem rather than a solution.

Gareth Jenkins, is the one that put it in his recent analysis astutely:

”Despite the delusions of Erdoğan’s hardcore supporters, Turkey is not strong enough to flourish in isolation. Indeed, Erdoğan’s relentless purges are accelerating the hemorrhaging of the country’s human resources – and further reducing its ability to resolve its own problems, much less shape the future of its region.”

‘Autocrats have a habit of remaining in power long after rationality suggests that they should have gone. However, there currently appears little prospect of Erdoğan realizing his ambition of remaining in office for at least the next decade. A “Yes” vote on April 16 would not be regarded as legitimate, either internationally or by his domestic opponents, although it would prolong his political life expectancy. A “No” vote would shorten it. But, whatever the outcome, Turkey is unlikely to enjoy stability – much less peace, prosperity and prestige – while Erdoğan remains in power.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in AKP, Erdogan, EU, Gülen, Kurdish peace process, Media, Politics, Turkey | Leave a comment

Dinner with the new underdogs of Turkey

The request reached me as I was visiting an European capital. It was a kind note. ‘A group of us want to discuss our suffering and we would be happy if you could listen to us,’ it said. I wondered why. Because there was an urge to find journalists with a fair and open mind, and there are so few nowadays, I was told.

They all identified themselves, one way or another, as Gülen followers. Some of them were forced to leave Turkey under strained circumstances. Others felt the heat, wherever they lived in Europe, threatened by a network which they claimed was linked to the external intelligence branch of the ruling AKP.

It was a specific group, comprising of seven. All men. Many were known as hard core business people; once known and praised by Turkish President Erdoğan – for example, in 2012 – as ‘Anatolian Tigers’. I had met some of them in business congresses in Turkey, in their heydays. They were representing Turkey’s globalist face, aggressively expanding foreign markets, pushing exports.

When we met at a restaurant, I quickly noticed that there was not much left of the self-esteem they once radiated, all you could read was a deep sense of defeat.

No wonder, Erdoğan’s war against the entire movement – as the German media reveals so powerfully over allegations on how the ‘official’ imam networks loyal to Erdoğan – has reached such proportions that it in many ways evokes memories of medieval hunt of sects declared evil. In Turkey and abroad, the entire grassroots of a religious movement are now totally stigmatized, marked and to be chased for life.

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In an apparent shock, traumatized, I heard them tell me story after story over how brutalized even the most ‘distant’ Gülen followers have been.

I heard stories of torture, blackmail, snitching on even close relatives, family disputes, families split because of oppression. Then I was given some anecdotes over how vast properties and assets belonging to the business circles were seized, assets were taken over, and given to what they call ‘Islamist newcomer business wannabes’ entirely loyal to the AKP. I insisted they make a quick and rough calculation over how much money confiscated by the AKP in the past year they were talking about. I turned to the one I knew would know his figures. They negotiated across the table the list of big and midsize Anatolian Tigers who were now penniless, some in prison, some abroad and agreed that it was somewhere between 70 – 90 billion Euros. Initially some of them had managed to move out some bank assets, but many of them had to see their enterprises – employing thousands of people – getting ripped off from them overnight, citing State of Emergency and anti-terror laws.

‘Like what happened to Ottoman Armenians a hundred years ago,’ I commented and looked at them to see the reaction. They were numb; it was as if I was talking about another galaxy. Perhaps their thoughts were so lost, such comparisons did not ring the slightest bell. They probably tought something of this sort was happening only to them the first time in Turkish history.

Then, I asked them, what sort of legal defence strategy they had to defend their rights. Had they engaged any go-getter lawyers in Turkey? Or abroad?

The responses were vague. But this was clear: Oppression had hit this movement with such an impact that Gülenists were totally thunderstruck, shell-shocked. They had not expected such full-scale, die-hard assault.

Yet, even if they had, it was doubtful they would be ready. Gülen followers are a strange blend of people; often well educated and smart, but what they have in common is that, as part of their pious nature, they have never developed reflexes of civilian disobedience to the state, which has for decades been known for constantly inventing and destroying ‘domestic enemies’ – leftists, non-muslims, Kurds. They played a part in the AKP’s power politics, hoping to be part of the power, and they never had thought that they would be used and thrown away.

But it was their turn. It stands now clear that Erdoğan and his AKP was not really after solving the crime of the coup attempt and bring those really and specifically responsible for it. Backed by all the dark forces placed within the state, he is determined to destroy everyone within, even those outsiders who have been in contact with, Gülen movement. It is, of course, a social tragedy – exposing hundreds of thousands individuals, ‘guilty by association’, as pariahs or doomed to remain in a diaspora.

Reminding them that I am there only for a frank conversation, I have pressed them a while with the question: Were Gülenists involved in the coup attempt? Did Fethullah Gülen order the coup, or did he know but did nothing to prevent it?

There was confusion, rather than unwillingness to go into a subject. All except two of them agreed there was an involvement of Gülenists in the coup, but a row erupted when I asked to what proportion they were in it. Some fiercely opposed when I said that there were estimations that the main bulk of colonels and one-star generals were estimated as Gülenists. ‘It’s far less than 50 %’ said one. The most senior figure at the table assured me that Gülen may not have known, that the mutiny could be an act of despair. ‘I swear by Allah that I want all of them Gülen followers or not to be put on trial and be sentenced to this crime’ he concluded.

They seemed dizzy about their future, and what steps to take. I told them that it was surprising that they were so unprepared for a legal battle. The other oppressed parts of Turkey, Kurds, leftists, and liberals, intellectuals and students had given it the highest priority, making it clear for observers like me that this was now an era of defence for basic civil rights and nothing else.

One of them wondered if there was any future for Gülenists to be engaged in politics anymore. All I could do was to make clear for them how they were perceived by the other opposition parts: as accomplices of Erdoğan, and partly responsible for the collapse of the Kurdish Peace Process. I reminded them of the consensus among independent Turkey observers that the solution of Kurdish problem in Turkey was of the highest importance for democracy’s entry into Turkey and the greatest mistake Gülenists ever did was not to shake off its Turkish nationalist background (many of their members in state apparatus had a past linked with the MHP) which made them unable to grasp the solidity of the Kurdish dynamic.

I told them also that I had not met a Gülenist who had given a serious thought why Fethullah Gülen had ranked so low in the popularity ratings, why he now became the public enemy number one.

‘And I wonder as a journalist’ I told them, ‘when many key institutions such as German BND chief or some American Congress sources question the coup attempt, why Gülen remains silent? Isn’t it his responsibility to come out publicly and tell whatever he knows of the dirty power games, the coup, and responds to all the questions that are still hanging?’

There was no clear answer. A brief silence followed.

Dinner was soon over.

The new underdogs of Turkey all dispersed to different directions, in gloom, as they came.

 

Posted in Erdogan, Gülen, Turkey | 3 Comments

A referendum which will deepen Turkey’s crisis to new lows, but to a rupture point?

10 days to go and counting down, some 55 million voters of Turkey are heading for a referendum which will mark a historic watershed for the country’s identity, existential path, stability and endurance. In a nutshell, no matter what, it will be a shattering choice; and regardless which one wins, this 94-year old republic will see its crisis – which has been developing from June 2013 Gezi protests on – deepening even further.

At this stage, the views from outside matter especially.

Let’s have a look at two of them.

In an analysis dated April 5, Nicholas Danforth, a senior policy analyst for the national security program with Bipartisan Policy Center, offered his take, under the title, ‘Referendum Gives Turkey Two Choices but Little Hope’.

 ”Erdogan’s supporters insist that a Yes vote, by creating a strong presidential system, will put a permanent end to Turkey’s traumatic and recent history of military coups and terrorist violence. Critics, meanwhile, warn that by ratifying Erdogan’s authoritarian rule, the referendum will solidify Turkey’s transformation from a troubled democracy into a de facto dictatorship” summarized Danforth, concluding with a view that I agree with:

”Not surprisingly, independent observers almost all side with Erdogan’s critics in opposing the referendum. And yet, despite a general consensus that the stakes for Turkey and the region are high, there is reason to fear both outcomes could lead to continued chaos.”

Some other points from his analysis

  • Despite enormous pressure to support the president, many members of his own party are privatelyskeptical, giving further reason to think that No might prevail. Yet anyone who’s watched Erdogan’s run of political successes over the past decade and a half is hesitant to bet against him. Erdogan recently picked a high-profile fight with the Dutch to drum up support, and rumors are rife that he might take more dramatic measures against Kurdish terrorists in Iraq or Syria to inflame nationalist sentiment in the remaining two weeks before the vote.
  • To date, there is no evidence that the government plans to completely rig the results, but it does have plenty of dubious methods at its disposal to potentially pick up a few illegitimate points in a close race. A recent move to block opposition poll-watchers did not inspire confidence.
  • …If Erdogan cannot find the votes to win the referendum, he has plenty of other routes open for consolidating his power. In Turkey’s chaotic circumstances, he could simply find a pretext for postponing the referendum and continue to rule with his already considerable powers until circumstances were more conducive.
  • Even if the referendum fails, he could hold new elections, hoping that if smaller opposition parties fell below the country’s steep 10 percent threshold for representation his party would have the votes in parliament to amend the constitution directly without a referendum.

”The biggest question remains whether there is any outcome that could optimistically be expected to bring Turkey a period of much-needed political stability. Would Erdogan, either confident after a win or chastened after a loss, turn away from the divisive nationalism and confrontational populism that has increasingly defined his approach to politics over the past several years?” asked Danforth, and continued:

  • Erdogan has shown himself capable of remarkable pragmatism before, and knows he will ultimately need good relations with neighboring countries and his own people to make Turkey into the global power he aspires to lead. Yet barring a dramatic and unambiguous victory, it may prove difficult for Erdogan to shift course. Over the last few years he has put himself in a position where losing is no longer an option while the kind of decisive win that would give him a sense of security remains out of reach.
  • If a defeat in the April referendum emboldens the government’s opponents, Erdogan, with his back against the wall, would have only his hardcore supporters—and their fears—to fall back on for self-preservations. Were Erdogan to win the referendum by a narrow margin, perhaps amongst accusations of voting irregularities or even widespread protests, Erdogan would still feel under attack, likely leading to similar outcome.
  • That the results of the referendum are still in doubt is another reminder that Erdogan’s rule is not as secure as it sometimes seems. The danger for Turkey is that Erdogan has already accumulated enough power that, even in defeat, he could easily bring the entire country down with him.

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In another analysis, titled ‘Ticking Clocks: Erdoğan and Turkey’s Constitutional Referendum’, Gareth Jenkins – a veteran observer of Turkey – a Senior Fellow with the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies – concluded that, ”Whatever the outcome, the Turkish constitutional referendum on April 16 will not resolve the country’s chronic domestic instability, heal its deepening social divisions, revive its flagging economy or end its growing international isolation. But it will shape both the nature of the further turbulence to come and the duration of what is already the final stage of the Erdoğan era.”

This ‘final stage of Erdoğan era’ is a view that leaves me wondering, since I am not that sure whether the referendum will extend Erdoğan’s full-scale domination over Turkish politics into 2020’s. But let’s leave it at that and see how Jenkins reasons over the impacts of the historic vote:

  • Regardless of his long-term goals and dreams, during the AKP’s first years in office, Erdoğan had built a growing popular support base through largely democratic means. However, in recent years – and particularly since the failed coup of July 2016 – democratic norms and practices have been so eroded that it is no longer possible to talk of Turkey as a functioning democracy or a country governed by the rule of law. But the repression is also a sign of desperation, a tacit admission that Erdoğan can no longer remain in power without it.
  • Opinion polls currently suggest that the constitutional referendum on April 16 is too close to call. If Turks reject Erdoğan’s plans to introduce an executive presidency and formally concentrate virtually all political power in his own hands, he is expected to call an early general election, probably in fall 2017 – in the hope the AKP will secure a substantial parliamentary majority and enable him to continue with what is already a de facto autocratic presidential system. Although this would buy Erdoğan some more time, it would neither resolve Turkey’s mounting problems nor result in an easing of his still growing authoritarianism.
  • Erdoğan would be aware that, in the event of a “No” vote, his critics and opponents – included the currently cowed dissenters within the AKP – would be emboldened. If anything, he could even become more repressive in his desperation to cling onto power.
  • Nor would there be any prospect of a respite if Erdoğan won the vote. Most of the new presidential powers envisaged by the constitutional changes are not scheduled to come into force until November 2019, after simultaneous presidential and parliamentary elections. Erdoğan would unlikely wait that long. Indeed, from his perspective, it would be very risky for him to do so.
  • Starting during the Gezi Park protests, and increasingly since 2015, Erdoğan has made his political survival dependent on maintaining a siege mentality amongst his supporters. It is a psychological rather than a merely juridical State of Emergence, in which he — as the embodiment of the “national will” – is under constant assault from foreign conspirators and their treacherous domestic collaborators. The result has not only been severe damage to Turkey’s social fabric and international reputation but also to its faltering economy – and the short-term measures that were recently introduced to boost the economy in the run-up to the referendum are likely to come with a high medium-term cost that will exacerbate an eventual hard economic landing.
  • In addition, the cumulative impact of constant social tensions, actual and anticipated terrorist attacks, conspiracy theories and rhetorical histrionics are already engendering widespread fatigue. In the continued absence of any achievements of his own, Erdoğan is likely to persist with his politics of fear.
  • But he cannot maintain the current momentum until November 2019 without suffering a backlash, not least as a result of public weariness. Yet neither can he allow tensions to subside without the risk of attention shifting to his failure to provide solutions for the country’s problems.
  • Disturbingly, even though his growing authoritarianism suggests some form of awareness that power would otherwise slip from his hands, Erdoğan also appears increasingly unable to understand – or is indifferent to – the consequences of his actions. Indeed, the more he fails to deliver on his promises of peace, prosperity and international prestige, the more self-confident he seems to become.
  • One explanation may be Erdoğan’s isolation in what appears to be an echo chamber of trusted advisers in his grandiose palace on the outskirts of Ankara.
  • When combined with the increasing pressure on his domestic opponents and critics, such statements have ensured Erdoğan’s irrevocable alienation from the EU and the US.
  • Despite the delusions of Erdoğan’s hardcore supporters, Turkey is not strong enough to flourish in isolation. Indeed, Erdoğan’s relentless purges are accelerating the hemorrhaging of the country’s human resources – and further reducing its ability to resolve its own problems, much less shape the future of its region.
  • Autocrats have a habit of remaining in power long after rationality suggests that they should have gone. However, there currently appears little prospect of Erdoğan realizing his ambition of remaining in office for at least the next decade.
  • A “Yes” vote on April 16 would not be regarded as legitimate, either internationally or by his domestic opponents, although it would prolong his political life expectancy. A “No” vote would shorten it. But, whatever the outcome, Turkey is unlikely to enjoy stability – much less peace, prosperity and prestige – while Erdoğan remains in power.

These are the two views that demand attention.

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I would to a broad degree agree with them, ending with some additional remarks of mine:

  • 10 days and the ‘yes’ votes are on the rise, Erdoğan’s strategy vis a vis his fierce critics in the West and amongst Turkey’s allies is to achieve a vote support above 55 % – from his vantage point 60 % would be a psychologically critical threshold to claim legitimacy. If so, this would create a new momentum of tension – and perhaps divisions – amongst the allies. Erdoğan may be counting on that countries like Japan, China, Russia, South Korea, the UK and Brazil may choose to accept the result, while the EU, bent under the pressure of the refugee crisis, may choose a softer line behind closed doors.
  • Any new intervention across the borders into Iraq and Syria may, although could boost the nationalist vote into his favor, could evolve into a factor driving Turkey into deeper chaos, and eventually shorten Erdoğan’s political path.
  • A final point is, whether or not the total collapse of the rule of law is sustainable. Erdoğan seems keen on burning the bridges with the European Court, and regardless of the yes or no vote winning, a clash between Council of Europe and Turkey seems inevitable. Part of the lawlessness has to do with the arbitrary confiscation of vast properties and assets that once belonged to Gulenist businesspeople – which according their calculations surpass $ 100 billion – which may cause high unemployment, further loss of trade, as well as deep apprehension amongst the foreign investors.

 

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Endless witch-hunt leaves thousands of Turkish academics marked as ‘undesired’

‘I want my job back!’

This simple demand has for nearly five months turned Nuriye Gülmen’s life into horror, every single day of it. She was one of the thousands of victims of the massive purge which left the entire Turkish academia in cripples. But, she proved to be a tough cookie from day one, and now stands as the symbol of passive resistance before the relentless oppression that sweeps her country.

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It was a decree that triggered the nightmare. Now known as the notorious Decree # 675, which Erdoğan’s Government had issued in the night of October 29 – ironically, Republic’s Day, thousands of academics across Turkey were sacked, citing ‘activities targeting national security and terrorism’.

When the decree was issued, it was Gülmen’s second day at her new job, in Selçuk University, Konya. In fury, she began her single protests in public, standing with a placate, saying: ‘I want my job back!’ She had chosen the Human Rights Monument in Ankara, and every day ended in police custody: in a scene repeating itself like in the film, ‘Groundhog’s Day’, she was in minutes approached by the police, told to shut up and go, refused, continued to raise the placate and, under, often brutal circumstances tossed out into a police van.

It went on for weeks and weeks, since November 9. Later she was joined by another victim of the purge, Semih Özakça, a school teacher who, like Gülmen, was accused of being part of ‘terrorist activity’. He had heard about her, and had come all the way from the Kurdish town of Mardin, to ‘join forces’.

The vicious circle of protest-arrest-protest the day after-arrest again continued until March 9. After a other round-up that day, they said they were beginning a hunger strike, which continues to this day. Life in hunger goes on either at the monument, or behind bars, with the simple demand: ‘I want my job back’.

Not that the authorities would pay attention any consideration at all. Why would such a government, which even refuses the demands of the German government to see a jailed German journalist, do that to a poor Turkish citizen? So, it seems, that Gülmen and Özakça are in for a painfully long confrontation, as many Kurdish inmates also continue their hunger strikes in more than eight prisons in Turkey.

Let us leave this aside. In essence, what the cases of Gülmen and Özakça tell us is of people, with job qualifications, marked as ‘undesired’ for life. According to the the latest figures of the Turkish ‘cleansing’, there are 7.317 academicians sacked, along with more than 4.000 journalists. What they have in common is that they are, by the purge and arbitrary sacking, declared as ‘toxic’, never to be rehired again, banned from a decent life.

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Nuriye Gülmen and Semih Özakça: Every day, with the same demand. 

It is a brutal ‘berufsverbot’ which is ‘generously’ implemented by the government, working under President Erdoğan’s blessing, which goes right against the simple demand of Gülmen and taken as a directive by the judiciary: ‘Show absolutely no mercy!’

How the ‘berufsverbot’ mechanism works is multilayered, we have found out lately. At the epicenter, there is something called ULAKBIM. This is a network of universities and scientific reserach institutes that is also connected to the ones abroad, with the aim of contacts and publications.

It operates under TUBITAK (The Technological and Scientific Research Council of Turkey), which, of course, operates under the strict control of the government that after 15 years in power, controls also all ‘autonomous’ bodies in the country.

We have been told, by some news reports last week, that the directorate of ULAKBIM sent out a communique to all the scientific journals in Turkey, telling them clearly, this: As you know, there has been many removals of personnel due to some decrees, and I urge you strongly that whoever is part of editorial staff, or part of the board, or people in similar should be investigated on whether or not they have been removed or sacked by the decrees, and be subjected to sanctions. If not, this issue will be entirely your responsibility.’ Without a doubt, this is equal to expanding the purge to many privately owned journals, and strip qualified – but demonized – scientists off from an income and career. This one goes beyond the public sphere, and intervenes in the freedom of science.

‘This one resembles the practices that we know from totalitarian regimes’ wrote Ahmet Insel, a political scientist from Istanbul.

‘It looks exactly like how people, who have not committed any crime, but seen as suspects for some reason by the regime, are not necessarily thrown into prison, but are isolated in the society.’

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I asked Dr Nil Mutluer, one of the persecuted academicians who due to oppression in Turkey had to move to Humboldt University, now as a Philipp Schwartz Fellow, to comment on ‘berufsverbot’.

Here is what she told me:

”Academics have been targeted by the AKP long before the July 15th, 2016 coup attempt.  Stigmatization of the academics started on January 2016 immediately after ‘academics for peace’ demanded the AKP to cease ‘its unlawful and violent policies which are totally against human rights and local and international law in the Kurdish region’. And it has continued since the coup attempt on July 2016.”

 ”With the recent decrees academicians not only lost their jobs but also the possibility of finding any means of subsisting in life. For instance, one of my colleagues who were put in one of those decree lists told me that it will not be possible for them to find any legal job as nobody wants to put such stigmatized people in their paylist.” 

 ”With such a policy, academics as well as anybody else, listed in decrees, have to face turning into a ‘walking dead’, as  phrased by a well-known pro-government pundit.”

 ”Purge of academicians surely has an effect on the lives of academics but, it will also have an effect on the younger generations who have no other choice but to be raised in an authoritarian environment which has no place for critical thinking and free expression.”

So, in a sense, ‘I want my job back!’ goes hand in hand with ‘I want my right to disagree with you!’

This is the direction the path of oppression leads. You are minimized to your basic demands: to live, breathe, think, in dignity. It is the basic nutrition of dictatorships.

And, as the cases of Gülmen, Özakça and thousands of other well-educated work force shows, as ULAKBIM communique makes clear, Turkey under Erdoğan’s iron rule, presents to us all such symptoms, loud and clear.

 

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Would Tillerson deliver on Turkey’s damaged relations with its NATO allies?

In many aspects, March 30 Thursday is a crucial day for Turkish-American and Turkish-NATO relations, when the U.S. Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, pays a visit to Ankara.

This one precedes his visit to NATO, scheduled for the day after, and certainly the issue of Turkey, a NATO ally that has had fraught relations with the United States and European countries in recent months, will be a key item on his agenda.

“Secretary Tillerson will reaffirm Turkey’s important role in ensuring regional stability, and he will discuss the way forward with our campaign to defeat ISIS in Syria and Iraq,” the State Department bulletin had said when the announcement came.

As the Washington Examiner had reported, ‘The trip could give Tillerson an opportunity play peacemaker between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and European members of NATO.’

There are more issues on the table.

‘American officials expect Erdogan and others to raise the case of U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom the government accuses of orchestrating a failed coup last July. The focus of the Ankara talks is the U.S.-led offensive to retake Raqqa from Islamic State and to stabilize areas in which militants have been forced out, allowing refugees to return home’ Reuters reported.

‘A major sticking point between the United States and Turkey is U.S. backing for the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia, which Turkey considers part of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) that has been fighting an insurgency for three decades in Turkey.’

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In an even more fragmented multi-polar world of today, what is seen as ‘Turkey adrift’ by its allies and foes, how the Trump Administration will approach this sensitive issue if of outmost significance.

Although Fikri Işık, Turkish Defence Minister, attempted to soften the tensions in the alliance in an interview with Al Jazeera English, the gap between Turkey and its allies within NATO has reached alarming levels, threatening a rupture with far-reaching consequences.

More than anything, it involves the apparent and growing disagreement between Ankara and some Western capitals about the nature of the coup attempt in Turkey last July.

A Der Spiegel interview with Bruno Kahl, the head of the German intelligence service, added fuel to the fire. It followed the spat between Turkey and Germany over the ban on Turkish politicians conducting rallies on German soil.

Kahl was asked whether he believed Fethullah Gulen, a Turk­ish cleric in Pennsylvania, was behind the coup. “Turkey has tried to convince us on a number of different levels,” he said, “but they haven’t yet been success­ful.”

“The coup attempt wasn’t staged by the state,” he went on. “Even before July 15th, the government had launched a large wave of purges. That is why elements within the military thought they should quickly launch a coup, before they, too, were purged, but it was too late and they were purged as well…”

“The consequences of the putsch that we have seen would have happened anyway, if perhaps not as deep and radical. The coup was likely just a welcome pretext.”

Karl also asked:

“Will the country remain a partner in the security alliance?”

Almost simultaneously others across the Atlantic were making similar remarks. US Representa­tive Devin Nunes, R-California and chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, questioned the files presented by the Turkish govern­ment to the US Department of Justice alleging that Gulen was the mastermind behind the putsch.

Interviewed on Fox TV, Nunes said: “I find it hard to believe… I saw no evidence (in there) about Gulen’s involvement in the coup.”

“Turkey as a NATO partner has been for long a strong ally of ours but [the Turks] are becoming more and more worrisome in terms of being a reliable ally,” Nunes added.

Such statements, more public and louder than ever, shatter the mood in Ankara. While some pro-Erdogan pundits were developing conspiracy theories, top sources of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) were accusing the intelligence structures of being used or infiltrated by Gulenists.

Turkish Defence Minister Fikri Isik accused Kahl of “being ignorant of the facts”, questioning whether German Intelligence was behind the coup.

“Where are you (Germany) in all this?” Isik asked.

The gap seemed wider with warnings from the European Commission. EU Commissioner for Enlargement Johannes Hahn said in a newspaper interview that the prospect of Turkey joining the European Union becomes increasingly “unrealis­tic”.

Hahn indicated that after Turkey’s April 16th referendum on presidential powers, Turkish membership negotiations could be shelved altogether — a notion that has been circulated even more loudly by the European Parliament.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan seems not to object. Constantly talking about reinstating the death penalty should his side win the referen­dum vote does not endear him to the European Union. Nor did his saying: “Everything, including the refugee agreement, will be put on the table. It’s all over.”

There is a tacit understanding that Turkish-EU relations are on life support, doomed to fail. However, it is clear that the NATO dimension is seen as far more crucial in defining Turkey’s future role, even its existence, in the military alliance.

A sign of crack was seen when Süddeutsche Zeitung reported that the German government had since early 2016 rejected Turkish requests on arms sales — light weapons and ammunition — 11 times on the basis that they could be used on the civilian popula­tion, meaning Kurds and political opponents.

There have been reports that four high-ranking Turkish officers and the military attaché in Oslo have been granted asylum in Norway. More than 150 Turkish Army members defected to Germany and Belgium. Officers from one NATO member seeking asylum and their claims being treated as legitimate in another is unprecedented, underlining the historically important dimension of the stand-off. Sources within the AKP say Germany could use the defectors and a couple top-level prosecutors and diplomats also seeking refugee status in clan­destine activities against Turkey.

A long series of trials related to the coup attempt under way adds to the puzzle. What the suspects, especially those at the top of the command chain, tell the courts might confirm suspicions or raise new ones about who was behind the coup.

A majority of them deny any affiliation or cooperation with Gulen and his followers, main­taining that they are Kemalists, staunchly loyal to the principles of Turkey’s founder.

A witness statement by Zekai Aksakallı, commander of special operations forces, stirred even more suspicion. “A state of alarm within our army leads automati­cally to a top-level order on the entire staff not to leave their bases and barracks,” he said, “but this basic rule, always applied, was not implemented July 15th when the reports have been received. If that was done, the coup would be totally exposed from the first moment.”

In this context, a comprehensive report by the Foreign Relations Committee of the British Parliament landed also like a bombshell. The report, prepared with the help of a series of oral and written statements of experts and politicians, question the role of Gulen and his followers as the main culprits of the coup attempt, raising new questions, as it is once more underlining that a gap of trust between Turkish government and its western allies is wider than ever before.

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This rift adds to the elements that threaten Turkey’s role and trustworthi­ness in NATO and intelligence structures and in the coalition combating jihadists in Syria and Iraq.

As put in a column by Leonid Bershidsky, an analyst with Bloomberg recently:

”(Turkey’s) Relations with the Netherlands are all but broken off, Germany is struggling to remain civil under a barrage of Erdogan insults, and Denmark is siding with its north European neighbors. Add to this Turkey’s differences with the U.S. and the perennial tension between Turkey and Greece, and it’s no longer clear how much of a NATO member Erdogan’s country really is. Despite its considerable military strength, Turkey’s participation in alliance activities isn’t extensive, and its interests don’t necessarily align with those of NATO.

”U.S.-Turkish relations haven’t quite recovered since Erdogan unleashed similarly strong rhetoric against the U.S. last year, accusing it of being behind the failed plot to remove him, and Secretary of State John Kerry came close to threatening Turkey with the loss of its NATO membership.

That membership, though, doesn’t appear to be particularly meaningful at present.

In Syria, the world’s biggest war theater today, Turkey acts as an independent player and sometime rival to the U.S. That became evident last year, when Turkey and Russia became co-brokers of a ceasefire and a peace process that excluded the U.S. This year, the U.S. and Russia found themselves unlikely situational allies against Turkey near the Syrian town of Manbij, preventing a Turkish push against Kurdish forces called terrorists by Erdogan’s government but considered useful allies against the Islamic State by both America and Russia.

There’s no sign of a U.S.-Turkish joint strategy, and any U.S. move to help the Kurds will be seen as a betrayal in the charged post-coup atmosphere of Ankara.

All in all, Turkey appears to have more disputes than friendships with its NATO allies. And its engagement with the alliance itself, which it joined in 1952, isn’t particularly strong.’

Some Turkish officers attached to the NATO headquarters in Brussels even asked for asylum, and others were abruptly dismissed from the military. Alliance ties were weakened, and that’s what some radicals within Erdogan’s AK party want. Earlier this year, Samil Tayyar, an AK legislator,calledNATO a “terror organization” that “threatens Turkey.” He accused the alliance and its members of being behind all Turkish coups since 1960 and called for Turkey to leave it.

Erdogan himself has never suggested going that far. His brinkmanship is designed to retain the benefits of formal NATO membership without taking on too many commitments. The U.S. and its top European allies tolerate that because a Turkish departure would, in effect, put the Black Sea and the Balkans officially in play as parts of the world where Russia and Turkey can openly vie for influence. The West would also lose a key Middle Eastern foothold.

In reality, however, Erdogan is nobody’s long-term ally. He’s a populist, mostly interested in consolidating domestic power for the long term, and his country’s strategic importance to everyone — Europeans, Americans, Russians, Arabs — gives him a sense of impunity. Turkey is only bound by treaties so long as they don’t force Erdogan to do anything he doesn’t like. And the referendum, if Erdogan wins it, will only strengthen that position.

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‘Young Turks’, again in ‘opposition-in- exile’ after a century, in Köln, Germany

‘Do you have anybody nominated as Ahmed Riza Bey?’ I asked some in the crowd.

It was meant to be a joke, and many have responded with a laughter. Some pointed out impishly to an elderly figure standing here or there. More laughter.

It was a large group of people, who had gathered last Friday at a hotel hall in Köln. Most of those who came – was able to attend – were from Turkey, meeting old friends, or new ones living in Germany or in the European neighborhood – Turks, Kurds, Alevis, others.

What brought them together was an event that was anticipated with high hopes: as their country was dragged into an ever darker vortex of persecution and polarisation, and its media and academia being annihilated with a geometric pace, a new TV channel, ARTI TV which was being born with the promises of independence, critical content and vastly diverse opinion. It was also coupled with a online news site, ARTIGERCEK.

Founders say they are keen on full transparency on ownership: It is backed by the Netherlands-based Arti Media Foundation. Hopes are, its independent backers will help it get institutionalized.

As it went on air that night, invitees formed a perfect gathering of (Turkish and German) journalists, but it was the dissidents, which in a flash reminded me of the famous ‘Young Turks’ or ‘Young Ottomans’ – more than a hundred years ago.

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Ahmed Rıza (below left) was a lead figure of Young Turks, oppositional constutionalists in exile in France, against Ottoman Sultan Abdulhamid II, early last century.

Ahmed Rıza was one of the founding figures of the opponents of the oppressive Ottoman Sultan at that time, Abdulhamid II. Ahmed Rıza’s dissenting predecessors had begun to be driven underground, because they were fiercely against the decision by the Sultan, after a two year thaw, had abolished the firts modern constitution of the (declining) empire. So, from 1878 on, they organized, clandestinely, a movement which would work to reinstate a constitutional monarchy. They spread in the west, from Thessaloniki to rest of the Balkans, and some found a ground in Paris. Its second congress was held, under discreet French premises, in Paris 2007.

Ahmed Rıza was, along with another reformist figure, Prince Sabahaddin, an ancestor of Turkish liberalist line. These Young Turks were in alliance at that time with other subjects of the empire, whose backbone was the politically enlightened Ottoman Armenians, led by Khatchatur Maloumian (who would later severely deceived). The state of exile, until after the Sultan was overthrown, was part of the tradition of Turkish opposition. (Ahmed Rıza remained a lead-figure until he was sidelined by hard-liner triumvirat, Talat, Enver and Cemal, and after fiercely resisting in Parliament their decision to exterminate the Armenians, he retreated, heart-broken, into reclusion, and died as a man of high integrity in 1930 in Istanbul.)

In some ways similar to those distant yet close turbulent times, once more against the background of a constitutional overhaul of historic dimensions, many freedom-seekers who feel the threat of prison and bans, start to reassemble abroad – this time with Germany the epicenter, a political magnet of democratic opposition and independent media.

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Celal Başlangıç (back) and Fehim Işık, editors of ARTI TV

Since Erdoğan’s ruling AKP brutally seized and/or chased out almost the entire bulk of critical channels from the government-controlled TURKSAT satellite and digital platforms, ARTI TV will be try to reach the audiences via Hotbird satellite.

For its founders who quickly launched the channel, it seemed a strategically correct decision. The referendum in mid-April, is in many aspects a ‘to be or not to be’ for Turkey as we know it, and it wants to fill a role which is totally abandoned in Turkish media today: a broad, diverse and fair public debate platform, open to all the democratic competitors to give their voices.

Given how venomously one-sided, aggressive, and threatening the AKP’s campaign became, not an easy to ask to persuade who disagree with Erdoğan to appear on screen and say it like one thinks.

Yet, it was, professionally speaking, a right choice to invest on a channel, than a newspaper: we all know that nearly 90 % of Turkish public as a whole receive news and comment – for free – only from TV channels. That is the main reason why TV as a medium from Gezi protests on was the prime target for Erdoğan’s team to take control of.

My colleagues with ARTI TV knew about the ‘hunger’ for alternative media in Turkey. People seek to be informed about abuses of power, about the declining economy, corruption and failures in foreign policy of Turkey. Such themes are non- existent, as the so-called ‘mainstream’ private channels, go to a joint broadcast mode whenever and wherever President Erdoğan appears to make a speech, attends a ceremony. There is also a general fatigue among viewers when they notice how the same pro-Erdoğan pundits jump from channel to channel every evening, pumping in the same propaganda.

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Towards the end of the launching reception from central Köln, I found Celal Başlangıç, an age-old friend and the Editor of ARTI TV.

‘How is it going?’ I asked. He told me that the channel’s broadcast had gathered so much interest that its website, which was also airing the show, had been close to a point of collapse altogether.

I looked at those who had made this launch happen: they were busy keeping a technically fragile show (they had turned a hotel hall into a noisy studio, where everyone was at loose, keen on comments and views), I chatted with Turkish academics who had found a safe home in Germany in the past months, and felt what I felt for a long time:

If Erdoğan’s real intention is to raze the entire democratic resistance to the ground in Turkey; if he really believes that the journalist my colleagues will give in to the pressure at the end, if he hopes that the entire Turkish academia will be under his command, if he expects that the Kurds of Turkey – and its powerful diaspora – will fall under amnesia about their democratic demands on collective rights, he will continue to face challenges that will be frustrating for his party.

It is a battle with vast historic perspectives, that keep Turkey’s story open-ended. Unlike Turkic folks bent and broken by brutal dictators in Central Asia’ and Azerbaijan, perhaps a new ‘Young Turks’ movement is in the making – who knows? – refusing all the attempts to be ‘tamed’.

‘Do you see any Ahmed Rıza around here?’ I asked an elderly leftist intellectual before I left.

He laughed.

‘Sultans tend to cause such people to emerge’ he said. ‘I hope it doesn’t come to that…’

 

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‘The AKP regards Turkish immigrants in Europe as hostages or as instruments…’

‘Ankara sees those from Turkey living in Europe as ‘hostages’, as ‘tools’, thus puts their existences, their lives at risk. Those with origins from Turkey who are regarded already as temporary and unsettled in the countries they live in have now become more at risk – regardless whether they support AKP or not, they resorted to their Turkishness, distanced themseles from their pluralistic affiliations. The crisis in bilateral relations will pass quicky, but its negative marks over those originating from Turkey will not be erased so easily.’

 These comments belong to Prof Samim Akgönül, a Turkish political scientist and historian, with University of Strasbourg, France.

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If, as some of his opponents say, there was a master plan by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to invent a crisis with the European Union, it worked perfectly. With verbal insults, Turkey escalated a diplomatic rift with Germany and the Netherlands.

Both their governments and their people were accused of being Nazis. They found the comments outra­geous but remained unsure of how to respond to Erdogan.

The dispute goes back to Dutch and German decisions to prohibit Turkish ministers from speaking at political rallies in their respec­tive countries. In Germany, several members of Erdogan’s cabinet challenged the restriction, with Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu insisting on addressing German Turks at a Turkish consulate, in breach of Turkish election law. In the Netherlands, there were tense encounters between two Turkish ministers and Dutch authorities. Cavusoglu was prevented from landing in the Netherlands and was treated as persona non grata.

Turkish Family Minister Fatma Betul Sayan Kaya, who entered the Netherlands by road, was dealt with even more harshly. She was pre­vented from entering the Turkish consulate in Rotterdam, deported from the country, officially declared persona non grata and, BBC Turkish reported, banned from entering the Schengen area for ten years.

It was an ugly row but, to use the term coined by Erdogan after the coup attempt last July, it came as a gift from God. Turkey’s mercurial president was swift in seizing the events and creating a perfect storm. The ensuing rhetoric and drama lifted his campaign for a “yes” vote in next month’s referendum to new heights.

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The German and Dutch gov­ernments were not as crafty as Erdogan. They failed to speedily work out the meaning of his war of words, which came in response to Berlin’s and Amsterdam’s bans on campaigning imposed on Turkey’s ministers.

Over the past three Turkish elec­tions, about 70% of Turks in many EU countries voted for Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP). By escalating the diplo­matic crisis, Erdogan evidently had a broader agenda: He would whip up anti-Western sentiment among conservative pro-AKP voters at home to consolidate support for a “yes” vote in the ref­erendum. The strategy could even help with undecided voters, which recent surveys put at 10%.

It worked. Pro-Erdogan crowds were mobilised in Rotterdam and the clashes that erupted gave Er­dogan material to abuse the Dutch even more furiously. He went on to accuse them of involvement in the genocide in Srebrenica and imposed diplomatic sanctions.

Until Erdogan started the fight with Germany and the Netherlands, domestic surveys showed the ref­erendum vote about 50-50. Now, if opinion polls are reliable, the “yes” camp feels more confident.

The Turkish opposition said Germany and the Netherlands fell into Erdogan’s trap by cur­tailing freedom of expression. A row broke out between opposition parties in Turkey and Turkish, Kurdish, secular groups in Germany that largely supported the ban.

The crisis is definitely a game changer.

  • First, Erdogan’s gamble has already paid off. No matter who wins this year’s Dutch, French and German elections, Erdogan has improved his chances of getting a “yes” vote, which would enable his presidency to accrue even more power. He will have positioned Turkey as a country that espouses nationalist and Islamist ideas.
  • Second, Erdogan has done just what Russian President Vladimir Putin would have wanted: He sowed further division within the Euro­pean Union. In a broader context, he played up the clash of civilisations idea.
  • Third, Erdogan signalled that he is ready to break loose from the Euro­pean Union, leaving it with only one choice — at best, a privileged partner­ship that is focused on trade and the agreement on stemming the refugee flow to Europe.
  • Fourth, the European Union, which has kept quiet about human rights violations in Turkey to preserve its own self-interest, may be facing its moment of reckoning.

It is clear that the 60-year Turkish- EU relations will hardly recover from this crisis. More importantly, the real victims of Erdogan’s ruthless policy of crisis after crisis will be European Turks, who will face the risk of being targeted and branded as undesirable elements on European soil.

Compari­sons are being already made between them and the Jews and Roma in 1930s Germany.

Does Erdogan care about that?

If so, his concern might involve using them as bargaining chips.

In the latest phase of the spat he went as far as issuing new threats to Europe.

As reported by the Independent:

Europeans across the world will not be able to walk the streets safely if they keep up their current attitude towards Turkey, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said.

“If Europe continues this way, no European in any part of the world can walk safely on the streets. We, as Turkey, call on Europe to respect human rights and democracy,” Mr Erdogan told journalists in Ankara.

 

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With the Emergency Rule extending, Turkish prisons turn into powder kegs

The movie theatre was jam-packed. As we walked onto the stage last Friday at the International Human Rights Film Festival (FIFDH) in Geneva, I had the words of a Kurdish colleague, held for months in jail, swirling in my head.

We had assembled in Geneva to talk about the shattering results of the Emergency Rule in Turkey: Apart from myself there was a key expert on Constitutional Law, Kerem Altiparmak (who as a critical-minded academic was banned from travelling abroad, thus taking part via skype). Then there was Nils Medzel, UN’s Special Human Rights Rapporteur on Turkey and academician Pınar Selek.

I was thinking of İnan Kızılkaya, who had sent out a letter from prison. He is the managing editor of Özgür Gündem, a Kurdish daily shut down by the authorities. ‘We will do you in like Musa Anter. ‘We will throw you all into the wells filled with acid’ Kızılkaya was told in police custody when he with other Kurdish journalists was brutally interrogated.

Musa Anter was a well-known, iconic, noble Kurdish intellectual, who in the 1990’s was assassinated by unknown gunmen, suspected to be Turkish paramilitary units. ‘Acid wells’ is also a well-known phenomenon from the same period, during which many Kurds seen as linked with the PKK were ‘melted’ and ‘lost’.

HUNGER-STRIKE

Medzel gave a carefully worded account of what he saw in Turkish prisons he visited after the coup attempt (he is privileged in that sense, one of the very few allowed) and it became clear in between his lines that those thrown into police custody and prisons had gone through sheer hell, at least between July 15 and October.

He spared us the details, underlining that the conditions in police custody were the worst. In many ways, it was a powerful deja-vu: Kept in darkness for decades under an ugly record of harrassment of its citizens, Turkey seemed to have a glimpse of light on the horizon some years ago, but rewinded to square one.

Now it’s as bad as before, if not worse, for anybody who disagrees with the holders of power, President Erdoğan and his allies within the state.

I knew nobody knew it better about what ‘vindictive oppression’ means, than Pınar Selek, sitting beside me. The Turkish case that has been going on for 19 years against this pacifist, feminist, social scientist and author of several books is of such a nature that it makes what happened to Dreyfus once upon a time bleak by comparison.

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When Selek took the floor, what she told the audience about this labyrinthian process, which also included heavy torture and absence of justice, the audience obviously got an idea of how it might be for dissidents in jail in today’s Turkey. The more she went into detail, the deeper was public’s shock, as they were squeezed between two worlds: Kafkaesque and Orwellian – which best describe Turkey yesterday, and today.

Accused of acts of terrorism, Selek’s drama began in 1998. Today, after almost two decades, she is still facing lifetime imprisonment, despite the fact that she was acquitted four times already. How?

Some time before going to Geneva, her lawyer had sent me a note, explaining:

Istanbul High Criminal Court acquitted Selek of all charges on 19th of December, 2014 for the fourth time. Just a few days after the acquittal, the public prosecutor appealed against this fourth acquittal and the case file has been once again sent to Supreme Court for further examination. Now, after the demand of the Chief Prosecutor of the Supreme Court for the reversal of the acquittal, the appeal will be decided by the Supreme Court Criminal Chamber No: 16” she wrote and concluded:

The progress of the case shows the determination of the dark structures inside the state apparatus to go on targeting Selek. This political case has meanwhile turned to a revenge mechanism against all oppositional people daring to criticize the status quo based on violence and war politics.’

After four acquittals, still seen as guilty; searched by the authorities; and in exile, unable to return to her homeland. How come? Well, for anyone with a rational mind, this case is a intense challenge to understand. But in a sense, Selek is a symbol of how desperate the ordeal of Turkish intellectuals and civilian activists was, and continues to be.

To give a brief summary: her drama had begun on July 9, 1998, when an explosion rocked the famous Egyptian Bazaar in the Old City of Istanbul. Seven people had died and nearly 130 were injured. Those were the times, the Kurdish insurgency had been at a peak, and the army, then very powerful, had the state institutions and main bulks of the judiciary under control.

The rest is as told by my colleague, Cengiz Çandar, who had followed the complicated case:

”The investigation of the incident eventually reached Pınar Selek, a young sociologist who had begun to acquire fans from the marginal sections of society with her contrarian actions. Pınar Selek was charged as one of the perpetrators behind the explosion, based on a statement given by a Kurdish suspect who was accused of having connections with the PKK. It was eventually revealed that his deposition was taken under torture. But oddly, that same person who was detained as the main perpetrator of the incident later said that he didn’t know Selek and that he was forced by torture to give her name. He was not convicted. By contrast, Pınar Selek spent two and a half years in prison until she was acquitted. The Higher Court then reversed the acquittal, and the case continued while the young sociologist was released pending her trial.

In fact, all the evidence pointed to an explosion caused by bottled gas. A number of expert-opinion reports submitted to the court said this was the case. Selek was acquitted once again, and once again, but the Higher Court reversed the lower court’s decision.

There was a new trial. Evidence was collected again, new expert reports were examined and Pınar Selek was again acquitted…”

19 years and four acquittals later, Selek is still seen ‘guilty as charged’, with an aggravated life imprisonment hanging above her head. As part of a farce, European Court despite a torturously long period, refused to handle her complaint, saying ‘you should exhaust all the legal paths in Turkey, before applying with us.’

Selek was, of course, not surprised at all with the ongoing ordeal in Turkey where tens of thousands of people on political grpunds are imprisoned, and common criminals were released to provide space for even more. In her eyes, nothing has changed in the backbone of ‘oriental despotism’ so recurrent in Turkey.

As I left Geneva, I was flooded by fresh data from Council of Europe (CoE). Its report said that the number of prisoners in Turkey had almots doubled between 2006 and 2015, while many other CoE member states had noted a fall.

Its relations may be utterly tense, but overloaded prisons in Turkey are, according to other reports I received two days ago, a powder keg. Lawyers linked with a mainly Kurdish solidarity organisation (ZDICK) announced on Wednesday that a series of hunger strikes are now under way, beginning from March 15 on, threatening to spread to the entire bulk of political prisoners.

In Turkey, demands for human decency has now turned into a perpetual battle. On Wednesday police arrested Raci Bilici, the vice chairman of Human Rights Association. State of Emergency evolving into an unsustainable way of keeping its vibrant society under a lid, Turkey is heading towards an even more intense confrontation, both within and outside its borders.

 

 

 

 

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How Erdoğan thrives on ‘crisis strategy’; a game on constantly inventing enemies

‘A spectre is haunting Europe–the spectre of authoritarianism.”

Is it fair to rewrite the first sentence of Marx-Engels manifesto in this manner?

Possibly.

As we observe the worrisome process of ‘Erdoğan vs Germany’, developing into ‘Erdoğan vs Netherlands’, it is inevitable how enthusiastically his relentless drift to test the intolerance vis a vis democratic tolerance is received by the far-right in Europe in general.

Authoritarian leaders have been known to to thrive over the conditions that the democratic tolerance provides. Their journey towards their ‘final destination’ defies checkpoints; their very ‘free ride’ aims to gobble up all legitimacy – by way of subversion of the rules and regulations otherwise widely agreed.

What we have been witnessing – with the rise of Putin, Erdoğan and Trump -, mind you, is only a harbinger of what we will see in the future; only more and more of it. Unless, of course, Western Europe has a strong enough memory, and practical means, to fend the spectre off.

But it does.

Every day that passes with what takes place in trauma-stricken Turkey comes as a confirmation of how Hitler enhanced his power to the point of no return – almost as a playbook. Accumulation of anger over historic treaties; reproduction of the illusions of grandeur, the constant invention of domestic and foreign enemies – all accompanied by lies. In many ways Erdoğan represents a reincarnation of the ‘supreme leader’ that is only possible with the permissions that make it possible.

But there is a big difference of then and now.

Some 80 years ago, Europe was caught unprepared mostly because of its lack of legal consensus – through international legal institutions – that would make life very difficult for ‘dictator wanna-be’s. Today, the main difference is just that: legal ground is stronger and its is high time democracies should exhaust all their possibilities to marginalise evil that threatens their existence.

angry-erdogan

Erdoğan is in constant need for enemies – to keep his power base intact. He needs polarisation as a springboard for making it absolute, eternal. But, unlike Hitler, his invented enemies do not last long.

They are temporary, and slippery; they are either as cunning as his rule, or more powerful; and this very fact threatens his ambitions. His ‘enmity experiment’ with Syria has come to a bitter end with the latest developments; his arm-wrestling with Putin proved costly, showing that when thuggery meets thuggery all turn into a high-risk gamble.

The attempts to declare Lausanne Treaty as outdated backlashed, as the efforts to create a crisis in the Aegean with Greece – according to latest confirmed reports from Greek press – appears to have led to a clear ‘stop that!’ from Trump Administration. And, as we see, testing Germany’s patience by stretching the slander beyond all moral limits – comparisons to Nazism – doesn’t really seem to be promising for his purposes for maintaining popularity at home, in the long run.

History has taught us another lesson: If a power-grabber runs out of his political arsenal of confrontations, turn to the weak and vulnerable, more and more. So, if Erdoğan ends up empty-handed with how intends to instrumentalize Germany for his dreams as a single ruler of Turkey, that’s what he will do . Germany was seen as a useful punch-bag for a victory in the referendum, and indeed, if he wins, Turkey will be entirely redefined in the eyes of the West and its institutions.

If Turkey rejects the constitutional amendments in April 16 or, if by an unexpected act of panic the vote is cancelled before that, take it for granted that Erdoğan will do his best not to lift the state of emergency. It will have overlapped with the continued marginalisation in Syria and, if so, he will have to geometrically increase the oppression over the Kurds in Turkey in particular – perhaps, as some fierce critics say, hoping for an uprising which may give him a nationalist lead role.

Against that horrifying perspective, the current picture in Turkey leaves us about what to do to push back this geostrategically disastrous trend. Neither apathy, nor aggressive political escalation prove useful.

The EU has for far too long ignored Turkey. It has never been honest; it temporized with the hopes of Turks and Kurds. Jerking around with that society was like playing with fire, simply because it was at unease in the midst of problems whose solutions were long overdue; and it was known that a clear perspective of membership, however far ahead, was the medicine. Sadly, that momentum is lost, gone forever. Turkey has taken a sharp right turn, doomed to produce (and export) hostility and qualm.

Erdoğan plays just on this. He will not give up on either having his own anti-democratic values be acknowledged in the EU, or expecting that a decision to terminate the negotiations will come from there. Keeping this prospect on razor’s edge also serves his purposes.

altans

Have we run out of resources to deal with the spectre? As I believe, we have the legal base; and we need a full engagement from the good forces of the EU to exhaust all the possibilities. It is the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) which is nowadays feeling the heat, after a period of hesitation.

Yes, its relations with Turkey due to the breaches have always been troubled; but the way things have reached the breaking point since the failed coup in July last year requires that ECtHR is facing a historic test of make or break with Turkey’s commitment to the western norms. The Court’s hesitation to take over the cases until recently was because it had believed that Turkish Constitutional Court (AYM) would be responsive to the complaints from the dissidents and journalists imprisoned for months without even being able to meet their lawyers properly.

But AYM, apparently eclipsed by Erdoğan’s rage, remained silent.

So, most recently ECtHR accepted to deal with two spectacular cases without any further delay and this came as good news. The first one was an application by the novelist and former editor in chief (of Taraf newspaper) Ahmet Altan and his academician brother Mehmet Altan; and the second was the case of Şahin Alpay, a columnist and one of the frontline figures of liberalism in Turkey. Both cases are of the same essence: these ‘suspects’, held in jail for months, say the accusations are based on what they expressed as pure opinion, thus groundless; and they are being held unlawfully as prisoners. These are the two pilot cases of post-coup Turkey – which among many others also will be about the case of Deniz Yücel – and the way they are handled will shed a lot of light on how Erdoğan’s government will respond. This time with a difference: the legal judgment over the massive oppression in a partner country ‘negotiating’ with the EU will have to define its true path, also affecting its relations with the western institutions altogether.

Erdoğan hopes that, given the apathy in the Council of Europe about Azerbaijan and Russia, it may be ‘business as usual’, but he will have to be remembered that Turkey is far more special than any other country.

This crucial legal battle requires a full-scale engagement from the bar associations from all corners of the EU. Erdoğan’s government will have to be told that this is not the Europe of 1930’s.

One can only hope that much.

 

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Clash of Civilisations: With its two ministers as Persona Non Grata, Turkey exports its deep crisis into the heart of the EU

Once upon a time, yet not so long ago, Turkish President Erdoğan seemed keen on the leadership of ‘Alliance of Civilisations’; a project launched with the (former) Spanish Prime Minister Zapatero as co-chairman. One of the core ideas was to show the world how close the actual values of different faiths; that democracy would flourish regardless.

It is a distant memory now.

These days Erdoğan is busy trying to prove the opposite, willingly at the forefront of the Clash of Civilisations, as he triggers one crisis after the other with his – supposedly – negotiating partners in the EU, and allies within NATO.

Turkey’s iron-fisted leader is determined to establish a rule which, he hopes, will bring him into the league of Putin, Aliev, Lukashenko, Mugabe, Nazarbayev etc.

He is headlong into a race for hunting ‘yes’ votes for a referendum – due in five weeks – which, if he gets through his resolve, will redefine Turkey as an autocracy – where power as a whole will be under his personal command.

His battle knows no boundaries. It was therefore he exported the referendum campaign into European soil, where many Turkish citizens live.

Every vote counts. Since Emergency Rule means he has most of the propaganda machinery and spin under his control at home, he wants to make sure that the same applies to those voters living in Germany, Netherlands, Austria, France, Belgium etc.

But he hit a wall. Most of the countries mentioned are facing cruical, delicate elections; and their centrist politicians do not want the boats rocked in favour of the far-right, xenopohobic populists. Erdoğan and his men’s appearance, most of them argue, will just do that. So, no permissions were given for his party to conduct campaigns in those territories.

This is the background, where in his well-known rage Erdoğan called Germany a land of Nazis, and the crisis that erupted. This morning, the branding spread to Netherlands, whose elections are due in March 15. The Dutch had banned the Turkish FM Mevlut Çavuşoğlu a day before to come and conduct rallies.

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The rest of the story is, as told by the wires:

”Erdogan on Saturday likened a Dutch ban on his foreign minister’s visit to Nazism, in a dramatic escalation of a row over campaign events abroad for Turkey’s high stakes referendum The leader’s strongly-worded comments came after The Hague said it would refuse Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu’s plane permission to land ahead of a rally to gather support for boosting Erdogan’s powers.

Unlike in Germany, however, where a string of planned rallies were barred by local authorities, in the Netherlands it was the government that stepped in to block Cavusoglu’s visit.

“They are the vestiges of the Nazis, they are fascists,” Erdogan told an Istanbul rally Saturday, days after he angrily compared moves to block rallies in Germany to “Nazi practices”.

“Ban our foreign minister from flying however much you like, but from now on let’s see how your flights will land in Turkey,” Erdogan said.

The Turkish foreign ministry swiftly announced it had summoned the Dutch deputy ambassador in protest over the ban. The Dutch government said in a statement that its decision to bar Cavusoglu from visiting followed a Turkish threat of sanctions. “For that reason the Netherlands has let it be known it will withdraw permission to land” for the minister’s plane, it said.

The Netherlands is home to some 400,000 people of Turkish origin, and Ankara is keen to harness votes of the diaspora in Europe ahead of the April 16 referendum.

(Netherlands Government said it had proposed Çavuşoğlu to come visit after the Dutch elections, but that he had insisted on coming this weekend and had threatened to come no matter the response.)

Erdogan accused the Netherlands of working against the “Yes” campaign and said: “Pressure however much you like. Abet terrorists in your country however much you like. It will backlash, and there’s no doubt that we’ll start retaliating after April 16… We are patient. Whoever is patient will reach victory.”

The latest row came after NATO allies Turkey and Germany sparred over the cancellation of a series of referendum campaign events there.

Germany is home to 1.4 million people eligible to vote in Turkey — the fourth-largest electoral base after Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir.

Berlin has emerged as a strident critic of Ankara’s vast crackdown in the wake of the attempted putsch of last July, which has seen more than 100,000 people arrested, suspended from their jobs or sacked for alleged links to the plotters or to Kurdish militants.

Elsewhere in Europe, Austrian Chancellor Christian Kern has called for an EU ban on Turkish politicians campaigning for the referendum. And Swiss police on Friday blocked a rally supporting a “yes” vote in the referendum, amid uncertainty over whether the Turkish foreign minister would be allowed to host a similar event planned for Zurich this weekend.”

The escalation reached a peak on Saturday when the Dutch authorities prevented a Turkish government minister, Fatma Betül Sayan, to enter the Turkish Consulate General in Rotterdam for a political rally and, after tumultuous scenes, arrested her staff, and deported her as ‘Persona Non Grata’ back to Germany, where she had come from.

The crisis has led to severe threats for retaliation from Erdoğan and his cabinet on Sunday, as reported by the Guardian.

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Since the Turkish referendum, based on a proposal that Turkey shift to a fully empowered presidential system (without checks and balances; and separation of powers), is dated in April 16, more escalation is expected between Erdoğan and the EU (plus Switzerland).

And the crisis has already turned ugly, with several key points to be made:

  • In their unabated, limitless obedience to the iron rule of Erdoğan, Turkish cabinet ministers are following him like a flock, losing all the credibility they have abroad.
  • Applying a rhetoric towards Netherlands bordering a thuggish language, Turkish FM Çavuşoğlu is seen as responsible for nearly unprecedented act of getting himself declared as Persona Non Grata by an EU partner and NATO ally.
  • Erdoğan and the AKP government has lost further credibility, given the fact that it was they who signed under the amendments of the election law and a follow-up directive which bans Turkish politicians to conduct political rallies and election propaganda abroad and at Turkish foreign representative offices (embassies etc). By insisting they want to campaign abroad, they are the ones who break the very law they passed.
  • The main opposition shows also deep flaws in not attacking this breach. Instead, the secular CHP, echoes Erdoğan’s anger and supports his view that the European countries that impose bans should be boycotted.
  • The escalating crisis confirms a Clash of Civilisations in this context: it is a clash of cultures – that of the autocrats and of democrats. The power and resolve of the former are increasing as the other flank show growing vulnerability and erratic behaviour. This shows how deeply challenged the democratic orders across the globe are.
  • Once more Erdoğan shows the world how far this challenge can go.

 

 

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