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Crushing Dissent in Turkey

July 28th 2016

Turkish KFOR soldiers riot training

In 1853, John Russell quoted Tsar Nicholas I of Russia as saying that the Ottoman Empire was "a sick man -- a very sick man," in reference to the ailing empire's fall into a state of decrepitude. Some 163 years after that, the modern Turkish state follows in the Ottoman steps.

Turkey, under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's rule, was staggering between a hybrid democracy and bitter authoritarianism. After the failed putsch of July 15, it is being dragged into worse darkness. The silly attempt gives Erdogan what he wanted: a pretext to go after every dissident Turk. A witch-hunt is badly shattering the democratic foundations of the country.

Taking advantage of the putsch attempt, the Turkish government declared a state of emergency that will run for a period of three months, with an option to extend it for another quarter of a year. Erdogan, declaring the state of emergency, promised to "clean out the cancer viruses like metastasis" in the body called Turkey. With the move for a state of emergency, Turkey also suspended the European Convention on Human Rights, citing Article 15 of the Convention, which stipulates:

In time of war or other public emergencies threatening the life of the nation, any High Contracting Party may take measures derogating from its obligations under this Convention to the extent strictly required by the exigencies of the situation, provided that such measures are not inconsistent with its other obligations under international law.

Before July 15, civil liberties in Turkey were de facto in the deep freeze. Now they are de jure in the deep freeze.

On July 27, the Turkish military purged 1,684 officers, including 149 generals, on suspicion that they had links with Fethullah Gulen, a U.S.-based Muslim cleric who once was Erdogan's staunchest political ally but is now his biggest nemesis and the suspected mastermind of the coup attempt. On the same day, the government closed down three news agencies, 16 television stations, 23 radio stations, 45 newspapers, 15 magazines and 29 publishers on the same charges. Two days before those actions, warrants were issued for 42 journalists, as a part of an investigation against members of the "Fethullah [Gulen] terrorist organization."

Surrendered Turkish soldiers who were involved in the coup are beaten by pro-government activists on a bridge over the Bosphorus river.

Under the state of emergency, it is dangerous in Turkey even to question whether July 15 was a fake coup orchestrated or tolerated by Erdogan for longer-term political gains. Turkish prosecutors are investigating people who allege on social media that the coup attempt was in fact a hoax. Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag said that: "Anyone who suggests the coup attempt was staged 'likely had a role' in the insurrection." But there is more.

In a massive purge, the government sacked more than 60,000 civil servants from the military, judiciary, police, schools and academia, including 1,577 faculty deans who were suspended. More than 10,000 people have been arrested, and there are serious allegations of torture. Witnesses told Amnesty International that captured military officers were raped by police, hundreds of soldiers were beaten, and some detainees were denied food, water and access to lawyers for days. Turkish authorities also arrested 62 children and accused them of treason. The youngsters, aged 14 to 17, were from Kuleli Military School in Istanbul. The students have reportedly been thrown in jail and are not allowed to speak to their parents.

Sadly, Turks had to choose between military dictatorship and elected dictatorship.

The witch-hunt is not in the governmental sector only. Several Turkish companies have fired hundreds of personnel suspected of having links with Gulen. Turkish Airlines, Turkey's national airline, fired 211 employees, including a vice-general manager and a number of cabin crew members.

Sadly, Turks had to choose between two unpleasant options: military dictatorship and elected dictatorship. The good news is that the coup attempt failed and Turkey is not a third-world dictatorship run by an unpredictable military general who loves to crush dissent. The bad news is that Turkey is run by an unpredictable, elected president who loves to crush dissent.

Burak Bekdil is an Ankara-based columnist for the Turkish newspaper Hürriyet Daily News and a fellow at the Middle East Forum.


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