11/15/2016, 16.36
TURKEY
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Erdogan’s road to power includes presidential rule, Islamisation, and fighting Kurds

The Kurdish-based HDP opposition party stands alone in parliament against the country’s changing political system, expected to be decided in a referendum in April 2017. If Erdogan’ wins, he will have concentrated power in his own hands. Meanwhile, the Turkish lira is paying the price of instability dropping 6 per cent against the dollar in a month. Repression after the failed coup is now sweeping the school system.

Istanbul (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s campaign to change the country’s political system from a parliamentary to a presidential republic via a referendum continues. The change would boost his power.

As part of this, the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) has intensified its campaign of repression against the Kurds to win more votes from the nationalist right. This has further divided the country, accentuating tensions with Europe, whose leaders have slammed Turkey’s authoritarian drift.

In the aftermath of the failed coup d’État in Turkey last July, President Erdogan and the Turkish government have launched a campaign of repression against its alleged perpetrators. These include supporters of Islamic preacher Fethullah Gülen, believed to have masterminded the coup that left 270 people dead, and thousands wounded.

Thus far, Turkish authorities have arrested tens of thousands of people, including teachers, soldiers, intellectuals, opposition politicians, businessmen, journalists, activists and ordinary citizens.

Government repression has been particularly ferocious against the most important pro-Kurdish opposition party, the People’ Democratic Party (HDP), whose leaders were recently arrested.

For several analysts and experts, the government is flexing its muscles in the fight against the Kurds in order to please the nationalist right, whose support in parliament is essential to hold a referendum on a proposed presidential system.

The referendum is expected in the spring, perhaps April 2017. The goal is to transfer executive power from the prime minister to the president, as well as combine presidential and legislative elections. This would give Erdogan the possibility to be head of state and head of government whilst keeping the leadership of his party.

The Kurdish-based HDP is openly opposed to this centralisation of powers, which explains why the ‘sultan” and his closest surrogates are going after the Kurds, who were used in the past to consolidate power.

Erdogan’s anti-Kurdish repression is strongly supported by the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), which has welcomed the arrest of the leaders of the pro-Kurdish party. In order to woo the nationalist right, the president said that he would reintroduce the death penalty, sparking protests in Brussels.

In view of the situation, HDP vice president Hisyar Ozsoy recently stated that "[we] are the main obstacle [to the presidential system] and we have to be eliminated."

The net effect of government repression has been instability, which has had a serious impact on the country’s economic and cultural situation, including its education system.  In October alone, the Turkish lira lost 6 per cent against the US dollar.

However, the greatest impact of Erdogan’s action after the failed coup has been on Turkey’s education system. In recent months, the authorities have suspended or fired 30,000 teachers. One of them is Prof Erdem (who has withheld his full name for fear of retaliation) who said he heard about his sacking on social media.

"My name was on a public list of people accused of supporting terrorist organisations," he said. In reality, he had been involved in trade union struggles. Now, after a career of 20 years, he is out of a job with a passport suspended by the authorities (the same goes for his wife and children). On the government website, his name is penned in red. "I'm not the only case,” he explained. “Everyone here is afraid."

For many the coup attempt turned out to be “a gift from God” for Erdogan, not only with respect to changes to the political system, but also in the educational field. A "cultural revolution" is underway to replace secular education with a radical Islamic one.

The writing on the wall for the secular educational system is there to see: from unbanning the veil to banning women’s skirts, from school programmes to imams and Qur’anic schools.

Students and teachers have tried to protest against this government policy, which began well before the attempted coup. However, the repression that followed the failed coup has silenced the voices of young people and their teachers.

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