04/05/2016, 14.25
TURKEY
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Thanks to Erdoğan, Turkey is on the brink of disaster

by Ömer Önder

As Turkey’s president rejects outsiders’ "lessons in democracy", journalists are arrested, and lawmakers and scholars are accused of terrorism. Until a few years ago, Erdoğan seemed to favour European Union membership, human rights and protection for religious minorities. Now he seems bent on establishing a quasi-dictatorship.

Ankara (AsiaNews) – Back from a trip to the United States, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan lashed out at the West for giving Turkey "lessons in democracy".

"Those who attempt to give us lessons in democracy and human rights must first contemplate their own shame," Erdoğan told a meeting of the Turkish Red Crescent in Ankara.

His comments came after US President Barack Obama said Turkey's approach towards the media was taking it "down a path that would be very troubling."

More and more, Erdoğan's government has been accused of increasing authoritarianism, muzzling critical media, arresting journalists, charging Kurdish lawmakers with terrorism offences, and taking judges and academics to court. Such a dangerous game could lead the country to disaster.

Turkey has been derailed from its vision of closer integration with the EU, the adherence to fundamental freedoms and human rights and the freedom of press since the third term of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) when it won the elections in 2011.

The popular support for Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the AKP, in every election since 2002 resulted in success against the military tutelage in Turkey, which held the nation in a choke hold by way of memoranda and interventions if not outright coups. 

Erdoğan came to power at the turn of the century as Turkey coiled from a crippling financial crisis in 2001, which left the economy in ruins, a post-modern coup d’état which had taken place just in 1997 and was still being felt strongly, as he promised EU membership and end to military tutelage, justice for all and financial upheaval for the country.

The AKP’s conservative “moderate” Muslim base found their support for the AKP bolstered by the votes of disillusioned leftists and liberals, who believed that Turkey needed a new impetus to gain traction in social and economic reforms.

Many religious groups, including the Hizmet Movement, inspired by the reclusive Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen, who resides in rural Pennsylvania in self-imposed exile, supported the AKP’s pledge of a more free Turkey that was ready to confront its problems from the past, such as s the Kurdish issue, whilst striving for a more prosperous future.

Turkish people were spell bound by Erdoğan’s energetic rhetoric which fused together a conservative and patriotic discourse with modern western values. Erdoğan’s rise was crowned with a referendum on September 12, 2010, thirty years to the day of the dreadful 1980 military coup, making significant changes to the 1982 military-sponsored constitution which is in place in Turkey today.

However as much as the 2010 referendum was the funeral toll for the military tutelage in Turkey, it presented Erdoğan and his associates with a conundrum, there were no enemies that the AKP could use to rally the people behind it.

This problem manifest itself  onward from the 2011 elections when Erdoğan and the AKP began to stray from the path to democratization they had promised the Turkish people, characteristically marked by a sharpening of the Prime Minister’s discourse and the eventual habit of inventing enemies, foreign and domestic.

Erdoğan, and the media outlets he had begun to collect under his control from as early as 2007, began demonizing different sections of Turkey’s population, including Armenian Christians, Jews, Greeks, Kurds and Shia Muslims.

Turkey’s once lauded “zero problems with neighbors policy” crumbled as the AKP administration began damaging ties with surrounding countries one by one. For example, the bilateral ties with Israel were all but cut off after the intervention to the Mavi Marmara aid ship en route the Gaza Strip in 2010.

The AKP also became a vocal critic of Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad after the Arab Spring uprisings looked as they might topple him in 2011. Turkey currently has over 3 million Syrian refugees within its borders fleeing the civil war in the neighboring country, according to Turkish officials.

Turkey is also currently estranged from Egypt, the largest Arab nation in the Mediterranean, after Erdoğan publicly slammed the country’s president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, and supported Egypt’s former president Mohammed Morsi, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, who was overthrown by Sisi in a military coup in 2013.

However, Erdoğan’s real authoritarianism began to take root after the Gezi Park protests in June 2013, against the AKP’s plans to build an Ottoman style barracks instead of the park in İstanbul’s Taksim square. The police force was criticized for excessive violence, though Erdoğan praised the crackdown, saying the police suppression of the protest had been “heroic.”

The protests, the biggest incident of unrest against a government in the history of the Turkish Republic and the first serious challenge to Erdoğan's rule, caused a deeper divide in the already polarized nation. Erdoğan has accused the protesters of terrorism and attempting to overthrow his government. Eleven people, many of whom were young demonstrators, were killed in the clashes between police and protestors.

Erdoğan’s demonizing of a certain group reached its pinnacle after two far-reaching graft probes were revealed in Dec. 2013, involving four cabinet ministers, high-ranking bureaucrats and businessmen with strong ties to the AKP.

Erdoğan blames the Hizmet movement for instigating the corruption probes, claiming the movement tried and failed to carry out a coup against his government. He subsequently waged a self-declared war against the movement, going so far as to say, “If reassigning individuals who betray this country is called a witch hunt, then yes, we will carry out this witch hunt,” during a in 2014.

Erdoğan invented the term “parallel state” or "parallel structure," to refer to members of the Hizmet Movement, upon instigating wave after wave of police operations against the group, the latest being the seizure of the Zaman daily, the largest circulation daily in Turkey, on grounds that it has links with the group. Turkey has over 30 journalists in prison with over 1800 court cases opened against individuals on the grounds that they insulted the president.

Erdoğan became president in 2014 with 52 percent of the vote allowing him to proceed with his authoritarian agenda and vision for an executive presidential system to replace the parliamentary system currently used.

However, despite all the ostracization Turkey has been facing abroad, and the domestic turmoil Erdoğan has been wreaking within to realize his goal of an unchecked presidential system, the main difficulty Turkey faces today would most succinctly be put as the Kurdish problem.

In 2013, the Turkish government headed by Erdoğan brokered a settlement with the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK). The Settlement Process, as it was called, envisaged granting the country's long-repressed Kurdish minority greater rights and autonomy in exchange for a cease-fire after a three-decade insurgency that claimed the lives of more than 40,000.

The ceasefire was ended, by the PKK in July 2015, a month after the AKP, still under Erdoğan’s control, lost the majority in parliament that it held since 2002. The PKK’s attacks after the ending of the ceasefire and Erdoğan’s heavy-handed retaliation in the country’s southeast resembled a civil war during the summer of 2015. The PKK’s return to arms and Erdoğan’s retaliation was viewed by many as the president’s tactics to cause havoc and pressure the people to vote for the AKP in the snap elections that were held in November.

A reoccurrence of the situation after the June 7 elections, when the AKP had lost power, would mean the reopening of graft investigations against members of the AKP and family members of Erdoğan himself. However, Erdoğan’s scaremongering ahead of the Nov. 1 paid off as the AKP won 49 percent of the vote, allowing Turkey’s embattled president to continue pushing Turkey near the edge off a cliff, just in order to keep his grip on power and escape the graft probes that could see his family members behind bars.

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