Turkey heads in the wrong direction - and Europe helps it on the way

The AKP's recent conduct has, by any democratic standards, been outrageous

A black day for Turkey. Well, not if you are one of almost half the voters who on Sunday voted for President Erdogan’s AKP (Justice and Development Party), whose grassroots, in the words of Serkan Demirtas, the Ankara bureau chief of Hürriyet Daily News, feel no immediate need to reach contemporary democratic standards. It’s just tough luck for those who do, because they are stuck with the AKP for the next four years.

A hefty dose of terror has also helped the governing party to regain power, after failing to be able to form a single-party government after the June elections. In a process the New York Times called “wagging the dog”, Erdogan reignited a war with the Kurdish separatist PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party) to gain support for his renewed bid for power, and the PKK has been dumb enough to play along with him.

One ray of light in the elections is that Erdogan did not succeed in knocking out the Kurdish HDP (Peoples’ Democratic Party), under the leadership of human rights lawyer, Selahattin Demirtas, and his co-chair, Figen Yüksekdag, by tarring them with the PKK brush. The HDP scraped by with just over the 10 percent of the votes needed to be reelected.

In an interview in March last year, Abdüllatif Sener, a former AKP deputy and founding member of the party, said he thought Erdogan would even be prepared to drag Turkey into a civil war to cling on to power, and it seems he was right. At any rate, the body count in the renewed conflict with the PKK and the attacks on the HDP can run into the thousands with an effect on homes all over Turkey.   

The only other ray of light is that the AKP, with 317 seats out of the Turkish parliament’s 550, still falls short of the 330 seats needed to send constitutional changes to a referendum or the two-thirds needed to push them through in parliament, thus depriving Erdogan of the executive presidency he has been hankering after.   

The AKP interim government’s conduct prior to the elections has, by any democratic standards, been outrageous. Under the leadership of Erdogan’s stooge, former foreign minister and now prime minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, it has instigated attacks on what is left of the free press, culminating in the takeover of the Koza Ipek media group, including two dailies and two tv stations, five days before the elections, converting it into a propaganda outlet for the government.

President Erdogan will no doubt go down in the Guiness Book of Records as the most insulted president in republican history, as already in March the Turkish daily Sözcü reported that Erdogan’s lawyers had filed charges against 236 people for having insulted him since he became president in August last year. By now, the number has increased, adding more newspaper editors, journalists and ordinary Turks to the list.

Turkish judge Isil Karakas, who is vice president of the European Court of Human Rights, has stated that “Turkey had the image of a country where torture was tolerated. I am happy to say that this image no longer exists. What replaced it? The image of a country where freedom of the press and freedom of speech are not protected, the internet is blocked and lawsuits are continuously being filed against people for insulting the president.”

Nobody is safe. Two boys aged 12 and 13 now face two years in jail for having torn down posters of the president to sell to a junk dealer, and 244 participants in the 2013 Gezi Park protests in Istanbul have just been sentenced to up to 14 months in prison for their role in the demonstrations.

Turkey’s president is clearly paranoid, when he claims that international media organizations take orders from “a supreme mind” [read: the Jews] to attack him and the AKP. This is in keeping with a two-hour anti-Semitic ‘documentary’, “The Mastermind”, aired by a pro-AKP tv channel in March, and Erdogan’s statement that there was “a plot” and  “a greater mastermind” behind the heroic defence of Kobani by the Syrian Kurds. 

The EU’s role in the whole business is entirely shameful. In an attempt to appease Erdogan, the publication of a critical progress report on Turkey has been delayed by the EU Commission until after the elections, and a fortnight before the elections Germany’s chancellor, Angela Merkel, paid a visit to Turkey, which was seen as tacit support for Erdogan’s regime.

In an attempt to stem the flood of refugees heading for Europe, the EU has offered a number of incentives to Turkey: €3 billion in aid, the restart of membership talks, visa-free travel to the Schengen area from 2016, and an invitation to Turkish leaders to EU summits. True to style, Turkey has just upped the ante to €3 billion a year in what an EU source calls Erdogan’s “protection racket”. It will be interesting to see whether the EU is hard pressed enough to fall for it.   

Robert Ellis is a regular commentator on Turkish affairs in the Danish and international press

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