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17 Feb Written by  Mustafa Demir

Turkish Democracy on Trial

How Democratic is Turkey? Not as democratic as Washington thinks it is. Since the general election which held in Turkey on June 7, 2015, various happenings suggests that indeed Turkish democracy is on trial. It is thus becoming increasingly clear that Turkey is sliding into autocratic presidentialism since the announcement of the corruption allegations in December 2013 that implicated President Erdogan, his immediate and extended family, as well as the highest echelons of his party(AKP), all resources of the Turkish state have been mobilized to protect and increase the power base of President Erdogan and the ruling AKP.It is no longer news that the June 7, 2015 election ended in defeat for the President Recep Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP). The pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) secured 13 percent of the vote in that election to deprive the AKP from forming the majority government. However, developments in Turkey since that election have confirmed that Kurds would pay a heavy price for not supporting PresidentErdoğan in the election.

The result has been the collective punishment of the Kurds as a result of the excessive show of lethal force, and non-discriminatory, round-the-clock curfews, severe human rights violations as noted and documented by many such organizations, including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.President Erdogan now labels any opponent as 'enemies of the national will' or ‘terrorists’. This calls for concern from all concerned, especially Turkey’s allies such as the United States and European Union.

Furthermore, there has been a rapidly deteriorating conditions for press freedom in the country with more than 50 leading international media editors, observing Turkey, wrote an open letter to President Erdoğan, raising profound concerns about the “deteriorating conditions for press freedom” in Turkey in the run up to the early/engineered elections held on Nov. 1, 2015. The Kozaİpek Media Group, which owns the Kanaltürk and Bugün TV channels and a number of newspapers critical of the government, were raided by the police on the eve of the election, despite a politically motivated court order not containing any evidence to legally seize Kozaİpek's companies. Apart from the media group, other companies belonging to Kozaİpekholding, members of the Hizmet movement have either being seized or clamped down by government.

It didn’t stop there; many journalists were arrested for no justifiable reason. Worthy of note is the case of  Can Dündar, editor-in-chief at the Cumhuriyet daily, who was arrested because of his paper's publication of secret documents revealing the Turkish government's secret arms transfer to Syria, which took place in January 2014. The gendarmes who stopped and searched the convoy and the prosecutor who ordered the search during its passage were discharged by the government and labelledtraitors. In a live broadcast on a state TV channel, President Erdogan was quoted to have said: “The person who wrote this story will pay a heavy price for it; I won't let him go unpunished.” He added that the footage was a “state secret,” and that publishing it was an act of “espionage.”

Then, more than 1,200 academics from 90 Turkish universities signed a petition criticizing the government's policies and activities in Turkey's predominantly Kurdish Southeast. In return, many of the academics were subjected to an ongoing campaign of abuse and violence that peaked with some of them being arrested by the state. The academics were accused by President Erdoğan of being “traitors,” and threatened by some criminal gang leaders supporting Erdoğan.

Among the many victims of the crackdown was Ahmet HakanCoşkun, a columnist for Hürriyet, who was assaulted in front of his house on Oct. 1, 2015. Coşkun has been receiving threats from pro-government outlets for expressing views critical of AKP.

All of these incidents have taken place in an internal environment, in which a collection of journalists and newspapers often referred to as the “pool media” seem to be working as propaganda machinery at the complete command of President Erdoğan. Through this propaganda machine, Erdoğan has succeeded in maintaining his and the AKP's support by scapegoating any critical voices that reveal his or the government's wrongdoings.

Having observed all these incidents, Emma Sinclair-Webb, the senior Turkey researcher at Human Rights Watch, argues that this is “dismantling of all checks on the power of its leaders.” Via oppressing, raiding and then seizing critical media, the regime is clearing space for the type of propaganda machine well described in George Orwell's novel “1984” in order to maintain a wave of popular support that can only facilitate the emergence of a “Hitler-style democracy.” Turkish democracy in indeed on trial.

*Mustafa Demir is co-director and Research Fellow of the London-based Turkey Institute and holds a Ph.D. in politics and international relations at Keele University in the United Kingdom.


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