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Politurco in September: Special focus on authoritarian nature of the Turkish government

Politurco is a new and rapidly growing online platform focused primarily on Turkish politics, the Middle East and the Muslim world. Our commitment to providing topical information in accordance with the highest standards of journalistic and academic ethics and integrity has attracted not only a range of new expert contributors, but also praise from readers. The following is a review of a selection of the best recent Politurco articles published in September on the most important political, economic and social developments in Turkey.

Many of this month’s articles focus on the increasingly authoritarian nature of the current Turkish government, and its consequences for the country’s further political and economic development, as well as its affect on Turkish citizens residing in Turkey and abroad.

Dr. H. Arslan provides a detailed, well-founded examination of the developments in Turkey that have led to the rise of the current authoritarian political system in a September 3 article on “The never-ending story of Turkish democracy.” The author explores the “zigzags” of democratic development in Turkey: the military interventions, the deep state structures, and the imposition of an authoritarian model of government. Beginning with the rise of Ataturk and the 1960 coup, Arslan notes that the vicious cycle of military interventions demonstrated that democracy is merely a means to an end. He argues that a covert political transformation took place in 1993 at the hands of the deep state, with the deaths of key political and military figures. Overall, the 1990s were a “lost decade” for Turkey on many levels: short-lived coalition governments, unsolved assassinations, escalating PKK terrorism and financial crisis. Between 2002 and 2011, the AKP instituted many democratic reforms and gained widespread popular support, which allowed them to reduce the military’s influence in politics. The deep state remains powerful, however, as Arslan demonstrates in an overview of its modus operandi and activities, including assassinations and bombings, over the past 15 years and explains the factors that enable the emergence of a deep state. Finally, he describes the rise of an authoritarian system in Turkey under the AKP, which has violated the rule of law, eliminated checks and balances and enabled the assertion of a conspiracy allegedly masterminded by Fethullah Gulen—despite the fact that neither Gulen nor Hizmet has ever developed political goals or endorsed a political party.

“International indexes show the downward arrow and alarming collapse of Turkey” by Doctoral researcher Abdulmelik Alkan on September 20 laments Turkey’s socio-economic problems and its coercive diplomacy, which have led to its recent decline. Alkan analyzes a range of international indexes from reputable organizations such as Freedom House, Reporters without Borders and Transparency International, all of which show an alarming downward trajectory on key areas such as rule of law, transparency, media freedom, and human rights since the 2016 coup attempt. Declining scores on PISA tests show that the educational system is also in decline, with Turkish students scoring below the OECD-average in Science, Mathematics, and Reading. Alkan argues that the government’s changes to the educational system and sacking of tens of thousands of teachers and university rectors, as well as the closure of more than a thousand educational institutions, is to blame for the educational decline. Similarly, until the government restores rule of law and justice, along with other democratic norms and human rights, Turkey’s standing in international indexes will continue to decline across the board.

On September 18, Dr. Ahmet Kurucan examines the question, “How Islamic school of thoughts affected perception of Islam?”, focusing on the categorization of Islam. Citing the Christian religion as an example, where the different branches are considered by their followers to be sovereign religions, Kurucan notes that theoretical differences have caused conflicts within Islam, similar to what happened within Christianity. He lists a number of denominations of Islam, including Book of Islam/Book of Religion, Hadiths’ Islam, Fiqh’s Islam, Salafi Islam, Sufi Islam, and Official Islam, etc. Without commenting on the correctness of the interpretations or structures behind these denominations, he provides a fascinating, brief overview of each denominations’ main characteristics and history. Kurucan states that it is obvious which Islam the government and their supporters who inflict the cruelties in Turkey adhere to—Official (or Political) Islam. He decries the corrupt mentality behind human rights violations and the misuse of religion to protect the power of one group over others.

In his article ‘Erdogan Becoming a Dictator: Who is Responsible?’ Ekrem Dumanli, former editor-in-chief of Daily Zaman, explains how Erdogan came to power in 2002 and promised before the people that he was going to make democratic reforms. Examining  his promises and his serious steps towards democracy and all of the reforms made between 2002 and 2010, Dumanli notes that these policies raised the standards of democracy in Turkey, which allowed significant developments towards human rights. Under these circumstances, Dumanli concludes that it was not only Gulen Movement but nearly all of the groups supported Erdogan including left wingers, right wingers, liberals, conservatives, Kurds, Alevis, non-Muslim minorities mainly because of his democratic actions.

In his article, “Can the Turkish Economy get better without confidence building?” of September 2, Dr. Hamdullah Ozturk shows how economic prosperity can only flourish where law and order are guaranteed for all citizens. Drawing on religious teachings and examples, he notes that this will require reversing many of the authoritarian policies of the past few years: limiting executive power, restoring freedom of media, releasing political prisoners, ensuring an independent justice system, restoring checks and balances and taking measures to build confidence among domestic and foreign investors. This will restore domestic peace and allow the economy to flourish.

“Feto-Meter: How the witch-hunt system works in Turkey”, written by investigative journalist Adem Yavuz Arslan on September 13, states that the persecution of suspected Gulenists has become a kind of genocide. The Turkish Armed Forces created “scientific criteria” by which they have been attempting to identify and destroy possible Gulenists in their midst. By using software, launched in September 2016, to analyze the records of approximately 810,000 active and retired personnel, along with all available data on their relatives—to the fourth degree—they intend to identify hidden Gulen supporters. Practically, this means guilt by association: if, for instance, your cousin opened an account in Bank Asya, you will be fired and, most likely, arrested. Another one of the 70 “insignia of being a follower of the Movement” is divorce; if you married after you had met your spouse in a circle of friends, you are “certainly a follower of the Movement”. The same is true if you have an advanced university degree. Ironically, even Erdogan would be flagged as a Gulenist according to this software! The author argues that the so-called coup attempt was in fact a false flag operation masterminded by Erdogan and others. If Turkish media were allowed to operate freely, this would have been immediately exposed. Instead, police and soldiers who had nothing to do with the coup were arbitrarily and illegally imprisoned and tortured.

In a September 28 article entitled, “What really happened in New York: Insights of Erdogan’s visit to the U.S.”, author Adem Yavuz Arslan examines Erdogan’s recent four-day stay in the U.S. for the 73rd United Nations General Assembly. Against the background of deteriorating U.S.-Turkish relations, there was little contact between officials during the visit to New York; Erdogan met with Trump only by chance for a few moments in the hallway. The author notes that, either by choice or due to ostracism, Erdogan’s visit was directed mainly towards a Turkish rather than an international audience. When asked about Pastor Brunson, Erdogan pointed to the courts, saying it was purely a judicial matter. The fact that this is in sharp contrast to Erdogan’s previous suggestions of a possible exchange of Brunson for Gülen indicates that a decision has already been made to release Brunson, and that this will be portrayed as an action of the “independent” Turkish judiciary.

In my article, “Is Renaissance for the Turkish Left Possible?” of September 27, I tried to explore the current state of the left-wing in Turkey, as well as its prospects for future development. In the West, the left wing is often at the forefront of the struggle for human rights and democracy. In Turkey, however, the left wing is inconsistent, state-centric, and nationalistic, displaying similarities with Ba’athist movements in the Middle East, especially in Syria, rather than Communist parties. I see little change of a left-wing renaissance in Turkey, as that would require an intellectual transformation which seems impossible within the left’s current political framework and nationalist mindset. The left-wing remains stuck in the past, without a vision of how to solve Turkey’s contemporary problems or to oppose the current anti-democratic government.

Researcher Hafsa Girdap, in her September 20 article, “Fleeing civil death by risking actual death”, draws attention to the numerous violations of women and children’s basic rights in Turkey. The author notes that over 700 children under the age of six are currently imprisoned, along with 10,000 women who were detained on arbitrary or political charges. Many women and children in Turkey also lack access to basic services, face societal exclusion and a dearth of financial opportunities. In this situation, many consider risking their lives to flee the country. They do so because they see no hope in Turkey, where the government’s oppressive approach and media propaganda machine make life nearly impossible for members of certain targeted groups. They would rather risk everything and start over from scratch elsewhere, for a chance at a decent life for themselves and their children.

The September 6 article by Abdulmelik Alkan, entitled “Enforced Disappearance: Cases of Hizmet Movement members and International Law” details the case of six Turkish teachers kidnapped by the Turkish intelligence service in Moldova and forcibly returned to Turkey. All six had applied for UN protection and asylum in Moldova. The author notes that the Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency recently paid for the renovation of the presidential palace in Moldova, and is very active with a number of other projects in the country—activities that could be seen as suspicious given the abductions. The author cites extensively from the 2006 UN Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance to demonstrate that enforced disappearances are prohibited under international law, as are extraditions for political offenses. He calls for the swift submission of these and other cases to international human rights bodies against the countries involved.

The September 1 article, “Children—the real victims of Yemen” by Deniz Zengin looks at the genesis of the war in Yemen, where the proxy war carried out by Saudi Arabia and Iran over Yemen continues. The Yemeni civil war began in 2012, when President Ali Abdullah Saleh was forced to resign and flee to Saudi Arabia after 22 years in power. The Houthis, who are affiliated with the Zaidi tribe which is considered a branch of the Shiites, revolted in the north of the country and clashed with the Sunni tribes. A Saudi-led coalition stopped the progress of, but could not defeat, the Houthis, who are backed by Iran. Thousands of Yemenis, including more than 6,000 children, have lost their lives in the ongoing war, either through violence or disease and malnutrition. The current humanitarian crisis will only worsen as fighting intensifies around Al Hudaydah harbor, the main entry point for food and medicine into the country. UNICEF estimates that, in addition to facing poverty, starvation, and epidemics, approximately two million children do not go to school. Zengin describes the children of Yemen as an “obliterated generation.”

Abdulmelik Alkan discusses the case of Veysel Akcay in an August 29 article entitled, “Educator in Mongolia still fears of imminent Illegal Extradition to Turkey.” Mr. Akcay is the director of a group of private Hizmet- affiliated international schools in Mongolia. Accused of involvement in the 2016 coup, although he was not even in Turkey at the time, Akcay was kidnapped in front of his apartment in Ulaanbaatar and taken to the airport. Akcay’s supporters learned of his predicament and rushed to the airport to support him. Mongolian authorities did not agree to his removal and released him. Mongolia protested this violation to its sovereignty and independence, but has since prohibited Mr. Akcay from traveling and applying for asylum in a third country, raising fears that he may be at risk of illegal transfer to Turkey.

Hope to meet you in December, with our insightful articles again.

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Aydogan Vatandas / Editor-in-Chief
Aydogan Vatandas / Editor-in-Chief
Aydoğan Vatandaş is an investigative journalist from Turkey, specializing in Political Science and International Relations. He is the author of 13 books, many of which have become bestsellers in Turkey. 'Reporting from the Bridge' and 'Hungry for Power: Erdogan's Witch Hunt and The Abuse of State Power' are the first two books published in English in the U.S
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