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Reading Turkey through the death of Reisi; step by step towards an absolute authoritarian regime!

Last Sunday, the helicopter carrying Iranian President Ibrahim Reisi crashed in a mountainous area near the Azerbaijan border. It took 15 hours to locate the helicopter and inform the public.

There are various speculations about the helicopter crash. Authoritarian countries and their people love speculative news. The first suspect that came to mind due to the tensions between the two countries last month was Israel. The fact that the accident occurred on the way back from neighboring Azerbaijan, with which they have long-standing problems, increased suspicions.

There’s no point in preemptively exonerating Israel. Their history is filled with such assassinations and shady accidents against those they deem ‘enemies’. However, when looked at objectively, there are more concrete and strong possibilities to consider. The main problem was riding in a strange vehicle, a relic from the 1970s, modified and lacking sufficient technological equipment, daring to travel through a mountainous area late at night despite bad weather conditions.

Iran spends its underground riches on various adventures and Shiite expansionism to claim “We are a strong state!” but fails miserably in many organizations, treating its people cruelly, a country with classic authoritarian reflexes. The regime is ruthless to its enemies and the people, while irresponsible bureaucrats and technocrats cause a lot of loss of life and property.

The USSR was similar. The KGB was ruthless to the people and the opposition, but frequent fatal accidents occurred due to a chain of neglect. Only a few lower-level officials were punished, and no one else was held accountable. Watching documentaries related to the Chernobyl disaster, which hastened the collapse of the USSR, will show how it happened due to neglect.

Iran focuses on opposition groups and individuals while neglecting public health, food safety, social justice, and workplace safety, leading to frequent accidents and deaths caused by neglect and lack of precautions. Even Khomeini’s funeral turned into a disaster due to neglect, killing dozens and injuring thousands.

Looking at the changes in Turkey through this lens, you can see the traces of authoritarianism. Regimes that are ruthless to the opposition but disregard the lives of the people.

When examining the data/information related to the accident that caused Reisi’s death, neglect and the lack of necessary precautions emerge as the most likely possibilities. Another possibility is power struggles within the regime.

The public wants to escape the current regime. In closed regimes, since open political competition is not possible, rivals compete using underhanded methods. Ibrahim Reisi was a prominent candidate after the 85-year-old, health-troubled religious leader Ali Khamenei. If there was foul play in the accident, it is not because Reisi was the President; it’s because he was a strong candidate for the “sinless” and irresponsible religious leadership.

This accident bears a strong resemblance to the assassination of Muhsin Yazıcıoğlu, which had potential to provide an alternative to Erdoğan. In that case, calls were made to a passenger repeatedly, but strangely, no signal could be received from the crash site, and it took 15 hours to reach the location. The injured also died from the cold.

In closed political regimes, political assassinations disguised as accidents increase. Political competition is not conducted openly or at the ballot box but in dark areas and through sneaky methods. A large portion of the Iranian populace is uncomfortable with the Iranian regime. Despite increasing its influence and power in foreign policy, the regime’s consolidation among the people is very low. In the last elections, only 41% of the people went to the polls. This rate was only 28% in Tehran, the capital and major metropolis.

The public wants to escape the current regime. However, such a monstrous structure exists that the regime determines the candidates who will appear before the people at the polls. Candidates preferred by the people cannot even enter the political arena. Think about it; the Guardian Council could even veto former President Rouhani and ban him from the political race. The public is forced to choose from those offered to them. This situation causes the public to lose hope in the electoral process.

Unlike Turkish society, the Iranian people are quite bold in demanding their rights. People who lose hope in political solutions erupt in major uprisings every 2-3 years, leading to protests that last for months and make global headlines. The latest such instance was the protests following the imprisonment and killing of Mahsa Amini for unveiling, which spread across all cities, rendering the mullahs unable to appear in public.

Many observers thought these protests could change some things. However, we had stated that the regime would suppress them and continue on its path. Indeed, the regime first identified those who participated in the demonstrations, then arrested them from their homes, and executed many. The regime in Iran is institutionally very strong. The army, police, judiciary, intelligence, media, and paramilitary forces… all structures serve as the regime’s baton, ruthlessly suppressing the opposition.

Turkey is moving towards an ‘absolute authoritarian’ regime At this point, a warning must be issued to Turkey’s opposition, intellectuals, and society. Erdoğan’s Turkey is rapidly moving from a semi-authoritarian regime to an absolute authoritarian regime. Since it is based on religious exploitation, it shares many similarities with Iran. In such regimes, contrary to their rhetoric, genuine religiosity decreases. Religious practices, prayer rates decline, while alcohol and drug consumption increase.

Iran is among the Muslim countries with the lowest prayer rates and highest alcohol consumption. Tayyip Erdoğan has been making plans to move from a semi-authoritarian regime to an absolute authoritarian regime since the May 2023 elections. The recent enactment allowing mobilization and declaration of war is an example of this. The public clearly expressed their discomfort with the direction and desire for change in the local elections. However, intellectuals and the opposition continue to resist understanding the public’s message. The CHP, instead of building a broad-based opposition and elevating demands for change, continues to support and legitimize Erdoğan.

The public also sent a clear message in 2015, but the opposition, intellectuals, journalists… did not understand this message, and presented Erdoğan with the opportunity to win the election on a silver platter. If the message from the last local elections is also ignored, Erdoğan could transition to an absolute authoritarian regime, further strengthening his control over society and the state. The Turkish people could end up in the same situation as the Iranian people. Once the regime controls all institutions and structures, your protests and uprisings will be ineffective. The death of an authoritarian leader will not be enough to change the conditions. The established system defends itself violently. A regime not sanctioned by the people continues to govern the country through oppression and fear.

Nothing will change in Iran following Reisi’s death. The people will continue to endure the oppressive regime. In Turkey, intellectuals and journalists should focus not on “what will happen in Iran after Reisi,” but on “what happens if Erdoğan strengthens and establishes an absolute authoritarian regime.”

I believe that the message given by the public in the local elections presents a significant opportunity to prevent the country from turning into an absolute authoritarian regime. Every conscientious politician, intellectual, journalist, and academic should seek ways to reflect the public’s message in the elections and turn it into a wind of change.

Otherwise, Turkey is on the path to becoming a new Iran, exploiting religion, authoritarian, oppressive, and unafraid to shed blood. Interestingly, many Nationalists and Kemalists who targeted sincere believers on February 28, saying “Turkey cannot become Iran,” are now praising Iran during this period.

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