LIVING IN TURKEY TODAY FEELS LIKE A SURREAL NIGHTMARE. We are constantly reminded in an atmosphere of government-induced hysteria of the coup less than a month earlier, a coup that the rest of the world justifiably regards with deep suspicion. A coup that somehow didn’t manage to arrest a single member of the government or silence one television channel. A coup that instead immediately resulted in mass arrests and dismissals from pre-prepared lists of officials who happen to be in areas of the state – the judiciary, army and academia - that President Erdogan had long sought to control.
Of course, such contradictory moves need to be justified to the public. In an echo of the ‘doublespeak’ in George Orwell’s famous 1984, the government of Tayip Erdogan uses its domination of the state and private media to continually assert the opposite of what it believes or is actually doing. Thus, we saw a massive government-organised rally in Istanbul, attended by more than a million, for “the defence of democracy”. This comes from a government that last year lost the election but refused to move out of office. Instead, it chose to launch a civil war against its Kurdish population to whip up nationalist fervour. Then it took over large chunks of the media and launched physical attacks on the left opposition party, all in preparation for a second parliamentary election which it predictably “won”. Some champions of democracy!
As to this huge “Democracy and Martyrs” rally, how can one have a rally for democracy while tens of thousands of people are being dismissed and arrested? Or what kind of “democracy” rally is it where the main demand is for the restoration of the death penalty for political offences? Even on this, the President pretends that he is only responding to popular demand, yet at the same time he presents detailed arguments for it. The manipulation is plain to see.
Sadly, two of the three opposition parties are going along with this charade. By doing so, they believe they can hold President Erdogan back from his drive towards dictatorship. But they are labouring under an illusion. Erdogan has no respect for democracy. As he once said when he was Mayor of Istanbul, “Democracy is like a street car. You ride it until the last stop and then you get off.” To that end, “democracy” can be used as a very effective propaganda tool. Ever since the coup in July, the AK Parti government has organised ‘democracy watch’ rallies each night in city squares across Turkey. These rallies which last well into the early hours are provided by the authorities with free food and seating, and consist of speakers followed by the playing of stirring nationalistic music as the signal for the participants to mindlessly wave their banners.
Meanwhile, every TV news programme features more arrests and pumps out propaganda against the Gulenist Islamic movement which is supposed to have been behind the coup. This is all part of a concerted campaign to justify the widespread and continuing crackdown on critics of the government.
Arrests and dismissals have been taking place on a frightening scale with chilling accounts of brutality and torture of detainees. Over 70,000 state workers have been affected so far with officials warning that this is only the start. The latest target for these punitive measures has been officials and managers in the football sector! Are we seriously expected to believe that such people, and the 21,000 private school teachers dismissed so far, had anything to do with the coup of July 15th?
No, the whole purpose of this huge assault on people’s rights is to frighten all critics of the government and to enforce the domination of the AK Parti movement over every institution in society. Right now it is the Gulen Islamic movement that is in the President’s sights. The Gulen cult which built an international education and business empire was one of the coalition of Islamic groups that helped Erdogan come to power in 2002. Indeed, it worked very closely with the AK Parti, supplying many of the qualified personnel needed to replace the Kemalists as Erdogan extended his control over the Turkish state and society.
However, Erdogan doesn’t want to share power with anyone else, and as soon as he felt strong enough he launched a campaign against Gulen, culminating in the current purges. There are some in the opposition who are now going along with Erdogan’s purge, hoping this will make them more acceptable to the regime. But as history shows, the President’s dictatorial methods will soon be directed at the rest of society. Dark days lie ahead for Turkey.