What the latest wave of arrests has made me think

What the latest wave of arrests has made me think

As I stepped from childhood into the first years of my youth, one of the phenomenon that affected me the most with the beginning of my efforts to understand the developments in Turkey was the hardships experienced by the country’s intellectuals. 

Their arrests, the ordeals they had to go through behind iron bars in prisons and the torture they had been subjected to left important marks in shaping my world views.

The fact that prominent journalists, writers and academics were thrown into prison during the period following the March 12 ultimatum (1971 military coup) created a feeling in me that great injustice was being done at a time when I was just a high school student.

In the mid-1970s, we used to swallow books about the experiences of political prisoners during the March 12 period.

In these dark days, the release of an arrested writer from prison used to unleash a wave of joy.

Starting from these years, as I read and learned about Turkey’s history, I was to understand that these incidents were not specific to a certain time period, but widespread practices at all times.

The prison journeys of thinkers and writers were in fact a striking summary of the Turkish Republic’s history in the framework of freedom of thought and freedom of expression.

It remained the same and kept repeating itself. These measures that defined the single-party period continued after the transition to multi-party democracy and went on at a tougher scale in the time of the military coup. Academics were always among those paying the cost.

The expulsions similar to those during one-party rule were repeated during the years of the Democrat Party; a merciless purge in universities had taken place over a list called the “147ers” following the 1960 revolution. This timeö I closely witnessed the purge called the “1402ers” during the Sept. 12 (1980) coup as a journalist.

It is interesting that in the years following the transition from military regime to democracy, the problematic practices on freedom of thought have never dropped from Turkey’s agenda.

With the reform process that started following Turkey’s gaining of full membership perspective to the European Union at the end of 1999, a new page has opened making us believe that the periods marked by all the malevolent practices of the past were totally left behind.

I was among those who believed the rudeness intellectuals were deemed to deserve by governments and state mechanisms over the course of the Republic’s history was finally over.

According to this conviction, the flow of history in Turkey had entered into a trajectory, which could never be reversed, but only move forward.

At least that was the feeling at the time of the majority of the society that supported the EU target.

The steps undertaken in Turkey (most of them under the governments of the Justice and Development Party [AKP]) in the beginning of the 2000s, has brought to life a substantive reform process.

There was also a wide consensus among political parties during this process.

Then after 2008, we passed through a period where arrest waves defined the political agenda, prisons became filled with opponents, where soldiers were involved in legal cases and where heavy and systematic rights violations were experienced. Prisons and courtrooms for mass trials have again become the pulse of the political agenda.

This was followed by the dissolution of the alliance defined by a very long and close cooperation between the AKP and the (Gülen) brotherhood, the subsequent break up of a rough conflict between the two, the huge turbulence created by the coup attempt staged by FETÖ and the state of emergency measures that the government resorted to in this period.

When I heard that Professor Turgut Tarhanlı, one of our country’s most prominent lawyers, and Professor Betül Tanbay, an internationally renowned mathematician, were apprehended from their homes last Friday, on the morning of Nov. 16 and taken under detention together with a group of civil society activists, for a moment, I went back to the early years of the 1970s, to my days of youth.

It was as if that long period from then to now had never passed. The high school student who could not accept the jailing of Sabahattin Eyüboğlu on March 12 was looking at me with a helpless expression on his face.

Turkish judiciary, history, arrests