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SEMİH İDİZ

SEMİH İDİZ >Worms show in Turkey’s polished image

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The government is making great efforts to polish Turkey’s international image. Economically speaking there is enough material to present Turkey in a good light, too. Despite the troubles in Europe - and despite all the talk about a “dangerous current account deficit” - Turkey’s economic prospects remain good.

This of course is crucial for the Erdoğan government, since a strong economy is one of its main props, and a key factor in its landslide victory in the elections of June 2011. However things have started going awry as far as Turkey’s judicial, political, social and cultural image for the broader international audience is concerned.

The increase in the number of articles in noted international newspapers and journals focusing on negative developments in the areas listed above are on the increase. Meanwhile western diplomats, who until just two years ago were prepared to give Erdoğan and his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) the benefit of the doubt, are far more critical now.
Previously their principle “litmus tests” used to judge Turkey were the Kurdish issue and matters pertaining to Christian minorities. Kurdish language broadcasts, more freedoms for Christians with the return of their previously seized properties were used as signs to indicate that “the AKP was on the right track.”
Even the Ergenekon case was initially hailed because it was “finally unearthing the anti-democratic and illegal forces embedded deeply in the Turkish state.” But the tide appears to be turning now, and those who put together a growing list of negative developments over these past two years are inclined to revive the former argument about the AKP and its “secret agenda.”

It is of course hardly convincing for officials from the AKP to insist that they do not have such an agenda, and blame “journalists and observers with less than good intentions” for spreading such notions. After all it was Erdoğan himself who not so long ago blurted out that they as a party wanted to see a “religious generation emerge” in Turkey.

As it turned out the government immediately enacted measures after Erdoğan’s remarks that would open the path to more Islamic teaching in primary education. Shortly after this a campaign was initiated against state-sponsored theaters, which incidentally are as old as the republic itself, on the grounds that they were purveying filth.

Recently a case was initiated against Turkey’s world-renowned pianist Fazıl Say, an object of hatred for Islamists, on the grounds that he insulted Islam. Say is of course given to strange remarks, but hounding him is hardly in line with Erdoğan’s claim to be bringing “advanced democracy” to Turkey.

Then there is the abortion issue that Erdoğan pulled out of the hat, when there was absolutely no call for it, and started another heated debate between ultraconservatives, which he is increasingly showing himself to be identified with, and the modern elements of society.

Meanwhile journalists, academics, publishers, retired soldiers etc. are still languishing in prison on what many believe in a lot of the cases to be trumped up charges to do with “attempting to topple the government by illegal means.”

There are remarks coming from AKP quarters now indicating some dissatisfaction because these cases are dragging on interminably. But many feel these remarks are insincere since they are not accompanied by any steps aimed at legislative changes to improve the situation.

In the meantime prosecutors suspected of being ideologically motivated continue on their course, which results in long periods of incarceration for people who have not been convicted, a fact that should be unacceptable for any civilized judiciary.

This is just a cursory list of the negative developments that are overtaking the Turkey, while the government tries to polish the country’s image based on economic successes. But polish the apple as much you want, if there are worms in it, this will always show.

June/12/2012

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