The state of rights in Turkey

The state of rights in Turkey

In times of war, it is not only lives and the truth that are lost, but also the rights of the people. When people have to make a choice between their security, employment or freedom, freedom is the first to be abandoned. Security - that is, existence - is of course the last.

Since July 2015, security has become the biggest concern of the people in Turkey. The resumption of acts of terror by the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the escalation of attacks by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Turkey have changed the entire political atmosphere. Certain predominantly Kurdish populated towns in Turkey’s east and southeast, near the borders with Syria, Iraq and Iran, have been stages of fierce fighting between the PKK and state security forces. All the tactics of both conventional and unconventional warfare have been used in urban areas.

Not only are the exact number of causalities and wounded not known, but also the number of people who have left their towns in order to avoid being left between the two fires is not known. Suggestions about methods to fight terrorism go as far as razing complete towns to the ground, as opposition Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) leader Devlet Bahçeli said on April 5.

Terrorism in big cities, both by the PKK and ISIL, is killing people indiscriminately and spreading fear into their daily lives. A recent survey showed that the use of mass transportation after the recent bombings fell by nearly a million in Istanbul, to almost a third of the usual figure. Restaurants in Istanbul’s touristic areas are not as full or as lively as they were before. Under such pressure, people think they need more security in order to be able to keep their jobs or businesses and they are not so bothered about the use of their other rights.

This is valid not only for the political field. Deputy Prime Minister Mehmet Şimşek, who is responsible for the Turkish economy, said in a speech addressing the 19th Eurasia Economic Summit in Istanbul on April 6 that Turkey needed to be more predictable, transparent and respectful of the rule of law in order to attract more foreign investment. He was talking about a country that his party has been ruling uninterruptedly for almost last 14 years. Şimşek underlined the need for judicial reform, as his predecessor Ali Babacan had done for years, knowing that court independence is a must not only for a healthy democracy but also for a healthy investment environment. The same goes for the free press. 

A judiciary vulnerable to political manipulation is a major systemic problem for the use of rights. When the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) took power in 2002, one of the major complaints in Turkey was that the courts were open to pressure and manipulation by the military and intelligence services. Then, under AK Parti rule, the sympathizers of Fethullah Gülen, an Islamic ideologue living in the U.S., became the major source of complaints, as they had become very effective in the security services. Since President Tayyip Erdoğan and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu have denounced the Gülenists as a terrorist organization trying to overthrow the government, the AK Parti’s manipulation of the courts has started to become a major source of complaints by opposition parties.

Under other circumstances, the depreciation of the state of rights in Turkey could be a major problem in the country’s relations with its Western allies, the U.S. and the European Union. But nowadays the priority of the U.S. is to get the maximum military and political cooperation from Turkey against ISIL in Syria and Iraq - and regarding Russia more generally. The priority of the EU is to stop the refugee flow into their countries with maximum Turkish cooperation. As a result, neither wants to upset President Erdoğan by making the state of rights in Turkey into a hurdle. This is despite raising the issue publicly, perhaps in order to let off steam and show Erdoğan that they could use it as a weapon against him one day.

As the old saying goes, when the elephants fight, the grass gets trampled.