Another banal expression of authoritarianism in Turkey

Another banal expression of authoritarianism in Turkey

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s recent attack against academics - who signed a petition condemning military operations in Kurdish cities and calling for peace and negotiations - is yet another banal expression of the authoritarian politics that have long prevailed in Turkey under Justice and Development Party (AKP) rule. All authoritarian regimes are anti-intellectual and this tendency intensifies when they are in trouble. So it is not surprising that Turkey’s president and his party look for scapegoats to blame for their domestic and foreign policy failures. Indeed, authoritarianism is rarely a reflection of political power; rather, in most cases it is a result of weakness.

The AKP and its leader turned authoritarian by seeking absolute power in order to compensate for their failure to cope with the country’s problems; they failed to overcome issues stemming from Turkey’s social, historical and political complexities. Results of this incapacity are the rise of tension between secularists and conservatives on the one hand, and between Kurds and Turks on the other. The more the AKP failed to govern in democratic and peaceful ways, the more it sought sheer power to suppress dissent and to cover up problems. It is true that the AKP and its leader managed to win electoral support, as Turkey is a very conservative and nationalistic society. However, majority rule has turned into a tool of suppression, creating a vicious cycle.

Now, it is the failure of the AKP’s policies on the Kurdish problem - leading to a kind of civil war in the southeast - that is reinforcing its anger about criticism. This is not to say that AKP rule alone is responsible for this terrible situation with the Kurds. The impact of the Kurdish movement’s decision to return to armed struggle has been disastrous for the prospect of democratic politics in Turkey. Nonetheless, we critics of government policies think it is Turkey’s state/government that is primarily obliged to find a peaceful path and avoid further devastation. For this we are branded “terrorists,” “traitors” and “enemies of the nation.” The president’s call for action against “those traitors” has not only led to judicial motions, detentions, and investigations from the notorious Higher Education Board (YÖK), it has also prompted a massive public campaign of intimidation. A mafia leader even felt free to talk about “taking a shower with the blood of the traitors.”

I don’t know where the whole affair will end up, but so far we have already lost our security of life - let alone our job security and freedom of speech. This is even truer for signatory academics of universities in conservative Anatolian cities and junior academics like assistants and assistant professors. What’s more, the call from the “highest rank” has put academics with administrative posts like rectors and deans in a very difficult position. Those who did not and would not sign such a petition but believe in freedom of speech are under immense pressure, even if they are supporters of the ruling party. 

Finally, advocates of the intimidation campaign in media organs and on social media are provoking further popular enmity. This is hugely dangerous as Turkey is a very militaristic and nationalistic country, and the subject of the petition is the Kurdish issue and ongoing military operations leading to the deaths of many army members and security officers - as well as Kurdish guerrillas and civilians. Worse is the silence from others – especially the ex-leftist so-called liberals and democrats who long ago exchanged their freedoms and principles for the “benefits” of supporting the ruling party. Indeed, that is a lucrative deal - though only if one does not mind sacrificing one’s dignity.