Politics of death over dead hopes
It was about midnight on Friday when I found myself unable to resist wondering what the latest news was and switched the TV on. Why one should resist learning the latest news would have been a good question if one didn’t live in the country. The answer is that we all fear hearing the latest casualties in the fight with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK); we do not want to hear about more young soldiers dying anymore. We cannot do anything about it, as all peace call falls on deaf ears. The PKK is adamant in its dreadful policy of military confrontation, and Turkey’s government perceives peace calls as a crime to support terrorism. The comparatively better news is Turkey’s rift with its Western allies on the Mosul operation, the latest arrests of Gülenists and the debate on the presidential system.
On Friday at midnight, there was a live broadcast of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s speech in the Black Sea province of Trabzon as he arrived at the airport. During the day, the president had visited Konya and already given a speech. I wondered why he had decided to give another speech at midnight and was worried that something extraordinary had happened. Thank God nothing had happened. It was only a spontaneous speech to those who welcomed the president in the airport. Nevertheless, it did not turn out to be a relief, since right after the president started his address to the people, thousands of people started to chant “capital punishment.” I first felt scared, then worried and finally hopeless.
In the aftermath of the July 15 coup attempt, we witnessed similar scenes in which people who had resisted the coup were demanding capital punishment, with the president subsequently lending support to their demands. After a while, the issue seemed to end, or so we hoped.
Now, again, as the people were chanting, the president made a call to political parties to bring the issue to parliament and promised to approve parliament’s decision. We all know that the governing party can do nothing against Erdoğan’s will and will have to duly bring the matter to parliament. We also know that the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) is quite eager to bring capital punishment back. It is hard to imagine that Turkey will bring capital punishment back, but who knows? We know that it would mean the end of the EU process, but who cares? Those who will object and those who care about relations with the European Union are not powerful enough. It is not only a matter of numbers in parliament, but the Kurdish opposition lost its credibility after PKK attacks started and lost all of its moral superiority after the attacks intensified. The main opposition party, the Republican People’s Party (CHP), is squeezed between the Kurdish opposition, which declines to oppose the PKK’s policy, and Turkish public opinion, which the governing party skillfully manipulates.
I have no idea why the president decided to bring such a controversial issue up right in the middle of the presidential system debate and the Mosul crisis. Is it a signal to the Western world that Turkey can go it alone at home and abroad and that the governing party will not hesitate to burn all bridges at home and abroad? Does it aim to silence those who complain about injustices which are being made in the name of prosecuting the circles of coup plotters and of other terrorists by reminding them of harsher measures? No matter what, it is a frightening strategy.
But it is not just capital punishment for traitors, terrorists and wrongdoers; death is also being promised to law-abiding citizens. The president constantly talks about martyrdom, sacrificing our lives for our country and the superiority of dying for God. During the Trabzon speech, he finally praised “dying like a man.” It seems that let alone advocating democracy, rights and freedoms, anybody who values life over death will be a suspect in the near future.
Life? What for, if not for dying for your country? If one should be prepared to sacrifice one’s life for the country, freedoms and rights are minor causalities. Then what casualties? Aren’t we all supposed to live up to sublime causes? What rights what freedoms? It is the politics of death over the death of hopes for democracy in Turkey.