President Erdoğan paves way for ‘tradesmen rule era’

President Erdoğan paves way for ‘tradesmen rule era’

Enjoying the title of “Turkey’s first president elected by popular vote,” President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan took populism too far in a speech yesterday.

Speaking at a meeting of the Confederation of Turkish Tradesmen and Craftsmen (TESK) in Ankara, Erdoğan charged his audience with the task of running and protecting the country themselves.

“Tradesmen and craftsmen are not people involved only in economic activities, in our civilization, in our national soul, tradesmen and craftsmen are soldiers if needed; they are martyrs, veterans, and heroes who protect their country when needed. [They are] police who restore public peace when needed; [they are] the judges who provide justice,” he said.

Erdoğan’s remarks came on the same day as two tradesmen, who themselves had tried to “restore public peace,” were on trial on charges of manslaughter.

The prosecutor in Kayseri demanded a prison sentence of eight to 12 years for İsmail and Ramazan Koyuncu, the owners of a bakery in the Central Anatolian province of Eskişehir who were involved in the beating to death of university student Ali İsmail Korkmaz during the Gezi protests in June 2013.

The Koyuncu brothers, and two of their relatives, were not only involved in the brutal murder of the 19-year-old Korkmaz, they also tried to destroy evidence by deleting the bakery’s security camera footage – in cooperation with the police officers involved in the murder – according to the indictment.

Had the suspects been aware of President Erdoğan’s remarks, they could have used them in their defense. In the next hearing, they should tell the judge: “As a tradesman, I’m obliged to restore the public peace when it’s disturbed, the country’s president has said so. If this includes the beating to death of a teenage protester, let it be, I will not hesitate to do it again today if necessary. The national will comes above all, including the right to life.”

One of the suspects yesterday, however, tried to make the best use of Erdoğan’s earlier remarks on Gezi protests.

“The president, the prime minister and the interior minister of this country said the Gezi Park protests were a coup. If it was a coup, I was assigned to suppress it,” said police officer Mevlüt Saldoğan, the main suspect in the trial who faces life in jail.

The murder in Eskişehir was not the only incident in which neighborhood gangs, often led by local shopkeepers, attacked protesters “to ensure public peace,” just as President Erdoğan asked them to do. Similar attacks took place in Istanbul, Konya, Rize, Trabzon and other cities against all kinds of demonstrators, who were all protesting the government and therefore “creating disturbance to the citizens.” With almost all perpetrators of those attacks going unpunished, more are probably on the way following Erdoğan’s remarks.

Erdoğan, of course, is not the first politician to take populism to the extreme. Adnan Menderes, who he admires and often refers to as “the martyr of democracy,” was a champion of the art.

Menderes, who became prime minister after winning the elections in 1950 to end the Republican People’s Party’s (CHP) signle-party rule, told his lawmakers in 1955 that they “could bring back caliphate if you wanted to.” He was so confident of his popular support that he once said “I can have a piece of wood elected a lawmaker if I nominate it,” but such support could not stop his execution at the hands of the military junta following the 1960 coup, which is still a shame in the history of Turkish democracy.

But democracy is not meant to be the total authority of whoever gets the most votes; nor does it give the supporters of the ruling party the right to take matters into their own hands when they deem a situation dangerous for the country. That is why states have security forces, instead of militias, to protect the order.

Erdoğan’s ultra-populism fuels polarization in the county, while also encouraging his party’s supporters to become more aggressive against the opposition.

Nothing good can come of this.