Turkey needs more democracy against terror, not oppression

Turkey needs more democracy against terror, not oppression

When then-U.S. President George W. Bush made his famous “you are either with us or the terrorist” speech in the U.S. Congress on Sept. 20, 2001, nine days after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, many people voiced concerns about the consequences of such a policy. 

“Every nation, in every region, now has a decision to make. Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists,” Bush said in his speech. “From this day forward, any nation that continues to harbor or support terrorism will be regarded by the United States as a hostile regime.”

Time proved those concerned with the policy right, but not before Afghanistan and Iraq were plunged into years of chaos, hundreds of thousands of people were killed and the seeds of the chaos in Middle East today were sown.

Almost 15 years later, in the face of growing terrorist threats targeting the country, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan gave a local version of the speech.

“Some circles, at home and abroad, are at a crossroads. They will either side with us, or with the terrorists. There is no middle way,” Erdoğan told reporters on March 14.

“Their titles as an MP, an academic, an author or a journalist do not change the fact that they are actually terrorists. An act of terror is successful because of these supporters, these accomplices,” the president said, adding that the definition of “terrorists” needed to be broadened. 

“It’s not only the person who pulls the trigger, but those who made it possible who should also be defined as terrorists,” he said and added that the gist of the matter was “not freedom of speech or freedom of the press, but counter-terrorism.”

Erdoğan took it a step further yesterday. “Security forces will search the houses and workplaces of the people they consider to be linked to the terrorist organization, and nobody will complain about this,” he said.

The message seems to have been received, because three academics who announced last week that they supported a petition signed by over 1,000 academics calling on the government to stop security operations in the southeast were arrested late on March 15 on charges of “terror propaganda,” while more than 320 people, including lawyers and members of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), have been detained since the deadly bombing in Ankara on March 13.

Such “us or them” policies that come together with oppression of others have often failed both globally and in Turkey. While President Erdoğan calls for the lifting of the immunities of HDP lawmakers, the detention and arrests of pro-Kurdish People’s Labor Party (HEP) MPs in 1994 did nothing more than fuel the terror campaign. 

Another major problem of “redefining terrorism” in today’s Turkey is that President Erdoğan and the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) feel free to label anyone a “terrorist,” even their former allies. 

The Gülen Movement, followers of the U.S.-based Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen, was the AKP’s closest ally, assuming almost all key posts in the judiciary and the police. But the movement is now called “Fethullahist Terrorist Organization” (FETÖ) because its members “tried to overthrow the government” when they were involved in the major graft probe of Dec. 17-25, 2013. Now almost every week, people linked with the movement are detained, and often arrested, on charges of “terrorism.”

Ankara hosted Salih Muslim, the leader of Syria’s Democratic Union Party (PYD), several times in Ankara to convince him to be a part of a broader opposition coalition, and even allowed heavily armed Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga forces to travel via Turkey to fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) siege of the Syrian town of Kobane before the group and its armed wing, the People’s Protection Units (YPG), continued to act alone and gained ground in Syria’s north. At that point, Ankara “realized” that the group was linked to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), and hence all its members were terrorists.
Meanwhile, nobody is buying what the PKK is trying to sell. One of the senior members of the outlawed group, Cemil Bayık, claimed in an interview with The Times that the terror campaign aimed at “toppling Erdoğan and the AKP.”

“If Erdoğan eliminates us, he wins. Turkey will never be a democratic country unless Erdoğan and the AKP are toppled,” Bayık said in one of the most idiotic remarks of the recent past. Only someone who has spent almost his entire life as an armed militant living in the mountains could claim that killing civilians in the heart of the capital in a suicide attack would help a political cause.

Turkey is the target of a violent terrorist campaign by the PKK, ISIL and some other groups. But the right way to fight this campaign is not increasing the oppression in the country or using tanks and artillery in town centers in the southeast at the expense of killing civilians.

The answer is a democratic environment in which people will freely discuss the problems, in which every idea that does not advocate violence can be talked about. To efficiently fight terrorism, we must try to include more people in the parliamentary system instead of trying to put the representatives of the people in prison.

If the country takes President Erdoğan’s way – and unfortunately it probably will – the future will only bring more pain.