Marching for justice in Turkey

Marching for justice in Turkey

No one expects an overnight miracle after the 432-kilometer march from Ankara to Istanbul by main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) head Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, in protest at the woeful state of justice in Turkey.

However, Kılıçdaroğlu has reinjected hope in millions of Turks who are deeply worried about the rapid deterioration of their democratic and secular system, and the glaring injustices they see.

It was the questionable arrest and sentencing to 25 years in prison of CHP deputy and former journalist Enis Berberoğlu that triggered this long march for justice. Berberoğlu’s case was apparently the last straw for many.

In order not to sully this march with party politics, Kılıçdaroğlu insisted that it include nothing that would indicate party affiliations. Only the Turkish flag, placards with the word “Adalet” (Justice), and portraits of Atatürk, the founder of the secular republic, were to be carried. This was a clever move that increased support from people with different political affiliations.

A state of despondency had set in among many Turks after the dubious results of the April 16 referendum shifting the country to an executive presidential system. That referendum, held in an unfair atmosphere, effectively gave President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan control not just of the executive and legislative branches, but also the judiciary – which today he does not shy from publically giving instructions to.

With tens of thousands dismissed and in many cases incarcerated, on often flimsy accusations of supporting last year’s failed coup attempt, the general feeling was one of resignation, marked by a belief that nothing could prevent the slide to authoritarianism.

And yet Kılıçdaroğlu, who at the age of 69 walked from the political to the commercial capital of Turkey under blazing summer sun, showed that nothing is impossible, no matter how the odds may be stacked. The hundreds of thousands that greeted him in Istanbul on June 9 also demonstrated that a significant portion of the population is not prepared to take what is happening in Turkey lying down.

The proof of the success of this walk is the anger with which Erdoğan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) have responded to it. Using familiar tactics, they hit below the belt, at times going as far as to accuse the tens of thousands of people supporting Kılıçdaroğlu’s march for justice of being “terrorists.” 

Some AKP supporters also tried to disrupt the walk. In the town of Düzce, one man poured a truckload of manure on the road where the marchers were due to walk the next day. This not only failed to discourage Kılıçdaroğlu, it also backfired, leaving the honest folk in Düzce, including AKP supporters, disgusted, embarrassed and apologetic.

Simply put, the government was caught so completely off guard by this act of protest by Kılıçdaroğlu that all it could do in the end was to provide security for the marchers, who garnered a lot of public sympathy on the way. 

It was clear that if the government had intervened to try and stop the peaceful march, the result would have been worse, as the event not only captured the imagination of a significant number of Turks but also the attention of the international media.

No one is expecting an overnight miracle to emerge from this march. It is clear, however, that we are not in the same Turkey as we were in before it took place. 

Erdoğan and the AKP are no doubt sleeping a little less comfortably now, with presidential and parliamentary elections not so far away in 2019. This is especially so considering the far from great result they got from the April 16 referendum, which they won by only a slim margin despite all undemocratic machinations.