Turkey turns its back on Europe

Turkey turns its back on Europe

The operation against daily Cumhuriyet beggars belief. A paper that was hounded not so long ago by prosecutors who are accused today of acting at the behest of Fethullah Gülen – the Islamic cleric said to have masterminded the July 15 coup attempt – is now being accused of supporting Gülen.

The paper is also accused of supporting the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has been waging a bloody terror campaign for over three decades. This accusations stems from the fact that it has been looking at Turkey’s Kurdish problem from a broader and more critical perspective than others. 

Anyone who knows Turkey knows Cumhuriyet is essentially a staunchly secularist and Kemalist paper with left-liberal leanings, and which subscribes to European democratic values. It has been a harsh critic of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) because of this. 

Given what is transpiring in Turkey currently, it does not take much imagination to understand why it is being targeted now. 

Under the emergency rule introduced following the failed coup attempt, the country is being run by decree. Power is gradually being concentrated in one hand as a prelude to the unencumbered executive presidency which is in the pipeline. 

The AKP has also secured the support of the right-wing Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) – despite protestations from MHP members that they are no one’s wingman. Thanks to the MHP, Erdoğan and Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım believe they can act now with regard to the political and judicial system they want for the country.

MHP leader Devlet Bahçeli, who gave his wholehearted support to the operation against Cumhuriyet, has also declared his party’s readiness to help the AKP reinstate the death penalty in line with Erdoğan’s desire.
Bahçeli has also given tacit support to a presidential system. This is not hard for the MHP since it has always looked for an iron-fisted leadership for the country, rather than a democratic one.

All of this points to one thing. Turkey is turning its back on the West in earnest and heading in a different direction. The basic paradigms that guided the republic since its founding have shifted with the AKP. Europe, with its “we don’t want Turkey in our midst” attitude has also helped this along. 

As for Europe’s current approach to Turkey, it is cynical, to say the least. The statements of protest issued over the Cumhuriyet raid are no more than crocodile tears. For many European leaders, mollifying Ankara, in order to get it to prevent hundreds of thousands of Muslims from streaming into Europe, appears more important than going all out in support of Turkey’s imperiled democracy. 

This is why Erdoğan and the AKP can get away with their “to hell with Europe” attitude, which also goes down well with their supporters both in Turkey and ironically also in countries like Germany. 

German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s less than honest policy has been to keep Turkey out of the EU but anchored in Europe for the sake of Europe’s strategic interests. The policy is now coming home to roost in ways she never expected.  

The bottom line is that progressive pro-European elements in Turkey are largely on their own now in their ongoing struggle for genuine democracy and human rights in their country. 

As for Cumhuriyet, which is as old as our republic, it has seen much turbulence in the past. Its name remains synonymous with democratic rights, including the freedom of the press. It will continue to be so.