Welcome to the Turkish Republic of Police State
Turkey has become a country where the ruling party representing half of the country’s electorate is exercising the state’s police (and military if needed) force in the most brutal way on the other half of electorate, who launched a massive uprising against the government’s growing authoritarian inclinations.
How we have managed to arrive at this point surely requires a substantial analysis. I leave this task social and political scientists but my reading of this behavior is as follows:
At the core of this behavior lies the “us and them” policy/rhetoric of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, whose purpose is to discriminate against those who do not share the conservative lifestyle of a pious Muslim and create a sort of “neighborhood pressure” on them. But this oppression is not limited to the scope of the secular-conservative debate in Turkey as the trend of this behavior is to expand its influence on different segments of the society through intimidation.
The other half of this equation (i.e. them) includes social democrats, some nationalist groups, Alevis, communists, socialists, academics of dissident universities, trade unionists, artists, social media activists, “twitterers” in English, sympathizers of the Gezi Park demonstrators, alcohol-cigarette consumers, those who are against having three kids, defenders of the right to abortion. Intellectuals and journalists are also in this camp but they do not necessarily have to be in either camp as their full obedience or self-censorship is must to keep their job.
Another piece of rhetoric he frequently uses is “majority vs. minority” and the dominance of one group over the other. For Erdoğan, “us” is the majority against them (the minority) and has the right to say the last word on almost all issues concerning society. In the end, he believes “us” will transcend the ongoing social conflict and will bring about a better world for all living in this country.
While favoring those who belong to “us” by granting special privileges, his understanding is inclined to silence the oppositional groups from different segments of society by restricting the freedom of speech and right to assembly. Mass detentions of critical voices, calling government opponents “traitors,” describing peaceful demonstrators as marauders and illegitimate are only some ways to silence the opposition under this rule.
In the meantime, taking measures to increase the degree of state intervention in personal, social and political matters has also been much more visible in Turkey. Increasing the powers of the National Intelligence Organization (MİT) and decorating it with the unquestionable authority of providing detailed information about every individual was the latest attempt of the government, which caused resemblance to Syria’s intelligence unit, known as al-Muhabarat. This growing “statist” approach has found itself in the latest remarks of EU Minister Egemen Bağış, who said “From now on, the state will unfortunately have to consider everyone who remains there [Taksim Square] a supporter or member of a terror organization.” Apart from Erdoğan’s harshest descriptions of the demonstrators, Bağış’s was one of the most serious calls from “us” to “them.”
One other point worth examining is the importance Erdoğan and his senior male attaches on the “charismatic leadership” of the prime minister. It was bizarre to hear Erdoğan self-promoting before nearly 1 million of his supporters in his Istanbul rally on June 16 when he said, “You can never find a prime minister like this in the world.” One of his advisers found out that the target of protests was in fact to tarnish the image of Erdoğan as plotters were getting disturbed by his strong image.
Political science has various definitions to describe the abovementioned elements of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) political behavior but I am leaving this to the interpretation of readers.
Instead, I would better express my concerns that this trend unfortunately does not promise more democracy, freedom and tolerance will flourish in this country. Even worse, this trend will cause isolation of Turkey from the democratic world and let it sail into uncharted waters. This growing nationalist-conservative language/policy that has a divisive effect on political and social life of Turkey will not only nix hopes for a new pro-freedom Constitution but will also have destructive shocks on the ongoing Kurdish peace process and on Turkey’s European Union relations. One last thing to do, then, would be changing the country’s official name as introduced in the headline of this column.