Cumhuriyet trial: Litmus test

Cumhuriyet trial: Litmus test

It might be a surprise for some, but it is an unfortunate reality of this country. At the end of June there were 171 journalists in prison. Prominent human rights activists, among them Amnesty International Turkey director İdil Eser, have been placed behind bars on grounds of membership in a terrorist gang. Judges, prosecutors, lawyers, academics, soldiers, journalists, businessmen, civil servants, municipal workers and mayors have been sacked, banished, sent to cells…

Journalists who have engaged in nothing other than journalism and wrote news articles exposing what they considered some dirty deals of those in the government as well as those in executive positions of the newspaper that run such stories were branded as terrorists by a prosecutor who himself as well has been going through a judicial process on grounds he was a member of a terrorist gang.

How many thousands of civil servants, soldiers, municipal workers have been laid down with decrees by the state of emergency? Was it not a lamentable development to see the eminent law professor İbrahim Kaboğlu not only expelled from Marmara University but also, like all others fired under regulations of the emergency rule, barred from holding any public or private position or travel abroad to undertake any of the prestigious offers he might receive?

The other day on a private news channel, as part of an effort to defame Turkey’s second president and former social democratic leader İsmet İnönü, there was a story about the letter of Albert Einstein written to the founding President Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. In the letter, Einstein had requested permission for some eminent Jewish professors to be employed “without any payment” at Turkish universities. Reportedly, İnönü referred the letter to the Education Ministry with the note “unacceptable” but later somehow, Atatürk intervened and those professors were given very important duties in the modernization effort of the new Turkey, helping the foundation and advancement of some universities and particularly social sciences.

 Those Jewish academics, who contributed to the advancement of particularly conservatories, Istanbul University and the Faculty of Letters in Ankara, were all escaping the Nazi regime in their homeland and Turkey, for a period, served as their second homeland. Was it not sad that the very same Turkey today, like the East Germany of one period, has been trying to keep its own people in the country, not of course with a physical Berlin wall but with the foreign travel ban that has become routine. It was sad to discover that apart from other professions there were at least 123 journalists who ran away from persecution at home.

At the very root of the current standoff between Turkey and Germany of course lies the refusal of the German authorities to allow Turkish ministers and the president turn German cities into their political campaign grounds. The arrest of the Turkish-German reporter of Die Welt or the detention at Büyükada of a German rights activist together with some Turkish activists were of course very important ingredients of the disgusting soup Turkish-German relations were boiling in for some time. Could the sole Turkish decision-maker manage anytime soon to make a Russian-style U-turn with the Germans as well and place relations back on the track of normalcy?

Naturally, before trying to answer that question and despite the statement made during the last encounter of the Russian and Turkish heads of states in Moscow that ties returned to normalcy perhaps we should consider whether really Turkish and Russian relations were rerouted to the pre-Russian jet downing normalcy? In essence, unfortunately, except statements of normalcy and praise of the two leaders towards each other, in many spheres the crisis is still there. A number of Russian tourists could not be returned to pre-crisis levels while agricultural exports of Turkey to Russia remain an aloof dream.

Could Turkey indeed make a U-turn with the Netherlands, Denmark and worse with Germany as easily as it did with Russia even though with Russia a full restoration of normalcy still remains a dream? A western ambassador very much concerned with Turkey’s worsening relations with the European countries commented the other day. When and if countries have leaders who are the sole decision-makers, perhaps it might be easier to make successful or semi-successful U-turns. Yet, if there is a functioning democracy and leaders are bound with public opinion, traditions and parliamentary decisions, it might be not only be far too difficult but could take a far longer period to achieve normalcy.

Of course, this country has high potentials. No other country could perhaps sustain such a polarizing campaign for so long, on which the Justice and Development Party has been floating on over the past 15 years. Some people believe Turkey has come to the “end of the sea” and believe a very crisis might soon engulf the country. The Russia crisis was very big and harmful and forced Turkey to seek pardon in a very humiliating way. Could Turkey manage to convince the Germans and the other Europeans tomorrow when the cost of the standoff becomes visible even at the extravagant palace? Would Germany agree to normalization with a plain pardon or demand Turkey to return to a path of democratization, restoration of fundamental rights and liberties that conform to the Maastricht criteria?

Whoever says what, the Cumhuriyet trial is a litmus test for the new Turkey. The indictment has clearly demonstrated that it was a political case. Will the Turkish justice system prove to high echelons of power in Turkey and those abroad who still have hope in a democratic Turkey that there are still judges in Turkey?

Or, will this case be a testimony of the collapse of the dream for a modern Turkey altogether?