First they came...

First they came...

Have you ever heard of the poem “First they came…?” There are several versions of it, all for obvious reasons dealing with themes of persecution, guilt and collective responsibility in building a common future.

It was written by a German Lutheran pastor, Martin Niemöller (1892–1984), who despite being a Nazi sympathizer for some time, returned to his senses much earlier than most of his countrymen and became an outspoken public foe of Adolf Hitler. He spent the last seven years of Nazi rule in concentration camps.

The poem is about the cowardice of German intellectuals – no different than what we have been experiencing nowadays – following the Nazis’ rise to power and subsequent purging of their chosen targets, group after group. Just close your eyes, remember what happened to the Turkish military, academia, media, lower and higher judiciary, bureaucracy and let someone read you the poem “First they came…”
“First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out – because I was not a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out – because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out – because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me – and there was no one left to speak for me.”

Of course, while I would say Turkey has not yet become a horrendous place like Nazi Germany, some people would object. Still, this country is a pseudo-democracy and not so cowardly all the time to sit back with the understanding of “let the snake that did not touch me live a thousand years.” Though the population of conscience which is dedicated to pluralistic democratic society is small and shrinking, the norms and values of democratic governance just refuse to give up. Rather than succumbing to peer pressure or “mahalle baskısı” (neighborhood pressure) as famed Turkish sociologist Şerif Mardin once described, or the sheer and brute force of the state, which has long been taken over by an Islamist clan, some Turks remain committed and devoted to democratic principles. While this has been giving hope for the future of this country, obviously in a country where people have had a taste of some degree of free society for decades, absolute rule and the majoritarian perception of democracy and one-man governance cannot continue forever.

It was the turn of Enis Berberoğlu, a main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) deputy and former Hürriyet editor, to be taken in this week. Coincidentally as he was taken in, another colleague, Cumhuriyet’s chief online editor, Oğuz Güven, was released from prison, pending the outcome of his trial and actor Barış Atay – who was taken in because of a complaint by Yusuf Yerkel, an adviser to the prime minister and an anti-hero for beating up of demonstrator after the Soma mine disaster – were released. In a way, like in that famous Nasreddin Hodja joke, Turks keep on losing their donkey only to celebrate finding him once more.

The CHP as always, which made an incredible judgement mistake by lending support to the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government after the last parliamentary elections in lifting the parliamentary immunity of deputies accused of involvement in some crime, was up in arms over the arrest and 25-year sentence to Berberoğlu in connection with the MİT trucks story about alleged arms shipments to the Syrian opposition by Turkish intelligence. Why was the CHP silent when one after another the co-chairs and many deputies of the pro-Kurdish People’s Democracy Party (HDP) were taken in and the parliamentary membership of some were terminated?

Naturally, the assumption that the oppression was targeting someone else and would not affect us proved to be wrong once again. Now, after the HDP and marginal political groups, members of the alleged “FETÖ terrorist group,” it is apparently the turn of the CHP… Who knows who will be in line tomorrow?

The CHP’s launching of a 28-day walk to Istanbul might be the first serious action the main opposition party has taken in recent years. Will it be able to continue it as declared for 28 days and will the group walking from Ankara to Istanbul indeed manage to get the support of the Turkish public? So far, there appears to be a perfect example of cacophony in the CHP. There have been too many statements, most of them conflicting with each other. Why can’t the CHP develop a proper and attractive communications strategy? It is difficult to understand.

At least the CHP appears as if it has realized that it is now its turn to come under persecution. As a TV prompter erroneously wrote on the screen Wednesday, is the CHP at risk of a mass arrest?