The Justice and Development Party (AKP) government of Turkey is like a cat with nine lives. Anywhere in the world, any one of the major events this country lived through during last year would have taken down governments, kill the prospects of key bureaucrats and change the political climate.
Take the Gezi Park uprising against the authoritarian leadership style of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. So many citizens were killed, wounded and left without an eye because of the excessive and indeed horrendous use of force by police. Though the same policemen were banished to other places as part of the campaign to demonize the Fethullah Gülen Islamist brotherhood, during those days Erdoğan was proudly congratulating policemen of being “heroically successful” against the demonstrators.
Who is a hero and who is a demon has long been confused in this land, very much like George Orwell’s black comedy “1984.” Today’s allies might become tomorrow’s demons, depending on what the absolute ruler decides while cities were converted into some sort of a glasshouse in which the Big Brother is watching us through cameras installed everywhere.
The “Press for Freedom” project – of which I am the coordinator – of the Association of Journalists just released a report documenting day by day how Turkey has curtailed freedom of expression, and thus media freedom, in this country during the local polls period. While we might get accustomed to separate violations, when put together in a report, the desperate situation of Turkey and how serious the freedom of expression record of this government becomes all the more painfully clear. It was so unfortunate that because of the “empire of fear” created, it took almost three months and several revisions since the completion of the report before it could be announced. Then, remarks from the worst minister of the republican period that Turkey has perfect press freedom, or the premier pointing at critical headlines and commenting that there is media freedom in this country becomes nothing more than a farce.
Yet, somehow each and every problem somehow has been pushed aside by an even bigger issue. Just remember the Soma mine mass murder. There, 301 miners were killed, to say the least, because of government-allowed security negligence of the private contractor of the state-owned mine. The mine disaster became a secondary issue with claims that the prime minister escaped into a market, where annoyed by a lady calling him “murderer,” placed her head under his arms and repeatedly punched her. Correct? We have no idea and are unable to verify, as the intelligence made all security camera records disappear. Still, there are very serious claims.
The young boy taking down the Turkish flag at the Diyarbakır Airbase was no joke, of course. The flag has always been sacrosanct for Turks and an insult to the flag could result in homicide. Remember the August 1996 Solomos Solomu shooting in Cyprus after he tore down a Turkish flag in the Famagusta buffer zone. Thank God the young boy was not shot this time, but the issue turned into a political debate, both against the government and the chief commander. Others may make underwear from their flags, but it is no joke to Turks.
The Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL), an al-Qaeda splinter group that captured Iraq’s second biggest city Mosul, taking Turkish hostages was yet another serious development, this time saving the government from the flag controversy. Worse, the fundamentalist group, attacking the Turkish consulate and taking Turkish soldiers and the consul as prisoner, has placed Turkey at the verge of making a very difficult decision: Should Turkey intervene with Iraq?
We have been warning all along that with a Sunni-brotherhood obsession, getting in bed with anyone hoping such discreet affairs might help to get rid of the Bashar al-Assad dictatorship in Syria might indeed place Turkey on fire… Are we seeing that now?