By Raffi Bedrosyan
Last week, for the first time in the history of the Turkish Republic, one of its ministers was declared persona non grata — an undesirable alien — and deported from Netherlands, a state which is a NATO ally of Turkey. Again, for the first time, the Turkish foreign minister was told not to visit Rotterdam in Netherlands, and his flight landing permit was cancelled after he ignored the Dutch orders not to come. The previous week, the same Turkish Foreign Minister’s plans to address Turkish/German dual citizens in various rental halls in several German cities were repeatedly cancelled, and he could only speak from the balcony of a Turkish Consulate residence to a few Turks gathered in the garden under the rain. This week, Denmark cancelled the visit of the Turkish Prime Minister. Switzerland cancelled the visit of other Turkish ministers. Austria proposed to have a EU ban on visits of any Turkish politicians to Europe.
Why is this unprecedented humiliation and embarrassment happening to Turkey? What did Turkey do to deserve this? How is Turkey, Turkish government leaders and Turkish people reacting to this humiliation? What are the lessons to be learned by Turkey, and more importantly, how is it relevant to Armenia? This article will attempt to shed light on these questions.
Turkey is getting ready to vote Yes or No on April 16 for a referendum to change the constitution so that all governmental, legislative and judicial powers can be concentrated in one person, President Erdogan. Erdogan had already started exercising most of these powers under a state of emergency, declared after the failed military coup against him on July 15, 2016. And now, it is time for Erdogan to legitimize these de facto dictatorial powers by entrenching them in the revised constitution. Erdogan fully blames the failed coup on his erstwhile ally Fethullah Gulen, an Islamic cleric who lives in exile in Pennsylvania, USA. Once close allies against the previous secular regimes, the Islamic leaders had a falling out a few years ago, and everything wrong happening in Turkey now is blamed on Gulen and his followers.
The witch hunt to identify and punish followers of Gulen has created great turmoil among Turks in all levels of society, the army, academia, government bureaucracy, media and business world. Add to this the ongoing war between the government forces and the Kurdish militants in the east and southeast, the human toll is unprecedented. As of today and since the July 2016 failed coup, there are 128,625 people fired from their jobs, including state officials, teachers, bureaucrats, security forces, academics, lawyers and journalists. There are 94,224 people, of various professions, arrested and jailed under state of emergency powers. 2,099 schools and dormitories, plus 15 universities have been shut down. 7,316 academics, including many top professors have lost their jobs, resulting in many faculties of still open universities to be closed, with hundreds of thousands of university students left in limbo. 4,070 judges and prosecutors are dismissed, some of them jailed, ironically, in the same prisons as criminals that they had convicted previously. 149 media outlets, TV stations and newspapers have been shut down, allowing only pro-Erdogan media to exist, and even then, any undesirable headlines still resulting in the dismissal of editors. And finally, 162 journalists have been jailed, highest number in the world.
The human toll resulting from the war on Kurds is even more grim. A recent UN investigative report estimated that at least 2000 Kurdish civilians have been killed since 2015. There are an estimated 50,000 injured and more than 500,000 citizens left homeless after Turkish army tanks bombed and burnt several towns in the southeast. The bombardment of hundreds of apartment buildings was followed by the demolishing and bulldozing of the rubble, sometimes still containing burnt bones and body parts. Since 2016, 13 Members of Parliament belonging to the pro-Kurdish political party are arrested and jailed, including the two co-chairs, after their political immunity was removed by dictatorial legislation. The democratically elected Kurdish mayors of 35 municipalities in the east and southeast are removed from their posts and jailed, replaced by Turkish bureaucrats appointed from Ankara.