No Crime but Punishment

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By Edmond Y. Azadian

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is his own worst enemy. He was smart enough to pretend before the rest of the world that his mission was to move his country from the Middle Ages to the modern democratic era. Even Western leaders began to refer to Turkey as a role model for the Islamic world, combining democratic values with Islamic institutions and other Islamic nations were urged to emulate it.

That piece of make-believe allowed Erdogan a lot of latitude to further build up his armed forces through NATO and to develop Turkey’s economy at a dramatic pace.

But it did not take too long for him to reveal his true face by undoing Mustafa Kemal Ataturk’s secular reforms, bringing back the veil to women and the Koran to the new madreses popping up everywhere.

The Europeanized segment of Turkish society was caught off guard, becoming alienated in its own country. Writers like Nobel Prize-winner Orhan Pamuk and internationally celebrated novelist Elif Shafak found themselves out of place. Erdogan and his AKP party did not mind that alienation as long as they could garner the 51 percent vote from the Anatolian peasants to push back Turkey to the Middle Ages.

Intoxicated by his newly-acquired power, Erdogan began to entertain his Ottoman dreams, domestically repressing the population and internationally bullying allies. However, he painted himself into a corner, where he could only solicit the help of similar authoritarian powers, those in Russia, China and Iran.

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Turkey’s tilt towards a pariah status helped Armenia in the Western world but not necessarily among old friends, namely Russia and Iran. Germany, the Netherland and Chile passed resolutions recognizing the Armenian Genocide; at one point, even Egypt and Israel toyed with the idea. These were all gifts to Armenia courtesy of Mr. Erdogan.

At this stage, Turkey is at a turning point, alienated from the West and tenuously held by the East, but still believing in its power to pull itself out of the quagmire.

Shafak, who was taken to court because of her recognition of the Armenian Genocide along with Pamuk, portrays modern Turkey in the following terms: “It is an unhappy country that hates its public intellectuals. Turkey, my motherland, is one such place. Increasingly today, intellectuals are demonized in pro-government media, trolled on social media, accused of being ‘traitors’ or ‘collaborating with western powers,’ put on trial, imprisoned or exiled.”

One such Kafkaesque trial sentenced prominent novelist and editor Ahmet Altan and his brother, Mehmet Altan, an economics professor and political commentator, to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole on February 28. Their guilt was their appearance on a television program hosted by Nazli Ilicak a day before the coup attempt in July 2016. They, as well as Ilicak, are accused of having emitted “subliminal messages” announcing the coup. There is no other explanation to this harsh verdict other than a chilling witch hunt.

Ahmet Altan is a left-leaning intellectual who was a founding editor of Taraf, which was regarded as a highly credible newspaper in the West. He is also a novelist who ironically had written a work where his hero is jailed like Kafka’s protagonist, without understanding his crime. After his conviction, he wrote an essay from Silivri prison, where he states, “I am going to Hades. I walk into darkness like a god who wrote his own destiny. My protagonist and I disappear into the darkness together.”

Altan and his brother are not alone. There are already 100 journalists in jail, 50,000 citizens are detained and 250,000, including judges and police officers, fired from their jobs. Turkey is descending into a somber future. Intellectuals like the Altans were out to put a human face on Turkey. When Altan had visited the US six years ago, he not only recognized the Armenian Genocide, but he said he also believed that Turkey had changed for the better. “You must change your perception of Turkey. Maybe you can help Turkey change.”

The late Hrant Dink had also brought that same message to the outside world. Despite Hrant’s tragic end, Ahmet Altan still believed that Turkey was on a positive path. His message tried to humanize Turkey’s image. He was sincere when he stated during one of his public speeches: “Turks have hearts and consciences, believe me. We need to proceed to overcome the bloody line of 1915.”

The irony is that Turkey’s “conscience” did not spare him, let along his target audience of Armenians.

When the attempted coup was botched, Erdogan was ecstatic. He said this was a “God-sent gift to us.” Indeed, that pretext gave him the opportunity to settle scores with all his enemies and sink the country into a dungeon. His arch enemy, Fethullah Gulen, is blamed for all the ills of Turkey and one of the problems which he has with the US administration, namely that Washington has refused to extradite Gulen to Turkey where he is to stand trial. Erdogan wants to believe that the US judiciary can operate arbitrarily, just as it does in Turkey, so that the US will pack up Gulen and deliver him to Ankara.

The fallout between the former allies, Erdogan and Gulen, is a blessing in disguise. Because the latter has a much-more suave and discreet method of promoting Islam. Islam is permeated in the US through hundreds of charter schools run by Gulen’s Hizmet Society at the expense of US taxpayers. The same kind of operation extends to many countries. At least, their antagonism cancels out each other’s efforts to proselytize a brand of Islam which seems more moderate but it may degenerate into violence. Anywhere and anytime politics and religion mix, the result can be combustible.

Erdogan has proven to be the necessary evil to perform the dirty work of the west in the Middle East. But while performing that task, he has also betrayed his selfish agenda which is to cater to the Islamic ambitions of his administration.

Holding prisoner 80 million citizens and juggling with the world powers of the East and West will eventually prove too much to handle for this modern Sultan.

Ahmet Altan laments his destiny after the verdict is pronounced by writing: “We will never be pardoned and we will die in a prison cell.”

Erdogan’s untenable policy will certainly precipitate the demise of his rule and disprove Altan’s prophesy.

 

 

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