While the Turkish government is preparing to commemorate the first anniversary of the July 15 coup attempt, Turkish civil society is trying to survive the reign of fear that dominates the country. The state of emergency, which was declared immediately after last year’s failed coup, has been used as a pretext to suppress any criticism towards Erdogan government. Over the past year, in a massive crackdown, Turkish officials have jailed more than 50,000 people and dismissed 150,000. Ankara which was seen as a model country by the West less than a decade ago, continues to jail the most journalists in the world.
The most recent blow to freedom and democracy was the detention of the Amnesty director and other rights activists with unfounded terror charges while they were likely discussing how to support journalists, academics, civil servants and politicians from the opposition parties who filled Turkish prisons with arbitrary charges. Ankara officials continuously claim these extreme measures are needed because of the gravity of security threats confronting the country. But crying out wolf so many times and accusing every critic in Turkey of being a terrorist, a spy or a coup plotter cripples President Tayyip Erdogan’s credibility in the fight against terror. U.S. Ambassador to Ankara, John Bass, has warned Ankara not to repeat Washington’s mistakes and added “We (the United States) have learned that rushing to justice or making an overly broad definition of terrorism can erode fundamental freedoms and undermine public confidence in government.”
Almost half of the Turkish society does not support Erdogan’s policies and it is absurd to label them terrorists. If Erdogan would have started to clean house first instead of going after all the critical voices from different political groups, except his own party, he could have avoided most of the domestic and international criticism. After all, President Erdogan and his AK Party were the biggest supporters of Islamic cleric Fetullah Gulen until recently. While the critics of the infamous Gulen group are behind bars, the Turkish public has still not seen a high-level government official in trial despite the fact that many AK Party members have fiercely supported Gulen publicly in the past.
Only a year ago, hundreds of thousands of Turks from different spectrums of the political scene gathered in Istanbul to denounce the attempted coup and to celebrate victory over the plotters who are believed to be linked with the self-exiled imam Gulen. Last week thousands of protestors made the march from Ankara to Istanbul (260 miles) and demanded justice and their democratic rights. Even though the Turkey experts in the West pay little or no attention to the justice march, it was a clear sign that Turkey is more than Erdogan and his ruling party.
Yet both Europe and the United States have abandoned the Turkish opposition long ago. Increasing, human rights violations are ignored in order not to further complicate the fragile alliance on Syria and refugee issues with the Erdogan government. President Erdogan was (and still is) hosted by the world leaders in Western capitals without a single word of support to human rights defenders while a brutal crackdown on dissents continue to take place. Many believe Erdogan craves approval of the world leaders and the ‘concerned’ leaders of the West have never failed him – giving photo ops whenever he seeks it.
Now European Parliament is suggesting to freeze accession negotiations with Turkey forgetting that EU is partially responsible for today’s grave situation. Disengagement is not the solution. Turkish opposition is expecting Europe and the United States to lead Turkey back on the path toward democracy instead of autocracy. It would be a grave mistake to consider human rights violations as Turkey’s domestic problem. Many in Washington have started to consider Turkey as another Middle Eastern country, but the United States should never forget that Ankara is a member of NATO and chaos on Turkey’s borders will surely have repercussions for its Western allies.
DISCLAIMER: the McCain Institute for International Leadership is a non-partisan "do-tank" that is part of Arizona State University. The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not represent an opinion of the McCain Institute.