After 13 years of domination as a single-party government, the Justice and Development Party (AK Party), which has been receiving growing criticism for pursuing highly divisive, authoritarian and repressive policies, saw a significant erosion of support in Sunday’s election and it failed to secure the 276 seats in the Parliament necessary to continue its single-party rule for another term.
The pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party’s (HDP), which opted to run as a party in this election for the first time, rather than fielding independent candidates to circumvent the country’s 10 percent election threshold, managed to pass the barrier, which reduced the number of seats in Parliament that would have otherwise gone to the AK Party. Hence, the establishment of a coalition government is back on Turkey’s agenda after more than a decade.
The unofficial results of the election, which many said was more like a referendum in that would determine the fate and political future of the country – becoming either more authoritarian or denying President Erdoğan the changes he aspires to and curbing his power – indicated that the AK Party received 40.6 percent, the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) received 25.3 percent, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) received 16 percent while the HDP, which widened its appeal beyond its core Kurdish vote to center-left and secularist segments disillusioned with Erdoğan, received 12.7 percent of the nationwide vote. These percentages translate into 257 seats for the AK Party, 131 for the CHP, 83 for the MHP and 79 for the HDP.
Sunday’s vote was held amid concerns of vote rigging, prompting more than 50,000 people to sign up to serve as election monitors. The fears were not without reason, as last year’s local elections, held on March 30, were overshadowed by allegations of election fraud due to the discrepancies between the numbers recorded at polling stations and those actually entered into the country’s election authority, the Higher Election Board (YSK), in addition to suspicious power outages taking place across 22 provinces during the vote count.
On Sunday, the mood was tense at some polling stations, particularly in the country’s predominantly Kurdish Southeast, after a bombing on Friday killed two people and wounded at least 200 at an election rally for the HDP, which has been a frequent target of violence in the run-up to the polls.
ISTANBUL — Freedom House, the democracy watchdog, earlier this year downgraded the Turkish press from being “partly free” to “not free.” Now it may have to create a new category: “not free at all.”
On Sunday, Dec. 14, Turkish police raided the headquarters of Zaman, the country’s most widely circulated daily, and a major television station, taking into custody at least 24 people, including the paper’s editor-in-chief and the station’s director. (The editor has since been released.) They were detained on suspicions of “establishing a terrorist group.” But the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists said the raids smacked “of political vengeance.”
A decade ago Recep Tayyip Erdogan, then Turkey’s prime minister, was the most likely candidate to lead the Islamic world. He had managed to keep Turkey out of the 2003 Iraq War, was grooming it for membership in the European Union, and was getting on with economic reform. Ordinary Turks were feeling prosperous, proud and hopeful. So why is the Turkish government now going off the rails when it has been perfectly popular doing the right things?
Today Mr. Erdogan is the president, and his style is in-your-face confrontational. He is revered by enough people to get his party re-elected, but many others loathe him (remember the protests in Gezi Park?), and some of his eccentricities have made him a favorite of headline writers. Like a potentate of some Sacha Baron Cohen parody, he has had a presidential palace with over a thousand rooms built for himself. No one knows how much it cost: The government agency responsible for the construction says the sum is a state secret because its disclosure would damage the economy.
As Turkey’s ruling party consolidates its power, the space for free expression narrows.
“A militant in the guise of a journalist — a shameless woman. Know your place!” This is how three-term Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan chose to describe Amberin Zaman, the Economist’s longtime Turkey correspondent, during a campaign rally on Aug. 7, just three days before he won the country’s first-ever direct presidential election. Erdogan lashed out at Zaman for having allegedly “insulted” Muslims in an interview with opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu on the 24-hour TV news channel CNN Turk — and she was likewise vilified in the conservative press and aggressively harassed online by Erdogan supporters.
The next day, Enis Berberoglu, editor in chief of Hurriyet, one of the country’s highest-circulating dailies, abruptly resigned. Because Hurriyet is owned by Dogan, the same media group that owns CNN Turk, many doubted that Berberoglu’s move was coincidental. Erdogan went on to win the election with 52 percent of the vote. By the time of his inauguration at the end of August, several journalists at other newspapers had also lost their jobs — for reasons widely regarded as political.
These events followed a pattern that has become disturbingly familiar in recent years. As Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) has grown increasingly entrenched since it first came to power in 2002, the space for free expression has narrowed perceptibly. This trend has been particularly evident over the past 15 months, starting with the protests that began in Istanbul’s Gezi Park and which then swept the country in the summer of 2013, when dozens of journalists were fired or forced to resign after expressing critical viewpoints. Most recently, Turkey’s trouble with press freedom made headlines this weekend when Erdogan denounced the New York Times for, he said, implying that the Turkish state was connected with Islamic State (IS) militants.
In 2013, Turkey remained the world’s top jailer of journalists (followed by Iran and China) for the second year in a row. As of the end of the year there were 40 reporters behind bars — one of several factors that led Freedom House to downgrade the country from “partly free” to “not free” in its 2014 press freedom rankings. Turkey came in 134th out of 197 countries.
Social media has not been spared. In the lead-up to local elections on March 30, the Turkish government shut down Twitter for two weeks and YouTube for 67 days in an effort to suppress the leak of damning wiretapped recordings that surfaced in a police and judicial investigation into government corruption at the highest levels.
“The main problem is that pro-AKP media is not only the dominant media, it’s the obligatory media,” said one Turkish journalist who asked not to be named. “If you’re not with them, you’re against them.”
“Journalists wanted for international news agency,” read the Guardian job ad. As an editor in an industry where legitimate opportunities are few and far between, you apply for pretty much any full-time job you see, so apply we did. A couple of months later, we arrived in Ankara, Turkey, ready to “write history” as the first international journalists to be welcomed into the Anadolu Agency (AA) family.
We joined the agency in January, supposedly to edit English-language news, but quickly found ourselves becoming English-language spin doctors. The AA’s editorial line on domestic politics—and Syria—was so intently pro-government that we might as well have been writing press releases. Two months into the job, we listened to Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç talking some shit about press freedom from an event at London’s Chatham House, downplaying the number of imprisoned journalists in Turkey. Soon after that, we got the chance to visit London on business. We grabbed it and resigned as soon as we hit UK soil.
Established in 1920, the AA was once a point of national pride. Today, it’s at the end of one of the many sets of strings in the ruling AK Party’s puppet parade. Most of Turkey’s TV stations are heavily influenced by the state, and the few opposition channels can expect to have their licenses revoked at any time or be banned from broadcasting key events, such as live election footage or anything that might detract from how fantastic the government is doing.
For example, Turkey’s media regulator, RTUK, fined the networks that aired footage of last year’s Gezi Park protests. Funnily enough, the watchdog is made up of nine “elected” members nominated by political parties—and the more seats in parliament a faction has, the more influence it possesses.
Media outlets that aren’t being hounded by RTUK can always look forward to direct intervention from Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan himself. In 2009, independent mogul Aydin Dogan’s media group—made up of various newspapers and TV channels, CNN Türk, and a news agency—was fined $2.5 billion for evading taxes. Incidentally, the audit came just after one of the group’s platforms published news on the Lighthouse charity scandal, which saw a German court convict three Turkish businessmen for funnelling $28.3 million into their personal accounts.
In one recent leaked recording, Erdogan is heard asking his former justice minister to ensure that Dogan be punished. Since then, the Dogan empire has been bound and gagged accordingly.
The international media relies increasingly on local sources when reporting domestic affairs overseas. The Gezi protests aside—which had nearly as many “live blogs” as protesters—much of Turkey’s English-language news came via Today’s Zaman, the largest English-language newspaper in Turkey. The leadership of the Zaman newsgroup is closely linked with the Islamic teacher and international education mogul Fethullah Gulen, a former ally of the AK Party who now lives in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania.
Paris has elected its first-ever female mayor, the Spanish-born Socialist Anne Hidalgo, even as elsewhere in the country more right-wing candidates won their races. Hidalgo received 54.5 per cent of the vote.
Hidalgo promised major investment in housing, transportation, and green spaces, hoping to stay the exodus of middle and working-class families from the city, aiming specifically to create 10,000 new social housing units and 5,000 kindergarten places.
Turkey’s Erdogan declares victory in local elections
Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan declared victory in local polls that had become a referendum on his rule and said he would “enter the lair” of enemies who have accused him of corruption and leaked state secrets, saying “they will pay for this”.
But while Erdogan’s AK Party was well ahead in overall votes after Sunday’s elections, the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) appeared close to seizing the capital, Ankara.
Erdogan, fighting the biggest challenge of his 12-year rule, addressed supporters from a balcony at the AKP headquarters at the end of a long and bitter election campaign in which he has labelled his opponents “terrorists” and an “alliance of evil”.
The harsh tone of his balcony address suggested he felt he now had a mandate for strong action against his enemies. “From tomorrow, there may be some who flee,” he said.
The election campaign has been dominated by a power struggle between Erdogan and a moderate US-based cleric, Fethullah Gulen, whom he accuses of using a network of followers in police and judiciary to fabricate graft accusations in an effort to topple him. Erdogan has purged thousands of police officers and hundreds of judges and prosecutors since anti-graft raids in December targeting businessmen close to him and sons of ministers.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu did something extraordinary when they emerged from a January 12 bilateral meeting on the sidelines of the Friends of Syria conference in Paris. Such occasions are usually marked by predictable boilerplate rhetoric about how productive the talk was and how closely both countries are working to solve pressing global issues, and Davutoğlu’s comments followed the standard script. What happened next was more unusual. After Davutoğlu finished speaking, Kerry took the opportunity to chide his Turkish counterpart for neglecting to mention an important component of the talks: Kerry’s emphatic rejection of Turkish claims that the United States had been meddling in Turkish politics and trying to influence the Turkish elections. As Davutoğlu sheepishly looked at the floor, Kerry continued that Davutoğlu now understood the score, and said that the two countries “need to calm the waters and move forward.”
Kerry’s addendum came in response to what has become a familiar Turkish government strategy of shifting the blame to outside powers, and particularly to the United States, when faced with any sort of internal opposition. During the Gezi Park protests in June, for example, Turkish government figures blamed Washington, CNN, and “foreign powers” for inciting unrest. More recently, when an ongoing corruption scandal exploded into the open in late December, Turkish ministers were quick to insinuate that the United States was the hidden hand behind the graft probe. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan threatened to expel U.S. ambassador Francis Ricciardone for allegedly provoking Turkey and “exceeding limits,” a reference to allegations that the ambassador was somehow meddling in Turkish affairs and prodding the investigation of government officials.
It isn’t surprising that the Turkish government has blamed the United States for self-inflicted wounds. But it is surprising that the United States has finally responded forcefully. And, if Turkey’s behavior after the flap is any indication (it made a quick about-face on a number of issues that have been particularly angering the United States), the Obama administration should make getting tougher with Turkey a priority.
Turkey voted in the UN Security Council against additional sanctions on Iran; helped Iran get around the international sanctions regime; and even hinted at Iran’s natural right to a nuclear program.
Turkish officials like to describe the last few years as a golden age in bilateral relations. Davutoğlu, in particular, likes to wax on about the “model partnership” between the two countries. What he is responding to is the United States’ decision early in Obama’s first term to treat Turkey with kid gloves despite an increasingly long track record of troubling Turkish behavior. The United States had two main motivations. The first was the hope that Turkey could serve as a democratic example for other Muslim countries. For a variety of reasons, including Turkey’s unique history and its distinctive combination of structural pressures, it was never going to be a good model, but that did not prevent Washington from pushing it wholeheartedly.
The second motivation was a conviction that Turkey could serve as an interlocutor between the West and the Middle East. With its ties to groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood and its relationship with Iran, Turkey was seen as irreplaceable, and Washington was reluctant to alienate it. Even when the United States instituted a policy directly intended to counter problematic Turkish behavior, Turkey was still given an inordinate amount of leeway. For example, in January 2013, when Congress passed legislation specifically outlawing trade in gas for gold to stem Turkish sanctions-busting in Iran, Turkey was granted a six-month buffer period. The only thing the backpedaling did was enable ever-bolder Turkish probing of U.S. red lines.
And probe it has. As has been documented repeatedly, Turkish democracy has been off the rails for some time. Since winning re-election in 2007, the AKP has systematically squeezed political opponents, consolidated state power, and done all it can to marginalize the feckless opposition. It has jailed journalists in unprecedented numbers, prosecuted citizens for insulting the prime minister, subjected companies that have run afoul of the government to crushing fines, and convicted military officers on charges based on forged evidence. All the while, the United States has largely sat on the sidelines with its mouth shut. State Department officials repeat the mantra that Turkey is more democratic now than it has ever been, and in 2012, President Barack Obama listed Erdogan as one of the five world leaders with whom he has the closest and most trusting relationship.
Be advised that access to this article is free with nominal registration. It’s how modern internet media entices us to check out their stuff. Foreign Affairs is quality journalism. I think that just about everyone understands that old fashioned print media is in its death throes, and that is why it is now more important than ever to support quality online journalism. A free press is absolutely indispensable to any free and democratic society. It’s why I so vigorously promote sites that I myself have no financial interest in–because, as recent history has amply demonstrated over and over again–they are so very, very important to our future as free, well informed, and self-determined human beings.
ISTANBUL — An Istanbul prosecutor who had been overseeing a sprawling corruption investigation of the prime minister’s inner circle was removed from the case on Thursday, in a new sign of a profound power struggle over Turkey’s judiciary and police forces.
The prosecutor, Muammer Akkas, issued a condemnation of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government, accusing it of interfering in the judiciary and preventing him from carrying out his work.
Mr. Akkas said that the government had prevented the police forces from pursuing a new round of suspects in the widening inquiry. Among those suspects, according to several Turkish news media reports, is Mr. Erdogan’s son, whose name was on a summons that was leaked to the press on Thursday evening.
“The judiciary has clearly been pressured,” Mr. Akkas said in a written statement, charging his superiors with “committing a crime” for not carrying out arrest warrants, and saying that suspects had been allowed to “take precautions, flee and tamper with evidence.”
The prosecutor’s removal from the case came a day after the resignations of three ministers whose sons had been implicated. One of them, the environment and urban planning minister, Erdogan Bayraktar, broke precedent by calling for the prime minister to resign, too.
This is a huge story. Here we have shades of Nixon and Watergate in Turkey. This looks like the beginning of the unraveling of AKP’s power. For those of us who are deeply interested in human history and politics, this seems like one of those unique historic moments. Now would be a good time to start paying close attention.
The protests that erupted in Turkey in May 2013 saw a local environmental protest bloom into a nationwide pro-democracy movement. A new political party has formed to channel this dissatisfaction into political power, but the hurdles to success are high.
Gezi stands for democracy. For freedom. For having a political say and personal responsibility. For parks and trees. And for daring to say “no” to those in power. And for being able to believe in, hope for and love whatever you wish, exactly as you please. That’s what makes it a bit of a miracle that suddenly all sorts of different people were uniting behind a common goal.
But Gezi has run out of steam. The protests that were sparked when Turkey’s government announced plans to raze Gezi Park, one of the last green spaces in the center of the European part of Istanbul, and replace it with a shopping center, have now subsided. In June, thousands took to the streets, first in Istanbul, and then throughout the entire country. Now, the demonstrations are few and far between.
“That’s exactly why we’ve decided that we have to take it a step further and found a party,” says Cem Köksal. The 37-year-old with shoulder-length brown hair is greeted by young people on the streets here in the Kadiköy district of Istanbul. Köksal is a rock musician and guitarist who also writes and produces music. He and his comrades-in-arms want to challenge Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Their plan is to grow a political force from the seeds of a pro-democracy movement.
“Erdogan said to us demonstrators that we shouldn’t protest on the street, but instead stand for election if we want to change something,” says Teoman Kumbaracibasi, 42. “That’s us!” Known as “Teo,” he is also widely known as an actor on a TV series.
‘Our Goal Is Not the Opposition, but the Government’
In October, Kumbaracibasi and Köksal founded the Gezi Party (GZP) with 26 others. The party is a colorful mix of young and old, left-wing and conservative, blue-collar worker and university student. What unites them is a shared dissatisfaction with Erdogan and his authoritarian government. On Saturday, the GZP will open itself to new members. “There are hundreds who want to join us even though they have no idea exactly what we want,” says Kumbaracibasi. “Thousands,” Köksal corrects him. Just a month after launching, he adds, the party has already attracted 31,000 fans on its Facebook page.
Indeed, Facebook is where all these people found each other. “A few months back, we didn’t know each other at all. Now we are constantly working with each other, like each other, love each other,” says Nursun Gürbüz, who works for an export company. Together, they want to achieve something big. This ambition is broadcast by their party logo: a man whose legs are taking root in the ground like tree trunks and whose arms are holding a green ball. The message here is: We embrace Gezi, we embrace the entire world. The group wants to field candidates for the 2015 parliamentary elections. “And our goal is not the opposition, but the government,” Köksal says.
How do you know whether a regime that frees women to wear Islamic headscarves at work is liberal and furthering democracy, or Islamist and restricting it?
The question concerns Turkey’s government, which in the space of a few days has ended a headscarf ban for civil servants (except in the judiciary and security services), but also caused a female TV music-show presenter to be fired for showing too much cleavage.
The headscarf ban was a piece of unabashed social engineering introduced in the 1920s to make Turkey, the rump of the former Ottoman Empire and Islamic Caliphate, secular. If you are liberal and not Islamophobic, ending the ban is a good thing: Women should not be excluded from the workplace just because they are devout and believe this requires covering their hair, period.
But what if the change — which Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan introduced as part of a broad “democratization” package — is part of a wider plan of social re-engineering, this time designed to impinge on the liberties of non-religious conservatives? If so, the numerous cases in which women were discriminated against, fired or passed over for promotion for wearing a headscarf even outside of work would now be repeated in reverse: Women who don’t wear headscarves to work, and men whose wives don’t cover their hair, will be discriminated against, fired and passed over for promotion.
Turkey’s secularists say this is already happening to men whose wives show their locks. That’s hard to prove, but the real issue is trust — secularists believe the worst of Erdogan’s intentions. Are they right?