Monday,23 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1280, (28 January - 3 February 2016)
Monday,23 October, 2017
Issue 1280, (28 January - 3 February 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Erdogan rounds on academics

Turkey’s Erdogan remains firmly committed to his imperial dreams, and is now turning his attention to academics who signed a simple statement calling for peace in southeast Anatolia, writes Sayed Abdel-Meguid

Al-Ahram Weekly

There was no official act or decree to create it, but a huge band was formed in Erdogan’s Turkey. Its members are said to be “volunteers” in the service of the nation and their numbers are growing by the day. They are dedicated, selfless, without the slightest interest in personal benefit — heaven forbid — and seek only to please the symbol of the “New Turkey”.

As the tasks that fall on their shoulders are numerous and weighty, given all the many challenges at home as well as abroad, they have divided themselves into three contingents. One consists of intellectuals and media figures (prominent writers, satellite celebrities and eminent university professors); the second consists of influential business magnates, the prime minister’s men in parliament and executives in the various agencies of the government bureaucracy; and the third is made up of lawyers and former men of justice.

The three contingents are constantly vigilant and prepared to act. They need no signal or directive. They maintain a close watch on the media, with eyes peeled for everything written, publicised or broadcast on Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and they are ready to pull out their weapons — each according to his particular field of specialisation — to defend the “Reis”, or “Leader”.

They refute any criticisms and charges levelled against him, all deemed baseless, spurious and concocted by wicked opponents, the most dastardly of whom is that Islamist preacher Fethullah Gülen and his hired supporters. They will avail themselves of the various means or powers at their disposal to bury all such lies and fabrications and make them disappear. Last but not least, they will issue serious threats against anyone who takes the liberty to attack the status and prestige of the president of the republic.

Oddly, their passion grew even more zealous with the beginning of the shooting of “Reis”, the feature-length docudrama about none other than the son of the working class district of Kasimpasa in Istanbul and his meteoric rise to the peak, from which height he dreams of yet a higher peak in the form of a presidential system. The film promises to offer thousands of young audience members the opportunity to experience deep cinematic insight into one of the many phases of this leader’s heroic struggle.

In the meantime, the Erdogan band has had two intense battles to fight in the past couple of weeks. The first required a fierce and vehement campaign against Kemal Kiliçdaroglu, leader of the Republican People’s Party (CHP) who had the nerve to call Erdogan a “tin-pot dictator” and to accuse the president of breaking his oath of office.

When he was sworn in, Erdogan pledged upon his honour and dignity to remain politically unbiased and to maintain an equal distance from all political forces and parties. Yet Erdogan has been actively and unabashedly promoting the Justice and Development Party (AKP) around the clock. “What happened to the honour and dignity?” Kiliçdaroglu could not help but ask.

As expected, a chorus of strident condemnation arose from the band of Erdogan devotees. As they were unable to refute the CHP leader’s charge, given all the evidence in Erdogan’s speeches, they resorted to a battery of insults and armed themselves with the “52 per cent” victory that Erdogan won in the 2014 presidential elections (in fact, it was 51.7 per cent, but let us not split hairs) as though this entitles the Reis to behave as he likes.

Immediately after Kiliçdaroglu’s remarks, made during the recent CHP congress, Justice Minister Bekir Bozdağ slammed the opposition party leader for his “impudence and immorality”. The pro-AKP media, which includes the state-run television stations, left no holds barred in their attacks against the CHP leader while the chief prosecutor’s office in Ankara rushed to launch an investigation into Kiliçdaroglu, preparatory to dispatching a memorandum to parliament to have his immunity stripped.

Needless to say, not a peep was heard from that camp about the insults and invective that Erdogan, himself, hurls against all critics. Which brings us to the second battle, still raging as this is being written, which is against Turkish academics who signed a petition declaring their opposition to the ongoing bloodshed in southeast Anatolia and calling for peace.

After calling these critics “traitors”, “contemptible” and other such attributes, Erdogan railed against the academics who, he said, did not merit being called academics (somewhat to the confusion of observers who were mystified as to where and how he acquired his familiarity with this concept).

They were “not intellectuals”, they were “ignorant and dark”, and in their waywardness they promoted terrorism and terrorists (by which he referred not to Islamic State, of course, but to the Kurdish PKK).

Naturally, after hearing this anti-intellectual diatribe, Sedat Peker, the well-known Turkish mafia don and ex-con who had served jail time for forgery and attempted murder, stepped forward to champion his beloved leader. Addressing academics, whom he termed “so-called intellectuals”, Peker warned that there could come a moment when “the bell will toll for you all ... I would like to say it again: We will spill your blood, and we will shower in it!”

This very literal interpretation of Erdogan’s call to punish those he accuses of inciting strife and promoting the division of the country met with no response from the public prosecutor’s office, despite of the explicitness of the threat and the incitement.

In all events, the crime boss’s threat and a host of others like it, plus Erdogan’s vow to persist with the war — which he rekindled five months ago after a few years of respite — until it achieves its aim of eradicating the PKK from Anatolian towns and mountains and until which time there will be no peace, no dialogue and no tolerance for any intellectuals who sign an anti-war initiative, all combine to confirm that Turkey has reverted, in full force, to the age of unbridled ultra-nationalism.

Ironically, it was Erdogan, himself, who, when he was prime minister, initiated a peace process that began with secret negotiations in Oslo with the very people he is fighting against now. He dispatched his faithful right-hand man and intelligence chief Hakan Fidan to the Norwegian capital to meet with PKK leaders, and before that to meet with PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan himself, in the high security prison on Imrali Island in the Sea of Marmara.

When the peace process eventually became public, millions of Turks and Kurds shared the sense of relief and joy at the prospect of a settlement (supported by the US and the EU) that would bring an end to a conflict that had lasted three decades.

That process could have continued had it not been for the fact that the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP) succeeded in passing the 10-per-cent parliamentary threshold in the general elections on 7 June 2015 and, in the process, erecting a formidable barrier to Erdogan’s plans for more authoritarian powers.

At that point, the occupant of the sumptuous presidential palace that has been turned into an executive complex parallel to that of the prime minister and his cabinet, realised that the banner of brotherhood that he had raised was the cause of his disastrous loss.

So, he took a 180-degree turn, scuttled the peace process, reverted to his famous “No’s”, and harked back to the glories of the Turks’ ancestral Turanic homeland in the hope that his would win back the hearts of the Turkish ultra-nationalist chauvinists whom he had alienated for several years.

Indeed, quite a few from that camp came back to him in time for the early elections on 1 November 2015. But as impressive as the AKP’s rebound was, it was not quite enough, at least as far as the purposes of Erdogan’s plans are concerned. So it looks like Turkey is in store for yet another round of early elections, which Hürriyet newspaper predicts will take place in April or September.

To Erdogan’s mind, parliament, in its current composition, will not be able to pass the constitutional amendments to usher in his hoped for presidential system. The opposition is dead set against this, but he believes that he will ultimately be able to bring about the parliamentary majority needed not only to put an end to the parliamentary system but also to deliver the deathblow to democracy in Turkey.

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