Sunday

20th Jan 2019

Opinion

Erdogan’s new Turkey full of 'spies' and 'traitors'

  • The first round of Turkey's presidential elections will be held on 10 August (Photo: Lars K. Christensen)

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who holds a historic record of being Turkey’s uninterrupted leader for the last 11 years, keeps arguing that he has built a new Turkey based on solid rule of law which is envied by many, both in the east and the west.

Yet, he also insists that Turkey is now full of spies and traitors against whom every patriot should fight, a rhetoric of staggering polarisation deepening animosity and hatred among his own people.

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Recently, Turkey is quite often waking up to a day during which Erdogan declares someone either a spy, an agent of the West or a traitor.

Long gone are the days when he was hailed as one of the greatest reformers of Turkey, usually the greatest after the founding father Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. He is now compared to Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orban.

Freedom of the Press downgraded

The latest victim of Erdogan’s spy-hunting was the CNN’s International’s Turkey correspondent Ivan Watson who was trying to report from the Taksim Square at the anniversary of the Gezi Park incidents.

During the country-wide protests last year, at least eight people were killed and dozens injured. While reporting live, Watson was detained - though released swiftly - and taken to a nearby police station just to verify his "identity". When the news became viral causing a media ripple, the Prime Minister reacted as exactly expected calling Watson both "a spy and flunky".

Never mind, it later turned out that Erdogan himself gave interviews to Watson on more than several occasions, took him on his private plane and his campaign bus.

His accusations led to a diplomatic spat when the US State Department called Erdogan’s claims on Watson as "ridiculous". Watson who was about to leave Istanbul after 12 years for his next stint in Hong Kong called Erdogan’s allegations a "very serious accusation that has dangerous implications here in Turkey."

Another international journalist, Hasnain Kazim working for the German weekly Der Spiegel in Istanbul recently had to return to Hamburg after receiving death threats in the wake of his critical articles on the Soma disaster in which 301 miners were killed on 13 May.

The diplomatic bickering in the waiting erupted after Turkish-origin German politician and the co-chairman of the Green Party Cem Ozdemir criticised Erdogan in a speech he delivered in Cologne in late May.

A few days later Erdogan personally targeted Ozdemir during one of his party’s group meetings in the Parliament declaring him "a so-called Turk" and described his criticisms as "very ugly."

Upon Erdogan’s attacks, the Turkish ambassador in Berlin was summoned to the German ministry of foreign affairs and was informed about Germany’s unease on Erdogan’s remarks targeting a "prominent" German politician "who has always tried to strengthen ties between the two countries".

While the political rhetoric worsens both inside and outside the country, it is also accompanied by conspiracy theories. Tens of thousands of police officers and hundreds of judges and prosecutors have been purged since 17 December when a huge corruption scandal hit the government.

Though four ministers had to quit, Erdogan insists it was an attempted coup d’etat against his government, a co-organised plan by foreign powers and traitors. In the following months all corruption cases were dropped and all the suspects released.

Conspiracy theories circulated freely once again when US-based Freedom House (FH) declared Turkish press "not free" last month. In its yearly report, FH downgraded Turkish press status from "partly free" to "not free" putting EU-candidate Turkey in the same league with Zimbabwe, Somali and Angola. Pro-government media was quick to draw attention to FH’s "links" to Israel and to accuse FH of involvement in a global conspiracy against the Turkish government.

One year after Gezi Park

Erdogan has not yet declared his candidacy but almost every seasoned political commentator and expert believe that he wants to be the first popularly-elected president of the republic.

The first round of the elections will be held on 10 August. It is also assumed that Erdogan, who was quite successful in the local elections at the end of March, thinks his policy of polarising the country and his style of poisonous political rhetoric pays off and wins him elections.

A short glance at the vocabulary of the Prime Minister shows that the words "traitor ... spy ... vile ... despicable ... nefarious ... foreign enemies and domestic collaborators" have been among his favorite ones since the corruption claims erupted.

By creating and targeting enemies, Erdogan, most believe, aims to consolidate his support base. A year after Gezi Park, he still hurls insults at the demonstrators and keeps repeating his theory that there is a grand conspiracy against the rising power of Turkey.

Most argue that he may win the presidential elections but many doubt how he will manage to rule the country which is already very polarised and divided largely thanks to his political discourse.

Ozdemir, who was very well known for his strong support to AK Party’s EU reforms, argued in the speech which led to Erdogan’s ire that the government was demolishing what it achieved in the last 10 years since Gezi Park and the 17 December corruption investigations. Most in Brussels would agree with him.

Pundits talk about the possibility that some member countries emboldened by the EU-sceptic European Parliament could come up with the proposal of suspending negotiations altogether in autumn when EU institutions start working in earnest.

However, trying to suspend the negotiating process will be dead wrong at a time when Turkey and its people need EU the most.

The writer is the Brussels Bureau Chief of Zaman Daily

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