Turkey ended 2016 in mental paralysis, and is likely to stay that way

Arzu Geybullayeva

2016 was no easy year for Turkey. While the authorities continued pressing down on freedoms, a failed military putsch had Ankara introduce state of emergency, that has now been extended until summer of 2017. The state of emergency “gives the president and government the power to rule by decree, bypassing parliament and the potential to challenge decrees via Turkey’s Constitutional Court”.

While some have seen state of emergency as a means to tackle down on potential threats to the government, others have viewed it as nothing else but a mere tool in the hands of the ruling Justice and Development Party to crackdown on dissent and get rid of any left over enemies the authorities, and more so, the President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had.

In its recent reports on Turkey, Human Rights Watch wrote, “in one such emergency decree, issued on July 27, 2016, the government ordered the closure of 131 media outlets, including 45 newspapers, 16TV channels, three news agencies, 23 radio stations, 15 magazines and 29 publishing houses”. All were shut down for alleged ties to whom government sees as the main organiser and perpetrator of the coup – FETO (Fethullah Gulen Terrorist Organization)- or US-based Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen.

According to an independent platform Turkey Purge, since the coup and as a result of the state of emergency:

  • 123,567 got sacked
  • 88,642 detained
  • 42,452 arrested
  • 2,099 schools, dormitories, universities shut down
  • 6,986 academics lost their jobs
  • 3,843 judges, prosecutors dismissed
  • 149 media outlets shut down
  • 145 journalists arrested
  • 2500 journalists left jobless

Press accretions have been cancelled en masse, the most recent case being that of established and well known journalist Amberin Zaman who has covered Turkey, the Kurds and Armenia for such international outlets as Washington Post, The Daily Telegraph, The Voice of America and served as The Economist’s Turkey correspondent between 1999 and 2016.

Along with press cards, passports have been revoked in not only the cases of activists but also people who have once worked at Gulen owned businesses, which includes companies, banks and education establishments. Some of these people were held for days without  access to lawyers or being told what they are accused of only to be released a month later with an apology.

Residents were raided, court notifications were left.

Freedom House ranks Turkey “not free” in its annual Freedom of the Press report; “partly free” in its Freedom in the World; “not free” in Internet Freedom report. Reporters Without Borders placed Turkey 151 on the list of 180 countries on 2016 Press Freedom Index. The organisation also named President Erdogan the “Predator of Press Freedom”.

Turkey has become world leader in jailed journalists and as described and reported in Human Rights Watch report released in December of 2016, the authorities are not just relying on using terrorist laws against journalists but have expanded into other means such as threats and physical attacks; firing of journalists critical of the government; government takeover or closure of independent media; and closure of critical TV channels.  

As a result of the crackdown, civil society organisations are forced to work in severely restricted and dangerous environment fearing arrest or persecution of some kind.

No one was safe in Erdogan’s Turkey, from tea makers, to models, actors, linguists, academics, singers, and even fashion designers.

Criticism and political satire had no place and its creators and users have faced grave consequences.

In his September piece, another veteran columnist Cengiz Candar writing about post coup crackdown against journalists wrote, “apart from having no ideological links to Gulen or Gulenism, each one of the journalists is known to have strong anti-putschist credentials. Therefore, the detention warrants for them have nothing to do with the coup problem but rather with suppressing the freedom of press”. Candar mentions several names in his piece arguing for their innocence and says there could be many others who have been arrested or detained but have no relations to FETO, arguing that the “coupe probe has gone beyond the Gulenists”.  

In the meantime, Turkey continued to suffer from terrorist attacks, five of which hitting Istanbul in 2016 alone while in Turkey’s southeast, a predominantly Kurdish territory hundreds of thousands of people were displaced. According to BBC report, “Turkey sees itself targeted by three groups of ‘terrorists’: IS, Kurdish militant and coup plotters” especially once ceasefire with PKK ceased, “more than 600 members of the Turkish security forces were killed in attacked blamed on the militant PKK”.

37 people were killed in Ankara, with TAK (Kurdistan Freedom Hawks), PKK splinter group carried out an attack in the capital’s bus terminal. 44 people, majority police officers were killed in December just outside of Istanbul’s soccer stadium.

4 November 2016, 9 killed, 100 injured in Diyarbakir during an attack at the police station (ISIL claimed responsibility);

6 October 2016, 16 killed and 27 wounded in Hakkari after car bomb explodes near military post (authorities indicate PKK behind the attack);

In another attack carried out in Istanbul’s Bahcelievler district, 10 were injured;

21 August 2016, 50 killed 94 wounded at a wedding party in Gaziantep as a result of a suicide bomber detonating (authorities blamed PKK);

18 August 2016, 14 killed and some 300 wounded in bombings in Elazig and Van provinces targeting security forces (authorities blamed the PKK);

28 June 2016, a blast at the airport kills 41, injures 239 (no immediate claim for the attack);

13 June 2016, 9 injured in a blast in Ovacik, Tunceli province (left wing HBDH claimed responsibility);

8 June 2016, 6 killed, 20 injured following car bomb in Mardin (PKK claimed responsibility);

7 June 2016, 11 killed, 36 injured in an explosion near Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar (TAK claimed responsibility);

19 May 2016, ISIL member blows himself up during police raid;

10 May 2016, 3 killed, 45 injured in Diyarbakir following an attack on police van carrying inmates and policemen (PKK claimed responsibility);

1 May 2016, 2 killed and 22 injured following car explosion in Turkey’s Gaziantep province (authorities blamed ISIL);

27 April 2016, female suicide bomber detonates herself during prayer in Bursa’s main mosque injuring 13 people (Kurdistan Freedom Hawks- TAK- claimed responsibility);

31 March 2016, an explosion hits police vehicle near bus terminal in Diyarbakir killing 7 and injuring 27;

20 March 2016, suicide bomber hits Istanbul’s busy pedestrian area- Istiklal Avenue, killing 5, injuring 6 (authorities blamed ISIL);

13 March 2016, 37 killed and 70 injured in Turkey’s capital Ankara (TAK claimed responsibility);

17 February 2016, 28 killed and 61 injured following explosion in Ankara targeting military vehicle (TAK claimed responsibility);

14 January 2016, 6 killed and 39 injured after car bomb goes off in Turkey’s Diyarbakir (PKK claimed responsibility);

12 January 2016, 10 people were killed and 15 injured in a suicide bomb attack in Istanbul in the city’s historical district of Sultanahmet (the bomber was later identified as ISIS affiliate who entered Turkey as a refugee);

But none of these attacks seem to deter President Erdogan’s support. In fact, his constant reminder that FETO is responsible for all the ills, have convinced public at large it is the case.

It’s economy suffered greatly, with the country being ranked among worst-performing emerging economies. While its tourism industry suffered as a result of growing terrorist attacks across the country.

On January 11, Turkish parliament approved changes to the constitution, some of which include granting powers to President Erdogan to abolish premiership, dissolve parliament, appoint 12 out of 15 members of the Constitutional Court, serve additional two terms until (2029). “Erodgan insists that such changes are necessary if Turkey is to take its rightful place as a global power”, wrote Amberin Zaman in her recent Al-Monitor piece on constitutional changes. Now that the package has been approved at the parliament, it will be put down to a referendum in likely in April of this year.

At the end of 2015, Hurriyet Daily News an opinion piece penned by Murat Yetkin, summarised six major problems ahead of Turkey in 2016:

  • Kurdish problems
  • Presidency and constitution
  • Economy
  • Syria and Russia
  • The U.S. and the anti-IS fight
  • EU, Cyprus, Israel

A year later, looking forward to 2017 while projections and expectations of these main problems might have changed (albeit mostly to the worse) the headlines remain the same and scepticism is in the air whether Turkey is able to survive 2017 especially if the symptom of mental paralysis remains.

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