Jadaliyya | The Love Affair with Erdogan (Part 1) →
This is an interesting read given how the “Turkish model” became a point of interest for talking heads in 2011.
Since his election to the helm of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) in 2003, but even more so following the party’s reelections in 2007 and 2011, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has played the darling of the proverbial international community. Gradually relinquishing their fear of an Islamist agenda, European and North American governments and think tanks made Erdoğan the linchpin of a “modern” Middle East. He became the embodiment of a benign Islam embedded in the kind of secular, democratic, and neo-liberal economic structures the “West” yearned to see modeled in the rest of the Middle East. His wife wore a headscarf, yet he spoke the language of democracy and rights. He commanded a powerful army advancing the geopolitical interests of NATO, but promised to curb its extraordinary domestic political power and mitigate the draconian secularism that many found increasingly oppressive. To top it off, he spoke the language of neo-liberal economics. With the war on terror drudging on and signs of a global recession on the horizon, he was a panacea for all Western woes.
According to data compiled by the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey, in 2011, 436 people were charged in freedom of expressions cases; 274 of those were sentenced to a total of 888 years, six months and twelve days in prison. In freedom of association cases 558 were arrested and of these, ninety-one have thus far been sentenced to a total of 596 years and six days in prison. On charges of “membership in illegal organizations” (i.e. the KCK), 836 were arrested. Among them are DBP affiliated politicians, university students, journalists, members of human rights NGOs, city mayors and university professors. Among the latter is Müge Tuzcuoğlu, in prison since 8 March 2012, accused of participation in a terrorist organization for publishing a book on the trauma experienced by Diyarbakır children, and initiating a project to help them cope with growing up in a war zone.
Between 2010 and 2012, 7,043 students have been interrogated; 4,602 have been detained and fifty-five have been expelled from universities (among them a student involved in an on-campus protest against Erdoğan). Currently, 117 university students remain on trial, and 2,824 remain in prison. Among them five students from Ankara arrested in January 2011 and accused of “possibly (emphasis added) planning an attack on students with right-wing political views,” and Cihan Kırmızıgul, convicted of membership in an illegal organization – on evidence of wearing a keffiya in proximity to where a keffiya-clad gang attacked a supermarket – and sentenced, with the help of the anti-terrorism law, to eleven years and three months in prison. Three students who carried a placard demanding free tuition during a 2011 event attended by the Prime Minister were charged with membership in a terrorist organization and the promulgation of terrorist propaganda. Two were found guilty on both counts, and sentenced to eight years and five months in prison; the third was sentenced to two years and two months for the second charge only. In addition to student protesters, at least 245 anti-government protestors remain in custody, as well as thirty-nine environmental and energy activists. Incidentally, protesting hydroelectric power plants is now defined as an act of terrorism.
By 2012, Turkey’s overcrowded prisons were host to, among others, forty-one lawyers, eleven human rights advocates, ninety-one journalists, eight assembly members, and thirty mayors. The government had banned15,590 websites. The Press Freedom Index had Turkey in 148th place (out of 179), and Turkey had dropped ten places in the Reporters Without Borders ranking. It seems to me that Erdoğan has been cut a lot of slack.
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