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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 8/25/16

Erdogan Leads Turkey's Democracy on a Populist Death March After Failed Coup

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Photo by Pool photo by Alexei Nikolsky

Another more devious game would be that Erdoğan might even be seeking to court Russian favor; if Erdoğan is not delusional, he has to realize his increasing authoritarianism may very well eventually earn Turkey an expulsion from NATO, at which U.S. Sec. of State John Kerry recently hinted. The Turkish president is already making nice with Putin even after Russo-Turkish relations reached a nadir late last year when Turkey shot down a Russian combat jet after a series of repeated Russian violations of Turkish airspace on the Syrian border. It should not go unnoticed that the pilots who shot down Russia's jet were arrested shortly after the coup for allegedly being part of it, with the arrests announced after Putin had earlier quite forcefully condemned the attempted coup and had personally called Erdoğan to offer his support. Perhaps this was a quid pro quo that laidy the ground for their August in-person meeting, in which both leaders signaled the beginning of a new, more-positive phase in their relationship. Perhaps Erdoğan is warming up to another potential ally--one very similar to himself--in Putin, even as he distances himself from current allies that are very dissimilar to him. In in the next few years, if I read that Turkey has left or been forced out of NATO and joined a military alliance with Russia (which would only be a dream come true for Russia on so many levels), I will hardly be surprised.

Make no mistake, Erdoğan is Turkey's Putin now, just more impatient and without Putin's relative charm and subtlety. No wonder the two seem to be patching up their differences and coming together: they operate in very similar ways.

Conclusion: In Erdoğan, A Tyranny Orwell Would Recognize All Too Well (and One that Is Here to Stay)

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For now, Turkey is clearly becoming a repressive society, and the moment of the failed coup marks a decidedly rapid increase in Erdoğan's program of centralization, consolidation, repression, Islamicization, and anti-Westernism/anti-Americanism.

Last year, in between the two Turkish parliamentary elections, we saw how professional official investigators were stating certain attacks were very likely ISIS attacks, while Erdoğan claimed they could be the work of Kurds and/or the Assad regime, twisting the facts to suit his own end and contradicting his own officials in his own government. I would not at all be shocked if it turns out those law-enforcement officials have just been purged, and Erdoğan will almost surely make sure that now, any government official will speak one thing and one thing only: whatever Erdoğan wants to be said. Now, when there are terrorism attacks in Turkey, the world should not give much credibility to whatever information comes from official Turkish channels; those interested in the truth are gone from the picture, because those remaining, as the propaganda slogans remind us, are there to serve Erdoğan, because his will is the people's will and those who don't agree, who are not on board with the program, are traitors and terrorists. Just like Gulen and anyone who even sympathizes with them.

It seems again appropriate to return to Orwell, who was only too well aware that dictators will do everything they can to control language. In his famous "Politics and the English Language" essay, Orwell remarked that "Political language--and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists--is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind." This purge shows that that is exactly what Erdoğan is doing, and I, for one, won't be trusting much of anything the Turkish government says from now on because I know I won't be hearing the words of professional public servants, but acolytes to Erdoğan's increasingly Stalinist-like cult, all while Erdoğan seeks to eclipse Ataturk both as the preeminent modern Turk and and as the embodiment of Turkey itself, a Turkey he is now successfully remaking in his autocratic, religious image, pushing aside the democratic, secular values of Ataturk.

Orwell realized that systematically attacking basic freedoms of expression was, in effect, a demonstration of contempt for rights and people in general when he wrote that "Threats to freedom of speech, writing and action, though often trivial in isolation, are cumulative in their effect and, unless checked, lead to a general disrespect for the rights of the citizen."

Before the outcome was certain, the coup attempt was, I noted at the time, the definitive battle for the soul of Turkey and its future. Well, for the foreseeable future, that soul and that future will be embodied by Erdoğan and be devoid of most democratic norms, respect for human and minority rights, a free press, and honest political discourse. We seem more and more surely to be approaching a point where it will be impossible to say otherwise about Turkey, if we have not already arrived at or passed by it.

Long after the Roman Republic's political functionality and integrity had crumbled, Caesar was said to have remarked that "The Republic is nothing--just a name, without substance or form" (Seutonius Lives of the Caesars The Deified Julius Caesar 77). Today, the substance and form of Turkey's republic is in dire straits, the prospects for its survival quite poor, its future for anyone concerned with democracy bleak; such is Erdoğan's Turkey. For me, Erdoğan's resilience and increasing power was one of the big stories of 2015, and I noted at the beginning of the year that Turkey's would-be sultan was poised to be quite a problem in 2016, and thus far, he has certainly exceeded even my grim expectations.