Arrests are nothing unexpected

tayyip-erdogan-kizgin-0616-3214-AB6BThe police raid and arrests of media representatives on 14 December in Turkey, obviously registered as a shocking incident for all those who watch Turkey’s accession process to the European Union. However, for those who closely follow AKP’s shift of politics since the constitutional referendum in 2010, and even better, for those who know how justice system, politics and media work in Turkey, this is not unexpected.

The pressure on freedom of speech and media has a long history in Turkey. The modern Turkish history starts with assassinated journalists such as Hasan Fehmi and Ahmet Samim in the 1910s. While there were few brief periods that Turkey could enjoy some sort of press freedom, they never lasted long. Among all the attempts restricting press freedom, the Tan incident in 1945 holds a special place. The left-wing Tan newspaper’s print shop was pillaged by hordes of anti-communists, which united Kemalists, Islamists and pan-Turkists. After this event, in different times, people from different fractions of Tan culprit came to power in Turkey and exerted their own flavour of censorship and pressure. The AKP cadre of today are also the descendants of National Turkish Students’ Association (Milli Türk Talebe Birliği ? MTTB); an Islamist-nationalist radical group which orchestrated the Tan raid in 1945, the Greek pogrom in 1955 and the ?Bloody Sunday? against leftists in 1969, one of the most notable alumni being former President of the Republic, Abdullah Gül.

Also the shift in AKP politics after 2010 constitutional referendum was a clear harbinger of events we are witnessing today. After that referendum which AKP passed its motion by a landslide victory of 58%; the government rapidly turned its direction into an authoritarian regime, eliminating separation of powers and media freedom, and also intimidating all dissident social movements by an extreme wave of police violence. Make no mistake, while AKP was taking over the justice system and getting its list of officials elected in the High Council of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK), today’s arch-enemy Gülenists’ were their closest allies. The infamous ?Parallel State? pronounced by Erdoğan in every single occasion since December 2013 corruption probe was created by AKP-Gülen alliance. When journalist Ahmet Şık was arrested in March 2011 and his unpublished book was confiscated as ?evidence for terrorist activities?, what he just criticized was the Gülen cadre within the state. Meanwhile today’s victims, Zaman and other pro-Gülen media claimed Şık and others weren’t ?arrested for journalism? and hailed the raid against them. Well, isn’t Turkey an ironic country?

What Gülen-AKP alliance left Turkey as heritage is the ?biggest prison for journalists in the world? according to the Reporters without Borders (RSF), a non-free country in terms of press freedoms according to the Freedom House, and a country with more than 60,000 banned web sites. And of course, don’t forget the rigged justice system frequently used as a tool to eliminate any dissidence or rivals, police violently murdering even children and getting away with it. While all these were in the making, Gülenists were all there and they did much more than just watching.

What really broke this alliance, few people really know. All we know is, it became visible after Gülenist prosecutors and police tried to investigate the intelligence chief and Erdoğan’s confidant Hakan Fidan in 7 February 2012. AKP immediately called this ?a coup attempt? (one of the first of many events that would be called as such by the regime), and the hatches were unburied. After a series of high-and-low jabs and jolts, in October, AKP decided to shut down the private university prep courses (dershane), traditionally known as the Gülenists’ mine of promising new recruits. This attempts evidently rendered the war public and the Gülenists felt the need of striking back. And they retalliated hard. The whistleblower Twitter accounts, such as notorious Fuat Avni, started to reveal the dirtiest secrets of the AKP regime and even the Erdoğan family. Voice recordings and photos were all over the place. In regular-Joe (or let’s say regular-Ahmet) in Turkey knew about how Erdoğan ordered his son to ?zero? the money in the vault, how Persian businessmen bribed ministers for illegal gold trade and even how ministers and journalists made tasteless jokes about the holy book of Qu’ran. Meanwhile, Gülenist prosecutors were trying to reach anyone they could touch, taking ministers’ sons into custody and raiding bank managers’ houses, filled with shoe boxes of millions of dollars. The conservative, ?voice of the poor? government turned out to be the ?last days of Calligula.? Evidently, Erdoğan had no intention of taking all these into the chin, he and his media empire quickly spun the whole scandal into ?a coup attempt of the Parallel State against the elected government of people.? And he got away with it too, the biggest corruption scandal ever made almost no impact on the ballots in the local elections of March 2014, or in the presidential of August. Erdoğan emerged victorious in both elections. By the way, all the corruption charges were dropped and the court decided to return all the confiscated million dollars (which AKP claimed was planted by the Gülenists) with a handsome legal rate of interest included, to the defendants.

President Erdoğan shouting ?we will pursue them in their lairs? and the police crackdown arresting 23 journalists few days later, is hardly a surprise. Turkey is that kind of place now. The regime holds a grudge against anyone even remotely questioning Erdoğan’s policies (or rants), and does not wait too much for a takedown. The Gülenists knew that, they collaborated on building that regime, they had enjoyed its perks for years. Does it mean that they should be left alone? No, because challenging this regime of enmity and retribution requires sticking to principles, and not going euphoric by an enemy tormenting another. What Turkey needs is normalization, freedom of speech, freedom of expression, civil liberties and last but not least some common sense. And it starts with taking a long breath and stepping out of the madness.

* Originally published on media.ba website