The Turkish press is reporting that, with the latest round of arrests of former military officers for allegedly forcing the resignation of Necmettin Erbakan’s Islamist government in 1997, one-in-five Turkish generals is now in prison.
Even those who see the end of military influence in Turkey as the litmus test for democracy should worry. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan now targets political opponents, real or imagined, without restraint. Under the Turkish system, an accusation is enough to jail an opponent, sometimes for years without trial. There is no mechanism for bail. On its surface, the targeting of the generals is ridiculous: The Turkish Supreme Court affirmed the illegality of the Erbakan and disbanded his party for violating Turkey’s constitution. The European Court of Human Rights upheld the Turkish court’s actions. Turkish generals might have pursued unsavory actions—especially toward Turkey’s Kurdish minority—but the sheer number of those now in prison suggests a separate motivation.
By turning a blind eye or even cheerleading Erdoğan’s repression, self-described human rights activists and diplomats enable him to target broader arrays of Turks. After all, while the arrests of Turkish generals make headlines, Erdoğan’s forces also target journalists, academics, politicians, and civil society activists.
Inconsistency also highlights the political agenda behind the arrests. In July 1993, a mob of Sunni Islamists—an important Erdoğan constituency—burned down a hotel in which Turkish Alevi intellectuals were holding a conference (Alevis are a Shi’ite offshoot). The arson killed 37 people. As Erdoğan changed the law to prosecute those he accused of oppressing Sunni Islamists, he chose not to pursue justice against those alleged to have murdered Alevis who, for sectarian reasons, he holds in contempt.
Turkey does not belong in Europe. Increasingly, Erdoğan shows that when it comes to issues relating to democracy, justice, and abuse-of-power, Turkey is more akin to Russia, Venezuela, and Pakistan.