Commentary Magazine


Erdoğan Threatens Vigilante Justice

Anger continues to rise in Turkey, where protests now rock more than 80 Turkish towns and cities. Like Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh before him, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan appears defiant in the face of the protestors’ demands. At its core, Erdoğan and his supporters justify their actions in the fact that he won 50 percent of the vote in the last elections. In his mind, therefore, he has a popular mandate for anything he does—from meddling in an essentially local matter like the paving over of Gezi Park, to imprisoning opposition parliamentarians, to confiscating newspapers and television stations.

Alas, while fellow analysts like the Council on Foreign Relations’ Steven Cook argue that Erdoğan is likely to survive the protests (and I largely agree with him), Erdoğan’s own statements suggest the worst may yet be to come. While Erdoğan has pushed less volatile AKP members like President Abdullah Gül and Erdoğan’s radical but more polite deputy Bülent Arınç in front of the cameras in recent days, their attempts to mollify the demonstrators have been overshadowed by Erdoğan’s barely concealed threat that he was “barely holding back the 50 percent” that voted for him from coming onto the street to take on the pro-democracy protestors.

Indeed, it appears that some AKP members are already taking to the streets to confront violently those protestors who seek a more liberal and/or secular Turkey. After videos emerged in Izmir of police grabbing and handing protestors to others dressed in civilian clothes that would proceed to beat them, the governor of Izmir explained that the videotaped civilians were actually undercover police, but they had simply forgotten to bring their “police” vests which they are supposed to wear in such cases. Such an explanation does not seem credible, however, since those beating the demonstrators were not using batons, but crude wooden sticks, and many of them wielding the sticks and pipes against the protestors seemed to be no more than 16 or 17 years old. One of the so-called undercover police was further identified as a member of an AKP youth wing who had recently been ousted after tweeting, “One day we will bring down Ataturk’s Tomb, inshallah.”

Two years ago Cengiz Çandar, a pro-AKP journalist known to carry water for Erdoğan, criticized me harshly for referring to “Erdoğan’s Brownshirts,” and declared, “Freedom of speech is part of the daily routine in Turkey. Western attacks on the Turkish government smack of a dubious agenda.” Mr. Çandar, if you doubt Erdoğan’s Brownshirts exist, perhaps it’s time to hop out of the government car and turn on the television. In any dictatorship, there are—unfortunately—no shortage of journalists who will protect rulers who in turn privilege them.

Fortunately, such journalists often keep one finger to the wind to make sure they can ingratiate themselves. Çandar today is comparing the Taksim protestors to a “velvet revolution.” Let us hope that as the edifice of fear crumbles, other journalists will also prioritize truth over privilege. Not only will the Turkish people be better off, but so too will be the state of Turkish journalism.

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