Turkey by nature is a privileged nation. It is the gateway to Eastern Europe and Western Asia. It is a mix of cultures, has a rich history of civilisation, a perfect tourist destination, endowed with all the treasured mosaics of religions, cultures and history. For Nigerians, Turkey is the home of good suits, quality fabrics. In fact, the tag made-in-Turkey connotes quality of such product, from electronics to consumables. Turkey also ranks high in healthcare and quality education. Truly, you can turn to Turkey for the choicest things that make for a good life
But Turkey in recent years is grieving. The citizens are oppressed and manacled by the tyrannical government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Dictatorship has never been an entrenched code in the history of modern Turkey until the emergence of Erdogan. The reason is simple. Erdogan wanted absolute power as President knowing that with the country’s parliamentary system, power (but not absolute) resides more with the prime minister. The lure to transit from prime minister to president has birthed an elected dictatorship in Erdogan’s Turkey.
The concept of extremism, fundamentalism and radicalism never existed in Turkey until Erdogan encouraged them in 2010. Now, Turkey, a nation once noted for free speech, has come under the halo of extreme tyranny. The government of Erdogan is showing extreme intolerance of opposition, criticism or rebuke.
To effectively suppress free speech, he attacked the media. By last count, 17 independent newspapers including the influential Zaman has been taken over by the government of Erdogan through spurious proxies. News managers and editors were harassed and beaten up in some cases before his men moved in to acquire the newspapers. Zaman was the highest circulating newspaper in Turkey selling over a million copies daily before Erdogan forcibly took it over. His target was never the profitability of the media house but to control their editorial content. A day after he took over Zaman, sales dropped from one million to 3,000 copies daily. It was a revolt from the readers who desire free speech. But it would not bother him for as long as he made sure the paper was no longer critical of his government. He has added to his propaganda megaphone 22 television stations which now mouth his exploits and present him as the best thing to have come out of Turkey.
Recently, there was a bomb blast at Ataturk Airport in which over 40 people were killed. It was bad for the image of Erdogan who has given the impression of being in charge and Turkey being insulated from terror just on account of his presence in government house. Shockingly but not surprisingly, no Turkish paper reported the incident on its front page; to have done so would have been interpreted as an affront on the Lord of the Manor.
In Erdogan’s Turkey, anything and everything is now possible for as long as it promotes his authority and demotes the opposition. He has tried to regulate access to internet to stop the opposition and the people from using it to ‘attack’ his government. Today in Turkey, there is the Reasonable Suspicion Law with which anybody could be prosecuted once agents of the state have ‘reasonable suspicion’ that you are a criminal or that you have the potential to commit crime or to become a criminal.
The tragedy here is that only agents of Erdogan can interpret what is ‘reasonable suspicion’. The law allows police to target suspects on the grounds of “reasonable suspicion,” search their homes, seize their belongings and detain them. To give a legitimate face to the law, Police can get a court ruling that they have acted on grounds of “reasonable suspicion” 24 hours after a given operation. Under Erdogan, the agents of state have deployed this law to good use, targeted mainly at critics of government.
Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely (apologies to Lord Acton). Those who wield absolute power tend to be blinded to the realities around them; they lose their humanity. They are drunk in the stupor of power and most times, they do not know when to quit. Erdogan is power-drunk. He has fully disconnected from reality. And typical of power mongers, he must do everything and anything to cling to the lever of power. From manipulating the constitution to rigging polls, Erdogan has experimented with all. Perhaps, it makes him happy to see his critics grind in pain; it massages his ego.
One of his experiments to cleave to power was hatched in 2014 after the Turks had voted in a vitriolic election. On the night when votes were being collated, some cities were thrown into darkness; there was blackout which forced the collators to count the votes using candle light. Blackout in modern Turkey was unheard of but Erdogan performed the feat in what his critics said was a deliberate effort to rig the election in his favour. No reasonable excuse was given for the blackout except a rather fetish explanation the next day by Turkey’s Energy Minister, Taner Yıldız, who blamed the blackout on a poor feline: a cat. “A cat walked into a transformer unit. That’s why there was a power cut. It’s not the first time this has happened,” the minister told a stunned world.
Aside human rights violations, Erdogan is facing money laundering charges. He seems well poised to shrug it off and railroad his despotic agenda on the whole of Turkey. And here is my worry. Israel, UK, United States and other world powers are just watching while Erdogan desecrates democracy because they are cutting deals with him and his government. There is danger in their aloofness. They should galvanise a global coalition to stop Erdogan or get him to reform his ways. The greater danger is that if the world looks away and Erdogan succeeds in his despotic manipulations, he would have encouraged other aspiring despots around the world to violate the fine ideals of democracy and entrench tyranny in their respective domains. The world must not look away from the recession to despotism in Turkey.
The EU must not keep quiet just because Turkey is seen as not one of their own. If Turkey goes to ruins on account of Erdogan’s highhandedness, the backlash would extend to Europe, to Asia and to other parts of the world.
Whatever is happening in Turkey at this time should interest Nigeria. Turkey has a strong presence in Nigeria. The Turkish Group operating here contributes immensely to the economy employing in excess of 2,000 Nigerians in education, hospitality, healthcare and other fields.
The New York Times in its July 4, 2016 edition put it most remarkably: “Mr. Erdogan, who long professed a foreign policy of ‘zero problems with neighbours,’ now seems to be mired in disputes with just about everybody and just about everywhere”. The paper said Erdogan is making new enemies and frustrating old friends. Turkey is a dominantly Muslim nation but it has in the last one year come under severe attacks by Islamist fundamentalists. The reasons are not far from Erdogan’s actions and inactions as President of Turkey. The man who professed to make friends for his country has stacked up many enemies. And to make matters worse, he is living a life of obscene opulence at a time the national economy, like most global economies, is on a dip. Turkey needs help. It needs deliverance from the vice grip of a megalomaniac before one of the world’s busiest hubs of commerce suffers Titanic fatality. God forbid!