The Heart of Erdogan’s Darkness

Michael van der Galien is managing editor for the Dutch website De Dagelijkse Standaard (The Daily Standard) and lives in Izmir, Turkey.


TURKEY_-_occupy-gezi-protests-erdoganTurkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is becoming more authoritarian by the day. His government has announced it will use every tool available to investigate and punish protesters, critics in the media, and social media users. Additionally, Ankara has started to openly threaten foreign websites such as Twitter and Facebook, hoping they will end up betraying their users.

Whenever he gives a speech to his followers or appears on TV, Erdogan repeats that foreigners, not Turks, are the driving force behind the protests that have engulfed Turkey for the last month. For example, he regularly refers to a sinister “interest rate lobby” that, together with certain “foreign capitals,” works to destroy the economy. Since not even he can deny that the ones doing the actual protesting are Turkish, Erdogan and his henchmen can only conclude that they are traitors deserving of the harshest possible punishment.

That is why the government is doing everything in its power to identify protesters active on social media so they can be persecuted. Both Twitter and Facebook have been “asked” to share user information with the Turkish government. It would not surprise me that, once identified, these individuals will be charged with one sort of terrorism or another.

Luckily, the two American social networking behemoths refuse to cooperate. Neither is inclined to step into a country’s domestic political affairs. They are there to serve the freedom of speech and to enable people to express themselves. If a government wants to crack down on dissent, it will have to do so without their help.

The Justice and Development Party (AK Parti or AKP) being what it is, immediately lashed out at these companies. Said minister of Transport, Maritime Affairs and Communications Binali Yildirim: “The Turkish Republic doesn’t recognize those who don’t recognize it!” For good measure he added a threat: “79 million people will hit them with an Ottoman slap.” Before you think that he is referring to a girlie kind of slap that would not impress anyone: In Turkish culture, the Ottoman slap is an “all powerful” way to take out one’s opponent.

In the meantime, Turkish journalists who dare do their job and share the real story with their readers (or viewers) are singled out and intimidated. For instance, the mayor of Ankara, Melih Gökcek, launched a public smear campaign against Turkish BBC reporter Selin Girit who reported on the protests and who tried to explain to her viewers why things had gotten so out of hand.

Girit, Gökcek tweeted, was “an English agent” engaging in “treachery to her nation.” He even called on his followers – AKP-voters – to speak out against her and harass her online by using the hashtag #ingiltereadınaajanlıkyapmaselingirit (“Don’t be an agent on behalf of England Selin Girit). “I want that everyone who loves their country to make the hashtag a trending topic. That way, our reaction will be heard abroad,” he added.

It did not take long for Girit’s Twitter stream to be overwhelmed with personal attack after personal attack. She did not speak out against it herself, but her company did, calling the attacks “unacceptable.” True, albeit a bit of an understatement.

Attacks on Twitter users, private companies, and journalists; it all happens in modern Turkey. And there is more. It was also reported this week that the Islamist government is even going so far as to “investigate” the bank accounts of their foreign customers. According to the report, the Capital Markets Board asked banks a couple of days ago to submit the account activity of foreign customers between May 20 and June 19 because it had “received complaints” that these individuals had received and used money to stir up the protests. Supposedly, this is all part of some grand kind of “conspiracy” by the aforementioned “interest rate lobby,” who want to throw Turkey into chaos.

Of course, there is no reason whatsoever to believe that there is a foreign conspiracy behind the protests. As I reported for FrontPage Magazine earlier this month, the organizers are Turks who simply disagree with Erdogan’s policies and fear his increasingly authoritarian leadership style.

To Erdogan, however, these conspiracy theories are too good to resist. After all, it allows him to brush aside the legitimate concerns of the opposition and to use intimidation and other techniques in order to silence critics.

I do not believe that it already is too late for Turkey, but it certainly is very troubling that, even now the mass protests have calmed down, the government still refuses to respect the freedom of expression and the freedom of the press. If Erdogan persists, Turkey’s democratic system may very well end up being damaged beyond repair. That would be unacceptable, not only to Turks, but also to the West, which is why it is up to the European Union to convince him to take a different tack. He may not listen to his domestic critics, but if his most important trade partner refuses to do business with him by linking the eurozone and Turkish economies even more, Erdogan may very well decide to change course nonetheless.

Let us hope so, for we cannot afford to let Turkey slide into authoritarianism. Europe and the United States need Turkey as a strong and democratic regional partner. Doing nothing is, therefore, simply not an option.

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  • Isabel Herron

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  • tanstaafl

    Islam cannot tolerate democracy.

  • Besökare

    Why is it exactly we need Turkey and what on earth is it we are getting presently in return for extremely generous trade-arrangement and giving them virtually free access to migrate into the EC? I sometimes find it annoying when Americans keep publishing that we must integrate with Turkey because we, the Europeans, are the ones paying the price. Turks in Europe constitute a massive strain on our essential services from policing to hospitals to welfare, they are demographically one of the strongest and most islamist and criminal elements in Europe. Without the Turk vote virtually no left-wing political parties would come to power over here. Is that a policy you want to promote, because that is part of the package.

    These people are not our allies and they are only playing us for as long as it is convenient. I think this idea about the importance of Turkey is a myth like EC being the reason we have peace in Europe. Any middle eastern country is almost harmless if it is only as poor as it will be naturally without western assistance.

    Finally within a couple of decades The Kurdish population in Turkey is going to outnumber the Turks, so they are in a desperate situation – this needs to be considered. The Kurds might be fine allies presently, but they are utterly unintegratable in Western society. The level of crime they bring with them alone is enough to overwhelm any civilization. Please don’t just repeat that line about Turkey without weighing the price to be paid(by us, not least the women of Europe!) and looking a bit into the future: the furthering of islamization of Europe, the coming battle among Turks and Kurds, the inevitable shariaization of Turkey…

    • Michael_van_der_Galien

      Oh, I completely agree that Turkey should not join the EU – I believe that’s bad for both. Agreed.

      However, for the balance of power and the region and for European economies, it is important to have a healthy relationship with Turkey. Don’t forget that Turkey and the US, for instance, were close allies until 2002 / 2003. If I remember well, as much as 80 to 90 percent of Turks had a positive view of the US back then, which was very helpful for both countries.

      It is important to keep Turkey in our camp, but I’m becoming increasingly afraid that it is moving in the other – wrong – direction. That’ll be bad for Turkey itself, but it will also severely weaken the West’s role in the Middle East.

      • Besökare

        OK, I don’t think there exist such a thing as a healthy relationship with an “islam-cultured” nation. The way to relate to such entities is real-politik and containment, and nothing else.

        Where in the real world does the advantages of this ‘friendship’ actually materialize itself? What could we not get a thousand times better and cheaper by twisting their arm rather than the charade going on now?
        Terms like ‘close allies’ and ‘keeping in our camp’ are just words and I cannot see any real world basis for them.

        Both in the states and in Europe our diplomatic and intellectual class have convinced themselves that ridiculous trade-offs are justified (or most of their jobs would become obsolete). They feel we should be humble towards Turkey and massage their tender egos, give them lots of important positions, the right to keep migrating to EC, where they are responsible for grave, grave crimes often against women and children etc etc for some illusion about having a friend in the middle east.

        If we cut of their trade-privileges and start returning their criminal immigrants, stop the mony transfers, we can bring them to their knees in minutes (literally, their bonds and stocks couldn’t bear it) and of course they will allow our planes to fly over etc. (they cannot even fix their own planes without our technology). We are still in a position of supreme power towards the middle eastern countries and we need to start using it now instead of babbling about friendship and alliances that don’t exist. Anyway, middle easteners never respect people who squander their power-privileges, one reason they think so ill of Obama.

  • Attila_the_hun

    ‘Turkey’s democratic system may very well end up being damaged beyond repair’

    Turkish democracy is already damaged goods. The reality is Turkey heading in Syria’s way. Just last week Turkish media reported that the army will assist local governors if help requested. Meaning Erdogan is ready and willing to use the army against his people .

    http://www.radikal.com.tr/turkiye/tsk_vali_isterse_asker_gonderilecek-1139963

    • Michael_van_der_Galien

      I wrote about this for other websites and concluded that… I’m not sure he isn’t bluffing. The army is not as strong as it once was, but that’s different from suddenly taking the side of Islamists.

  • FalkoBaumgartner

    Actually today the Vice Premier Minister blamed publicly, amongst others, the “Jewish diaspora” for the demonstrations, so the Turkish Islamists in power are right back to their favourite topic of the “ugly Jew”: http://www.faz.net/aktuell/politik/ausland/europa/tuerkei/tuerkei-erdogans-stellvertreter-macht-juden-fuer-proteste-verantwortlich-12268280.html

    • watsa46

      There are about 15 to 18 thousands Jews in the WHOLE of Turkey!!!!!!

    • Michael_van_der_Galien

      Yes, a very good point. I’ll include this next time. Don’t forget that the ‘interest lobby,’ ‘bankers’ and ‘foreign governments’ also mean – at leat for a part – ‘the jews’ to them.

  • watsa46

    The little sultan will overplay his hand soon or later. The Kurds need to be patient.

  • Ellman48

    Morsi of Egypt was following Erdogan’s footsteps but apparently the Egyptian people cannot be as easily misled as the Turks. But let’s give them credit. They did wake up eventually to reject the Islamist Erdogan. One has to wonder what is taking the American people so long to wake up to the realization that they also have a would-be dictator in the Presidency.

    • Michael_van_der_Galien

      Egypt still has a strong army. If Morsi would have been president for 10 years already, I have no doubt that the army would have acted differently today. Luckily, the Egyptian army is still filled with and led by secularists, though.

      • Ellman48

        Which is why Morsi has to go, before he does in Egypt what Erdogan has done in Turkey. The Pakistani Army is dominated by Islamists which is why they concealed bin Laden and kept undermining the US in Afghanistan. We don’t need a Pakistani-like army in Egypt.

        • Michael_van_der_Galien

          Yes, agreed. For the Dutch website I’m managing editor for I actually wrote ‘three times hooray for the Egyptian army.’ If they had waited a few years, they would not have been able to do this, because Morsi would have fired the secular generals and other high officers and replaced them with islamists.

  • Ellman48

    “If a government wants to crack down on dissent, it will have to do so without their help.” History is replete with stories of governments wanting to leverage technology against its people. That’s why we should not be surprised when the NSA is used to acquire secrets about us, telecom companies are compelled to provide private phone records, Erdogan wants Twitter and Facebook to join his Secret Police, and Obama uses drones to eliminate his enemies (as defined by him who is pulling the trigger). DO NOT TRUST GOVERNMENT!

  • Ellman48

    “…the Ottoman slap is an “all powerful“ way to take out one’s opponent.” I don’t think an Ottoman slap could turn on a light bulb. WWI demolished the Ottomans, or has Turkey not yet realized that? What Erdogan needs is an ‘Ataturk Slap’ which would restore democracy, sanity and prosperity to Turkey.

  • Ellman48

    “Supposedly, this is all part of some grand kind of “conspiracy” by the
    aforementioned “interest rate lobby,” who want to throw Turkey into
    chaos.”
    I see. So throwing Turkey into chaos will have an effect on interest rates, probably moving them higher because of uncertainty and risk. What’s amazing is that so many protesters belong to this ‘interest rate lobby’. Did the lobby suddenly emerge from nothing into a mass movement? Totalitarian regimes have a long roster of scapegoats available to defuse any political crisis.

    • Michael_van_der_Galien

      Exactemundo. The troubling thing is, though, that he actually seems to believe that nonsense.

      • Ellman48

        Yes, as with all Islamists, the most troubling thing about them is their beliefs. As Stalin knew very well, it is easier to dispose of the man than to change his beliefs.

        • Michael_van_der_Galien

          That’s sadly true.

  • Ellman48

    “Let us hope so, for we cannot afford to let Turkey slide into
    authoritarianism. Europe and the United States need Turkey as a strong
    and democratic regional partner. Doing nothing is, therefore, simply not
    an option.”

    Since when do Islamists concern themselves with what infidel countries want? Erdogan has an agenda and he will pursue it because he is committed to it no less than Mohammed was. If the Turks don’t divert him from his mission he will pursue it until the Turks have no choice but to comply and surrender their liberties and freedoms (to the extent they even have them).

    Imagine a world in which Erdogan rules Turkey, Morsi rules Egypt, the Ayattolah rules Iran, an Islamist rules Syria and possibly Lebanon. Israel will be like a solitary sheep surrounded by wolves. We will see the resurgence of a Caliphate and the descent of total medieval darkness over the entire Middle East, a darkness which will eventually war with the light of western civilization and culture. This is the reason that what happens in Turkey, Egypt, Iran, Syria, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, etc. matters. But this is NOT the reason that Europe or America have any awareness or comprehension of. No, to the Western democracies, it is not Islamists who are a threat to the existence of mankind, it is Islamophobes who are. Don’t expect the US or Europe to do anything but accept whatever Erdogan does, lest he accuse them of being Islamophobes. Heaven forbid!!!

    • Besökare

      I agree very much, but I find hope in the fact that all of these countries have virtually no functioning economy on their own. If we simply cut support and cancel trade they will instantly be reduced to an agrarian state and constitute no military threat. This could be done tomorrow.

      For us Europeans it is only a question if we are demographically overwhelmed before we realize that we are losing our ancient lands.

      • Michael_van_der_Galien

        But that’s the reason for the West to make sure that doesn’t happen (Khamenei, Erdogan, Morsi, Hezbollah, etc.). That’s a real nightmare.

        One of the biggest mistakes the West has ever made is to tell Turkey to scale back the role of the army. We are starting to live with the consequences of that now.

        For some reason westerners refuse to understand that democracy in the middle east can’t and won’t be the same as in Europe and the US. They *need* a strong army as a bulwark of secularism there. If they don’t have that, Islamists will take over.

  • chan chan

    Erdogan keeps talking about “the interest rate lobby” and “those who set interest rates should watch out”.

    This is a clear reference to interest rates being forbidden under sharia law. He’s saying that sharia finance is on the way to turkey.

  • george mack

    Turkey is already ‘in Europe,’ or at least many millions of Turks are, and while I have met one or two who are assimilated, you only need to go around some German cities to see how most of them are wedded to backward Islamist ways.

    http://rossrightangle.wordpress.com/2013/06/17/seventeenth-of-june-lest-we-forget-berlin/

    I applaud secular Turks who are fighting for freedom, but that does NOT mean Turkey should be considered part of Europe.