The gripping drama Der Untergang (Downfall), Oliver Hirschbiegel’s film from 2004, deals with the last days of the Third Reich in Adolf Hitler’s Berlin bunker. Now there are indications of the same kind of drama in Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s opulent new palace in Ankara, where he shows signs of increasing paranoia.
Hailed as the great hope for democratic reform when Erdogan’s AKP (Justice and Development Party) came to power in Turkey in 2002, Erdogan even made it to the cover of Time magazine in 2011 and was declared their Person of the Year. Among leading cheerleaders were US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, who in 2007 stated that the AKP was “a government dedicated to pulling Turkey west towards Europe”, and Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt, who a year later claimed “The AKP government is made up of profound European reformers”.
In 2010 at a conference in Istanbul the EU’s Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Füle praised Turkey’s “remarkable advances in reforms”, but in April 2014 he revised his views and admitted that “events over the past three months have cast doubt on Turkey’s commitment to European values and standards”.
Indeed, since the AKP government’s brutal suppression in June 2013 of the widespread protests against plans to demolish Gezi Park in Istanbul and the attempt to cover up the corruption scandal which erupted in December the same year, liberal and other supporters of Erdogan’s regime have also had cause to revise their views. Former MEP (Member of the European Parliament) Andrew Duff has concluded that the former state ideology of Kemalism has been replaced by Islamism and ruled out further progress on EU accession under the AKP.
In January his colleague, Graham Watson, president of the ALDE (Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe), likewise concurred, and a Dutch member of his group, Marietje Schaake, has stated outright: “Our dream of a European Turkey has turned into a nightmare.”
On his visit to Turkey in 2009 US President Barack Obama proclaimed that Turkey and the US can build “a model partnership” and in an interview with Time in January
2012 he spoke of “the bonds of trust” he had forged with certain leaders, including Erdogan. But last July Erdogan admitted he no longer spoke directly to Obama but instead was referred to Vice President Joe Biden against a background of mutual recrimination over Egypt, Gaza and Syria.
In the same way fellow travellers ignored Stalin’s atrocities against his own people, well-meaning Western democrats turned a blind eye to the Erdogan regime’s incremental encroachment on civil liberties. According to prize-winning Turkish journalist and editor-in-chief Sedat Ergin the US and the EU bought the AKP’s narrative. “There was a scenario that they had bought and they did not want to listen to anything that would refute that scenario.”
The writing was clearly on the wall after the 2011 elections, when the AKP was returned to power with 50 percent of the votes and began a purge of the more centrist and liberal members of the parliamentary group. Michael Rubin, resident scholar at the AEI (American Enterprise Institute), has termed the Turkish liberals, ambitious businessmen, corrupt journalists and frightened diplomats as well as the Gülen movement, who made it possible for the AKP to come to power, “Erdogan’s willing enablers”. One of them, a former AKP deputy, Suat Kiniklioglu, has in a mea culpa confessed: “Erdogan had exploited us. […..] he did not internalize democracy but saw it as a vehicle to institute his majoritarian autoritarianism.”
Now, after becoming Turkey’s first directly elected president last August with 52 percent of the votes, Erdogan is safely ensconced in his new palace, where he acts as de facto executive president with a subservient prime minister (former foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu) and cabinet. Like a latter-day sultan he makes pronouncements and issues edicts; for example, that birth control is treasonous or that people who disagree with him, like the president of TUSIAD (Turkish Industrialists and Businessmen’s Association), are traitors.
Last March the Turkish Medical Association issued a press release, where they expressed serious concern about (then) Prime Minister Erdogan’s emotional state, and in view of the turn events in Turkey are taking, there is good reason to reiterate that concern.
Robert Ellis is a regular commentator on Turkish affairs in the Danish and international press
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