Mark Tapson is the Shillman Fellow on Popular Culture for the David Horowitz Freedom Center.
A month ago, Canan Kaftancioglu, a leading secular politician in Turkey and a critic of Islam, was sentenced to nine years, eight months and 20 days in prison on the transparently political charge of “insulting” authoritarian President Recep Erdogan and the Turkish state in social media posts dating back several years, as well as the Orwellian charge of “spreading terror propaganda.” This inspired a young Turkish activist named Kursat Christoff Pekgoz here in the United States to launch an online petition to bring attention to this injustice and help secure Kaftancioglu’s freedom.
Pekgoz recently wrote about this for FrontPage Mag here, and I reached out to him for more details.
Mark Tapson: Can you give us a little background about yourself and your own activism in Turkey, as well as your activism since coming here to the United States?
Kursat Pekgoz: I grew up in Turkey fin de siècle, during the late 1990s and throughout the 2000s. I took up various human rights causes as I became increasingly concerned with Erdogan’s tyranny, and my focus was mainly the civil rights of religious minorities. Some of my past efforts include: attending protests against Islamists (2007), attending Turkan Saylan’s funeral (2009), active participation in a forum/protest against compulsory Islamic education (2010), working as a pro bono teacher for secularist CYDD (2009-2010), attending the Gezi protests as a volunteer/bodyguard (2013), advocacy against electoral fraud (2014), signing a human rights declaration to protest the persecution of Kurdish civilians (2016), and visiting the Armenian Genocide memorial (2017). I have advanced degrees in Molecular Biology and English Literature. I have studied seven languages (English, Turkish, Ancient Greek, Russian, Latin, German, French).
MT: Tell us about Canan Kaftancioglu and what compelled you to create a petition in her defense?
KP: Canan Kaftancioglu is the executive director of the Istanbul chapter of Republican People’s Party [CHP], Turkey’s secular main opposition. Canan is widely credited with ensuring the defeat of Islamists in Istanbul, the fourth largest city in the world, through her relentless efforts. She was especially effective in preventing electoral fraud, a typical Islamist ploy to create the illusion of legitimacy. Her critical statements about Islam are consistent with the statements of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, who used the words tahrifat [desecration] and safsata [charlatanism] to describe the Quran. Canan is now facing ten years in prison for “blasphemy against Islam,” even though her statements are protected by both national and international precedent. I created the petition to highlight her impeccable record for human rights advocacy, as well as her brave criticism of Islam. She needs our support.
MT: What are some of the human rights abuses Erdogan is guilty of which Canan criticizes?
KP: Erdogan’s crimes are legion. He is allied with many terrorists groups: Syrian jihadists, Huda-Par, Muslim Brotherhood, al-Qaeda in Europe, ISIS. He has massacred Kurdish civilians: he is facing charges of genocide under European law. He is also actively persecuting the Alevi minority, which is a heterodox religion “older than Islam and outside of Islam.” Erdogan banned Wikipedia for leaking evidence which proved that he was supporting ISIS. He is also very, very corrupt – to an unprecedented degree. He believes he can conquer Europe through demographic jihad and he hopes to annex Syria, but he is just an unstable tyrant suffering from delusions of grandeur. The European Union has rightfully condemned him and the Arab League condemned his illegal invasion of Syria.
MT: What will be the ramifications if Canan’s prison sentence is upheld?
KP: The prison sentence, if upheld, will have an enormous chilling effect on religious minorities and dissidents worldwide. The Court of Cassation must abide by precedent and dissolve the prison sentence against Canan Kaftancioglu. I am also concerned about “online sharia compliance.” Social media giants like Facebook and Twitter often censor speech critical of Islam in order to comply with the laws of Islamic states. I myself was banned from Twitter for criticizing radical Islam and a Facebook petition I tried to create for Canan Kaftancioglu was deleted.
MT: Considering that Erdogan is an Islamist tyrant but Turkey is our NATO ally, what do you think Trump can or should do to manage Erdogan as a threat to stability in the region?
KP: Erdogan’s ouster is necessary not only to save Turkish democracy but also to ensure the safety of Europe and the Middle East. I believe the collapse of his tyranny is imminent. The secular opposition now controls the largest cities, his own political party is splintering, and Turkish economy is suffering because of his unscientific views.
The Turkish army is the second largest in NATO and, according to complex insider reports, the overwhelming majority (over 85%) of Turkish military officers are “ultra-secularists.” Therefore, removing Turkey from NATO would penalize and weaken the secular opposition. I am very much opposed to the idea. Future sanctions must rather focus on Erdogan himself, his political circle, his financial dealings, and his terrorist allies (ISIS, al-Qaeda, Huda-PAR, the Muslim Brotherhood, and Syrian jihadists).
Please note that Republican People’s Party classifies the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization. Kemalists have recently held a Syrian conference, where they declared an intent to withdraw Turkish troops from Syria. Kemalists mustered millions to protest against Islamists back in 2007.
MT: Thank you, Kursat, and keep up the good work.
To sign Kursat Pekgoz’s petition to free Canan Kaftancioglu, click here.