A prominent Turkish advocate of human rights Prof. Istar Gözaydın has been in jail for months.
Ahmet Erdi ÖZTÜRK*It was the morning of December 20, Prof. Dr. Istar Gözaydın a public intellectual and top female scholar on state-religion relations in Turkey was detained, on charges of being a member of a terrorist organization. Neither there was a reason to believe the accusations nor anything to legally ground them. She was just another voice, silenced in the aftermath of the failed coup attempt in July 15. Let alone the established opposition, for anyone with a vocal criticism towards Erdogan´s leadership these days, facing a similar fate is just a matter of time.
Who is the lady?
Gözaydın is a prominent advocate of human rights both through her academic research and social activism. Those who know her publicly often think of her a fresh-water liberal but those who get to know her in person realize her inflexible faith in rights and freedoms and determination to protect them. Having words as a social scientist at various universities in Turkey (Istanbul Technical, Dogus and Gediz among them) she had connections with various groups in the country yet always avoided any form of engagement that could be described as membership. Despite maintaining critical distance for academic purposes she never hesitated when it came to speak out for the underprivileged, regardless of ethnic, religious or otherwise orientation. Violence has always been her red line. “If we are not going to stand up against capital punishment and any other kind of violence“, she had said in an interview short before her arrest, „what do we stand for in life then, as people and academics of this country?“
Prof. Gözaydin was fired from her post at the University during the crackdown that followed the failed coup in July and was banned from leaving the country on September 23. She was afraid like every other critical public figure but she just couldn’t justify remaining silent on the face of systematic violations of law. Therefore, she kept on utilizing democratic platforms to speak up. She voiced a moderate yet convincing criticism about the post-coup crackdown. She was neither a Kurdish politician nor a Gülen activist yet she spoke to everyone who valued freedom. Then her time came; the judicial arm of Erdogan leadership decided to make an example out of her: even the most moderate critics would not be tolerated. She was arrested in such a political atmosphere, yet has never regretted for anything, her lawyer says.
What happened in Turkey?
Turkey has never been an easy country to understand but the failed coup attempt on July 15 of 2016 made it all the more complicated. It was not the first time Turkish military (or rather the junta within) has attempted for a coup but this latest bid was a curious one. Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the primary target of the coup as the president came up with the contradicting statements on when and how he learned about the coup. Extreme disorganization on the military side and surprising level of calm and readiness on the civilian make it less-then-convincing that a coup was attempted in full and the government did not know in advance. The single most beneficiary of the coup was Mr. Erdogan himself that he officially defined the coup as “a gift from God”. Various members of AKP government publicly declared that the coup enabled them to do things they could not have done otherwise, that is to say, in democratic settings. The huge crackdown after the coup accelerated the ever-increasing authoritarianism of Erdogan government and further distanced Turkey from its democratic allies. More than one hundred thousand civil servants were fired, tens of thousands of people most of which are teachers, doctors, engineers and bureaucrats were arrested, thousands of NGOs and hundreds of media organs were shut down and the rest are waiting for their time. An interesting way to celebrate the victory of democracy.
At this point one can´t help to ask; what worse could have happened should the coup have been succesful? The allegations by the government were that the coup was executed by the followers of Gülen Movement in the army in cooperation with the Western Powers who constantly want to destabilize Turkey; evidence has yet to come. The parliamentary committee after the coup has questioned everyone except the three key persons; the chief intelligence officer, the chief of general staff and Mr. Erdogan himself. Again, a rather interesting way to seek the truth.
A Country Turning into a Kaleidoscope
“In Turkey, we are dramatically putting behind bars all those who struggle for freedom of expression and criticize the government even slightly,“ said Orhan Pamuk, the first Nobel prize laurite, from Turkey in an open letter and warned that post-coup Turkey was “sliding into a regime of terror“. Indeed countless leading liberals, leftists, Kurds, Gülenists and even critical conservatives were locked up and remaining critical minds were rendered voiceless through harsh witch hunt that includes social media.
Politics in Turkey had already become a one-man-show in all effective terms even prior to the coup. In the wake oft he coup, it started turning into a kaleidoscope in which you see the same image and hear the same voice wherever you go. In the extreme personalization of rule, Mr. Erdogan with a text-book-example state of emergency in which he transcends rule of of law. All the current efforts of apparatchiks of President of Turkey resolve around creating a new regime to institutionalize the ongoing (de facto) one-man-rule. Since Erdogan´s Justice and Development Party (AKP) lacks the qualified majority in the Parliament (2/3 of all seats), he can´t get the new Constitution endorsed in the Parliament. Therefore AKP took Nationalist Movement (MHP) on its side to create a Turco-Islamist bloc. Still the bloc can only take the matter to referendum which will most likely take place under the state of emergency. A historic change will be made at a time with a strict media control and very limited access to information that is to say anything critical towards AKP government. The numbers support this argument. A recent survey made by ANAR, a Turkish research company, indicated that 36% of the population has no idea about the content of the proposed amendment while 28 % claimed to have learned very little about it. This should strike no one as a surprise given the heavy control on the media in a country which is the top jailer of journalists.
The amendments which are being pushed vigorously by AKP leadership aim to vest unprecedented power in the person of Mr. Erdogan. Deniz Baykal, a senior Politian and former leader of the main opposition party claims that should the change pass through the referendum it will make Erdogan more powerful and less accountable than Bashar Assad of Syria. For example he will be entitled to make statutory decrees on his own which will by-pass the parliament and make his rule near-absolute. It has been reported that even AKP MPs have little information on what they are voting for.
Turkey has recently been going through unprecedented recrimination of whoever qualifies for opposition. The collective identities that doesn’t fit into AKP’s unspoken yet implemented definition of accepted citizen; the Kurds, Alevis, liberals, seculars, socialists, social democrats and most heatedly Gülenists who have been known with their moderacy are the targets of this systematic and accelerated recrimination. More than one thousand educational institutions and NGOS of Gülenists have been shut down alongside with seventeen universities by AKP because of their alleged involvement in the coup attempt, without a court decision. The leader, many parliament members and elected mayors of pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democracy Party (HPD) were arrested for their alleged link to PKK terrorism. Some leading figures in Erdogan leadership took the recrimination to the level of calling the main opposition a terrorist organisation, with a generous impunity of course.
Under these circumstandence, anti-Western and Soviet-loving Euroasianists make the only allies of AKP it is the elephant in the room that what goes on between the two is a marriage of convenience. The Islamist AKP and Euroasianists, who are well organized in Turkish military and intelligence, have two things in common; an appetite for authoritarianism and a hatred for the West. In the near future regardless of referendum results Turkey will suffer from the divisions that Erdogan leadership inflicted on the society.
*Ahmet Erdi ÖZTÜRK
PhD Candidate and Research Assistant at Strasbourg University