Life in Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Turkey is an often bizarre experience. For nearly a year, the country has been in turmoil. Descriptions of our situation in the Western media, though replete with the condescending, but colorful language of our Prime Minister, cannot quite capture the political absurdities. I don’t think I could have imagined the crisis, which will reach some culmination with Sunday’s all-important regional elections, if I wasn’t experiencing it first-hand. Beginning in May, with the Gezi Park protests, so many unpredictable events have occurred that I, along with millions of my fellow Turks, have been left flabbergasted. An ongoing corruption probe has resulted in the dismissal of hundreds of police officers responsible for the investigation; online leaks have detailed plans to limit press freedom, hide money, and create a casus belli for intervention in neighbouring Syria’s civil war; countless human rights violations and anti-democratic crimes have been committed against peaceful protestors, which under normal circumstances would have forced every government to resign. But it is clear that the situation is not normal.
Lately, among the growing number of outrages, one issue has received a lot of international attention. In response to ‘villainous,’ ‘immoral’ leaks detailing the criminal wrongdoing of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), Erdoğan’s regime has attempted to enforce a ban Twitter and YouTube. The latest assault on Turkish civil society has rallied the opposition in the lead-up to the elections; anything seems possible. It is remarkable how far we’ve have come since early 2002.
That was a time when Erdoğan was appearing on each and every moderate, mainstream TV program and telling the people how, if he were elected, he would extend freedoms in Turkey. He promised speedy European Union membership, guaranteed that the judiciary would be completely free and impartial, and assured secular Turkey that nobody would be discriminated against on the basis of ethnic background, religion or, remarkably, sexual orientation. On television with university students, Erdoğan assured Turks that the AKP party would protect the rights of homosexuals and fight against the three Ys: Yolsuzluk (corruption), Yoksulluk (poverty), and Yasaklar (bans). Flash-forward twelve years: the AKP has become the embodiment of everything they vowed to be against, and Turkey has never felt so far from its founding principles. The leaked phone conversations of Erdoğan telling his son, Bilal, how to get rid of the copious amounts of cash from their house was both entertaining and nauseating. At the same time, and indicative of the Erdogan kleptocracy’s inability to govern, a 1 ½ year-old child in Eastern Turkey died and had to be carried in a sack by his father to the nearest town for an autopsy because the government hospital failed to respond to their calls for help.
With this evidence in hand, it can easily be claimed that Erdoğan is a hypocrite. His dispute with the Islamic cleric Fethullah Gülen furnishes further proof. Their longstanding alliance evaporated when the AKP initiated a policy of closing the private Islamic schools run by Gülen’s Cemaat movement. Because many members of the movement had obtained prominent positions in the police force and the judiciary, this schism resulted in Cemaat on the offensive, attacking the Erdogan regime’s legitimacy through a widespread corruption investigation, and various well-timed leaks. Since then, the AKP has moved most of the Cemaat-leaning police officers and judges from positions of power.
Erdoğan has demonized Gülen, called his movement a “parallel-state,” and accused them of being behind the "immoral" leads. According to Erdoğan, Gezi protesters were looters, terrorists, atheists and drug addicts. Now, he calls his decades-old political partners leeches, vampires, and hashashins. It is hard to imagine any other Prime Minister saying these words, but the people who don’t agree with Erdoğan have to face these accusations and name-callings every day.
But Erdoğan’s ego is hard to fathom. Following the leaks, pro-AKP media erected billboards prominently featuring Erdoğan’s photo and the words: “Strong Will.” This was an effort to consolidate his power base and create the image that Erdoğan was not affected by the allegations against his government. Yet, all his efforts thus far have only served to further polarize the country. Indeed, the banning of YouTube and Twitter is just a small dent compared to the huge damage his reputation has suffered since 2007. Now, eight people can be counted as casualties of the Gezi protests. On March 11, after nine months in a coma, fifteen year-old Berkin Elvan succumbed to injuries suffered after being shot in the head by a police teargas canister. His funeral was attended by tens of thousands of people, but the peaceful gathering was marred after the police attacked the procession as it attempted to march to Gezi Park. Erdoğan then had the audacity to publicly call Berkin a terrorist, and blame his mother for the incident.
On Sunday, the Turkish people will vote. The corruption investigation has revealed that most of AKP’s dubious dealings are done through the municipalities, and Erdoğan has used each and every election victory as a way to justify his draconian rule. He justifies autocratic rule by claiming an electoral mandate; everything he does is “democratic” because a majority supports him. But this is a perversion of democracy. Erdoğan even went as far as calling the prosecutors in the corruption case targeting the AKP plotters, traitors, and spies. Sunday’s elections, he claims, will vindicate his policies, and prove that his government isn’t corrupt.
Erdoğan claims to value consistency and justice, but looking back on his promises from 2002, it is clear he is nothing more than a hypocrite. Hopefully, on Sunday, the Turkish people will wake up and initiate his downfall through his favorite tool: the elections. Otherwise, Turkish citizens face a grim future under his fist.
Gezi Park, Istanbul, Politics, Turkey