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NewsIs Turkey a Proof that Religion and Democracy Cannot Coexist?

Is Turkey a Proof that Religion and Democracy Cannot Coexist?

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Nazlan Ertan

NEW DELHI, India, Feb 8 2021 (IPS) – Over the years, Turkey has survived three Coup d’état in which its military forces took power, in 1960, 1971 and 1980. The coup in 1997, was carried out in a “post-modern way”, where generals sat down with the then prime minister, Necmettin Erbakan and forced him to resign. However the turning point in Turkey has been the failed coup attempt in July 2016, which has till date been one of the bloodiest coup attempts in its political history, leaving 241 people killed, and 2,194 others injured.

Soldiers and tanks took to the streets, explosions rang out in Ankara and Istanbul, fighter jets dropped bombs on their own parliament, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Hulusi Akar, was kidnapped by his own security detail. Thousands of citizens gathered in streets and squares around Anatolia to oppose the coup and with the help of loyalist soldiers and police forces, defeated the coup attempt.

“Freedom of expression in Turkey continues to backslide, particularly after the 2016 attempted coup,” says journalist Nazlan Ertan to IPS News. “Currently 70 journalists in Turkey are in jail, and some 170 media outlets have been closed down since 2016. More than 80 percent of the press institutions – newspapers and TV channels we considered admiral ships – are now in the hands of the companies close to the government. Key news either goes unreported, or comes out heavily biased,” says Nazlan.

In october 2020, eleven international rights groups issued a statement on Turkey’s clamp down on its press freedom,including its efforts to silence the press by stepping up online censorship through the new law targeting social media, mobilization partisan regulatory bodies, and launching a new offensive against judicial independence by targeting Turkey’s Constitutional Court (TCC). The group also flagged the continued jailing and prosecution of journalists as well as ongoing concerns over the safety of journalists and judicial independence.

International community must step up its bilateral and multilateral efforts to bring Turkey back into the club of countries that respects the rule of law, the group said.

According to Human Rights Watch’s World Report 2019, 130,000 public officials were dismissed following the 2016 coup over alleged association with U.S. – based Turkish Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen. Turkey’s Ministry of Justice stated that as of June, “almost one-fifth of the total prison population was charged or convicted of terrorism offenses. Others have been charged with “insulting the president”.

A Turkish court on Friday resumed its high-profile show trial targeting leading Turkish civil society figure and philanthropist Osman Kavala accused of espionage and attempting to overthrow the constitutional order in the 2016 coup. Kavala has been accused of collaborating with Henri Barkey, a prominent U.S. based Turkey scholar who has been accused of having links to Fethullah Gulen’s network, which Ankara says orchestrated the coup attempt.

The court rejected Osman Kavala’s request to be released, and also ruled to merge two ongoing proceedings against Kavala and adjourned the trial until May 21, extending his detention since late 2017 by nearly four months.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has blamed the wife of jailed philanthropist Osman Kavala for provoking student protests at Bogazici University where she is an acclaimed academic. A report in Bloomberg stated that Erdogan called Ayse Bugra a “provocator” and her husband a “representative” of George Soros in Turkey.

Hundreds of protestors have been arrested at the university since January 4, including others who have been arrested at demonstrations in support of the students and LGBTQ rights in cities such as Ankara, Izmir and Bursa.

According to Nazlan, Bogazici University is a “microcosmos of all the issues we talk about in Turkey – academic freedom, independence, the right to assembly, LGBTQ movements and more”.

“Ever since the protests have started, hundreds of students have been taken into custody, those who expressed a rightful and peaceful opposition to the government appointed rector were vilified, the president and his cronies referred to them as terrorists, vandals, or “snakes whose heads should be crushed.”

The LGBTQ students who demonstrated with a rainbow flag were called “perverts who had no place in Turkey” by the Interior Minister,” says Nazlan.

The European Union and the United Nations has condemned these homophobic comments and called for demonstrators to be released.

Rights group Amnesty International has called on the government of Turkey to take urgent action to counter the increasing number of discriminatory statements and policies by the State officials against LGBTQ people. In a statement published in 2020, the rights group had urged the authorities to promote “equality both in their statements and actions.”

Nazlan adds that women in Turkey who have often used humour to make their voices heard, their situation continues to remain grim. In 2019, 474 women were murdered, mostly by partners and relatives and the figures in 2020, affected by coronavirus lockdhowns, are expected to be even higher.

“Women have been on the streets and various hashtags have surfaced – such as #ChallengeAccepted, #IstanbulConventionSavesLives and also #menshouldknowtheirplace. Domestic violence has increased, nearly half of all the women claim that they have faced some form of physical or psychological abuse in their lives,” says Nazlan.

Much before these brutal crackdowns on dissent following the attempted coup two years ago, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan held promises of turning Turkey into a “beacon of democracy for a region rife with religious conflict”, except today authoritaianism has destroyed the country and “the current Bogazici protests – which are still going on – is an example that no opposition is tolerated in Turkey anymore, no matter how peaceful or democratic,” says Nazlan.

The author is a journalist and filmmaker based out of New Delhi. She hosts a weekly online show called The Sania Farooqui Show where Muslim women from around the world are invited to share their views.


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