Turkey: Time the world intervened


Date posted: June 10, 2016

In composing his famous tripartite epic poem, The Divine Comedy, Dante Alighieri included in the first part called Inferno, what has since become one of the most meaningful quotes of all time, emphasising that “the hottest places in hell are reserved for those who in times of moral crisis preserve their neutrality.” The quote was made more popular by late American President J.F. Kennedy, who aptly used it very often in 50s and 60s.

Perhaps more than anything else, the two major things that happened in quick succession last week, namely the misclassification of the Gulen-inspired Hizmet (Service) Movement by Turkish President Erdogan as a terrorist group, as well as the sentencing of former beauty queen, Miss Turkey for the ridiculous offence of “insulting” Erdogan, should serve as a final warning to the civilised world that this man it keeps tolerating, mainly because he is a NATO member and his country holds a major key to resolving the European refugee crisis, has since become a loose cannon, a major threat to world peace, freedom, liberty and everything all sane societies hold in awe.

For those who may not know, the Hizmet Movement, a group dedicated to rendering selfless service, providing critical aids and emergency interventions, as well as killing of ignorance, and President Erdogan were best of friends. In fact, members of the group helped bring him to power. However, Hizmetrealised that the man they innocently thought was going to serve Turkey selflessly and honestly, was fast becoming something else. Seeing Ankara becoming more and more enmeshed in corruption, and knowing the bitter ills of that cankerworm and how it inhibits societal growth, the independent media in Turkey launched an intensive investigative reporting that uncovered large-scale fraud and corruption involving some members of Erdogan’s government and immediate family, with the first such reports published on December 17, 2013.

Since then, Turkey has hardly known peace. Instead of addressing the message by stopping the widespread corruption, Erdogan blamed the media investigation on Hizmet Movement and started labelling them with all sorts of names. He swooped on all businesses and investments that have even one Hizmet member as owner or co-owner, closing down newspapers (including the famous Zaman newspaper that was publishing more than a million copies, daily), broadcast houses, banks, etc, using the flimsiest pretext. He also embarked on dangerous propaganda aimed at rubbishing the Hizmet Movement, and when he realised he was not making much headway in Turkey, Erdogan strangely decided to export his hate campaign abroad. Going from one country to another, he kept asking presidents and parliaments to close down schools, hospitals and other foreign investments he suspects to be Hizmet affiliated.

If Hizmet were a terrorist organisation as being wickedly bandied about by the Turkish President, the nationals of these countries having Hizmet-inspired schools should know because the children attending the institutions are their own. A terrorist organisation should never be at the forefront of clear efforts at killing ignorance, or set up schools and run them in full concert with approved curriculum of their host country, and in a most transparent manner. Also, you cannot call an institution a terrorist school when after several years since its establishment, not even one of their products or graduates has engaged in crime or terrorism. All over the world, students that passed through Hizmet-inspired schools are at the frontline of contributing to the growth and well-being of their societies.

It also amounts to an insult on the intelligence services and citizens of these host countries for Erdogan to think that on their own, they don’t have the wherewithal to differentiate light from darkness. And because no one can fool people all the time, Erdogan keeps deservedly getting the cold shoulder from these countries, with the citizens and their leaders angry that he is importing his dirty, shamelessly-desperate politics to their sane climes.

However, now that instead of toeing the path of decency and reason, Erdogan is even digging deeper in his trenches, the civilised world must rise beyond rhetoric to tame the Turkish President. To be fair to the rest of the world, a lot of efforts are being put in place to call the repressive Erdogan to order. There are several examples:

On May 29, last year, the European Association of Judges (EAJ) released a damning report that condemned Erdogan for foisting a regime of tyranny in Turkey, dismissing 49 judges basically because they passed judgements in favour of adherents of free speech he desperately wanted to jail. And this was a month after the Venice Commission, the Council of Europe’s advisory body on judicial and constitutional reform issues, harshly criticised Turkey on June 20, 2015. The Venice Commission said it had found “serious interference with the independence of judiciary in Turkey.”

On June 2, 2015, in faraway Washington DC, the World Editors Forum and the World Association of Newspapers issued a strong-worded statement in form of petition condemning Erdogan for making life most miserable for independent journalists in his country. As a Nigerian delegate to that conference, I was privileged to be a signatory to that petition, which was co-signed by 700 other top media personalities from 80 different countries of the world and sent to President Erdogan.

Similarly, the Nigerian Guild of Editors, the apex body of the journalism profession in Nigeria, has on two major occasions last year issued a communique strongly condemning President Erdogan and asking him to ensure freedom of the press in Turkey as well as freeing of all journalists jailed by his government.

Western governments and international press advocacy groups have accused Turkey of suppressing dissent and muzzling critics, forcing the sale of newspapers to government-friendly businessmen and exploiting laws to lock up journalists. The Reporters Without Borders, the world’s largest press advocacy group, ranks Turkey 159th out of 170 countries surveyed, while Freedom House classified Turkey “not free” in its latest press freedom index. The Committee to Protect Journalists, another major group advocating press freedom said “Turkish authorities are using never-before-seen methods to stipple dissent in the country. Scores of journalists are either behind bars or facing criminal charges over their reporting in Turkey.”

And as pointed earlier, Today’s Zaman, the largest selling newspaper in Turkey, whose daily circulation is one million copies, is being severely harassed, with some of its top editors arrested because it is owned by people sympathetic to the Hizmet (Gulen) Movement. So also are the Cihan News Agency, the Samanyolu Broadcasters, as well as the Journalists and Writers Foundation, which have been in the forefront of campaign against according prominence to dastardly acts of terrorists, including publishing stories about their heroics on the front pages of newspapers. The Foundation believes, and rightly so, that such publications always give terrorists a psychological edge. The sweeping media crackdown is aimed at ensuring organisations like the Cihan, a reputable news agency through which the rest of the world get authentic news about Turkey, close shop or forced to be administered by pro-Erdogan trustees.

Hassan Cemal, a respected 72 year old veteran journalist with 47 years’ experience in a symposium on press freedom last year, said: “I have witnessed military coups. I have seen my newspaper being shut down several times. I have lost friends to political murders. Many of my colleagues spent time in prison, many were subjected to torture.” But the heartache he felt three months ago was like “none I had felt before.”

Sadly, these represent only a tip of the iceberg. And the world can only afford to fold its arms or maintain neutrality at its peril. This, and definitely not later, is the time to rise beyond rhetoric to ensure the world does not end up with an avoidable Hitler


Suleiman Uba Gaya is the Vice President (North) of the Nigerian Guild of Editors.

Source: The Nation , June 10, 2016


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