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Padişah Erdogan and Turkey’s Crisis

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There have been many problems created in Turkey with the removal of the civil liberties and constitutional rights of Turkish citizens as a result of President Erdogan and his AKP using the aborted coup to undertake a purge of the Turkish military, the civil service, the judges, the lawyers, the teachers, the newspapers, the universities and the opposition political parties.

The ambitious Private Erdogan
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Catherine BISSON-SERIAN / Satrapia)

More than 110,000 people have lost their jobs. Over 37,000 have been imprisoned. Over 170 media outlets have been closed or have been taken over. Many others who were out of the country have remained in exile; some others have just disappeared. Turkey has arrested 116 employees from its banking regulator, 30 from its Capital Markets Board, and more than 1,500 people from its finance ministry. In October, 2016 the German Interior Ministry announced that 35 Turkish diplomatic passport holders have formally applied for asylum. Diplomats in many other countries have sought asylum in the countries to which they were accredited.

Turkey has fired hundreds of senior military staff serving at NATO in Europe and the United States including some of the armed forces’ best-trained officials. In a classified military dispatch reported in several journals, 149 military envoys posted to the alliance’s headquarters and command centres in Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands and Britain were ordered on Sept. 27 to return to Turkey within three days. Most were dismissed from service on their arrival.

Despite the fact that all the political parties decried the attempted coup and a substantial portion of the military forces did not participate in the coup, Erdogan and the AKP have used the fact of the coup to purge almost anyone who is or has been critical of Erdogan. He has attempted to increase his presidential powers despite free elections in which the AKP did not win a clear majority to unilaterally mandate the increase in presidential powers which he has been seeking; to become the new padişah.

Equally as important, Erdogan has used the coup to oust the followers of his erstwhile political partner, Fethullah Gulen who remained in their positions in the judiciary after Gulen fled to safety in the U.S. Erdogan drove Gulen out of Turkey because Gulen and his Hizmet Party condemned Erdogan and the AKP during the vast corruption trials in 2013 and 2015 in which the AKP, Erdogan and his two sons were guilty of smuggling gold to Iran in the face of sanctions and trading in oil stolen from Syria by Daesh.

The two joint leaders of Turkey’s pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic party (HDP) have been detained, along with at least 11 MPs, allegedly because of their reluctance to give testimony for crimes linked to “terrorist propaganda. In late October, the Turkish police raided the Ankara homes of HDP co-leader Selahattin Demirtaş and co-leader Figen Yuksekdag in Diyarbakir, the largest city in Turkey’s mainly Kurdish south-east. At least 11 other HDP parliamentarians were also detained. The party, the third largest in the Parliament, has withdrawn its participation in the parliament.

The question confronting the world is how can a ‘democracy’, seeking membership in the European Union, maintaining its place as the third largest army in NATO, behave so undemocratically and be allowed to suppress human and civil rights with such impunity?

There are several answers to that question. The first, and the most important, is that the Turkish law specifically provides for the suppression of these rights. Of particular note are articles 125, 216, 299, 300, 301 AND 314 of the Turkish Penal Code (Law No 5237 which entered force 1 June 2005). These have provisions which specifically allow these violations of what would be human and civil rights in almost every other civilised country.

It is very instructive to read the Commission Report’s findings. These were studied in depth by the European Commission for Democracy Through Law (The Venice Commission), Opinion No.831/2015 published on 15 March 2016.

I. Relevant Provisions
  1. Article 299, as amended on 29 June 2005 by Law No. 5377 (Article 35), provides for criminal liability for insults against the President of the Republic. The provision reads as follows:
    1. Any person who insults the President of the Republic shall be sentenced to a penalty of imprisonment for a term of one to four years.
    2. Where the offence is committed in public, the sentence to be imposed shall be increased by one sixth.
    3. The initiation of a prosecution for such offence shall be subject to the permission of the Minister of Justice.
  2. Article 301, as resulting from the amendment adopted on 29 April 2008 (Law No. 5759)2, makes it a crime to degrade the Turkish Nation, the State of the Turkish Republic or the organs and institutions of the State. The provision reads as follows:
    1. A person who publicly degrades the Turkish nation, the State of the Republic of Turkey, the Grand National Assembly of Turkey, the Government of the Republic of Turkey or the judicial bodies of the State, shall be sentenced to a penalty of imprisonment for a term of six months to two years.
    2. A person who publicly degrades the military or security organisations of the State shall be sentenced to a penalty in accordance with paragraph 1 above.
    3. The expression of an opinion for the purpose of criticism does not constitute an offence.
    4. The conduct of an investigation into such an offence shall be subject to the permission of the Minister of Justice.

In its investigations, the Venice Commission determined that the powers under the above articles were being by the Turkish Government used improperly and ultra vires to punish those who opposed Erdogan, the AKP and its policies. These were not applied only to journalists who commented on government policies but especially against anyone who published or displayed knowledge that Erdogan and his sons were smuggling oil out of Syria and selling it for a profit for themselves and Daesh (“ISIS”); that they were supplying Daesh with weapons, equipment and explosives in Syria; that they allowed Daesh to use Turkish soil as a safe haven to regroup and plan; that they were creating a terror regime of bombings and assassinations of the Kurdish population of Turkey’s eastern regions, and that the Turkish intelligence service MIT was supervising the open corridors for Daesh in and out of Syria through safe havens in Turkey and smuggling gold into Iran. All of this and more, especially the struggle to deny the Armenian Massacre by the Young Turks, was justified by the provisions of the Penal Code.

Even among the feeble and supine governments of Europe these violations stand out as being in conflict with the human rights legislation of the EU. The decision will have to be made soon whether these contemptuous violations of the basic principles of democracy will be tolerated by the EU as the Europeans seek to preserve their pact with Erdogan over the refugees. If history is a guide the EU will find a way to capitulate to the new Sultan and allow him to carry on his purge of the Turkish nation. ■

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