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Turkey: tarnished democratic credentials imperil regional stability

Turkey's human rights credentials should be a foreign policy priority for everyone, not just for so-called consolidated democracies interested only in hosting Erdoğan at expensive dinner tables.

Semanur Karaman
17 December 2014

This article is a response to a conversation between Richard Falk and Turkey's Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, which took place on 28th September–see part 1part 2part 3 and part 4. There was much internal debate at openDemocracy about whether or not to publish the series. Read the Editor in Chief's reasons for doing so here, along with the many other responses to Davutoğlu published in this series, listed to the right under 'Related Articles'.

Gezi Park, June 13, 2014.

Gezi Park, June 13, 2014. Meg Rutherford/Flickr. Some rights reserved.On September 25, 2015, Erdoğan remonstrated with the international community for conferring legitimacy on Egyptian President Abdul Fattah Al-Sisi, whom, according to a recently released HRW report carried out a carefully planned attack on largely peaceful pro-Morsi protests at the Rab’a al-Adawiya Square from July 3-August 14 2013 and caused the death of more than 1000 protestors. Erdoğan's remarks addressing Middle Eastern leaders notorious for their gross human rights violations is actually the continuation of a trend, where he regularly chastises Bashar Al-Assad or Benjamin Netanyahu.

Erdoğan is barely aware of how his democratic reputation at home has tarnished his credibility abroad. Defending the death of 11 citizens and the injuries of almost 8000 demonstrators during the Gezi Park protests in summer 2013, Erdoğan praised the actions of the police and called it a “heroic saga.”

Under Erdoğan’s flagship, the Turkish government embarked on a further crackdown on civic freedoms on December 3, as the Parliament accepted the draconian Security Bill which, according to their rationale, “consolidated state authority” and “increased the powers of the police”. On December 14, with the newborn repressive law, more than a dozen journalists, including the editor of the daily Zaman newspaper, were arrested along with the head of Samanyolu broadcasting group. As I am writing these lines on December 16, 35 football fans are being tried on coup plot charges without any substantiate evidence of violent activity or criminal conduct. Yes, Turkey has turned into a Putinesque paranoia where even football fans are thought to be conspiring against  the state.

During their 12 year rule, and increasingly over the past few years, the AKP government has implemented a bluntly majoritarian understanding of democracy where the ballot box took precedence over participatory democracy and rule of law. The AKP government’s growing intolerance of dissent was institutionalized with legal measures undertaken after the Gezi Park protests.  

In January, in an attempt to prevent corruption investigations against high level government officials, the government undertook new legal measures to curb the independence of the judiciary and undermine the rule of law. In April 2014, the government introduced a new law granting immunity from persecution for the National Intelligence Agency (MIT), raising concerns that intelligence personnel will be prevented from being held accountable for gross human rights violations. In September, a week after Turkey hosted the 9th annual Internet Governance Forum (IGF), the Parliament took extra measures that deepened restrictions on expressing dissent online and allowed for intensified surveillance of users. At its current state, the Turkish legal and policy framework allows for unprecedented arbitrary and unwarranted restrictions on the right to participation in political public life.

Given the state of his political credentials at home, it was hard to understand why Erdoğan, a government official notorious for rampant political corruption and growing authoritarian tendencies, was given the floor at the UN General Assembly where he could criticize other leaders for their human rights violations. Diplomacy once again failed hundreds of human rights defenders and political activists in Turkey who ambitiously work to reform the existing political structure, at the expense of blatant government surveillance and routine judicial harassment.

The accession talks between the EU and Turkey, which for many was the legal guarantee of reforming the existing policy and legal framework, is merely a bureaucratic joke at the moment. Due to its lack of commitment to prioritizing Turkey’s human rights performance in all bilateral relations, the EU is also complicit in the deteriorating human rights situation in Turkey, as it failed to show commitment to opening and discussing Chapter 23 of the EU Acquis concerning Justice and Fundamental Rights. The US also failed to speak on the deadly police violence and the government’s abhorrent failure to protect which resulted in the death of 42 people in just one week during the Kobane protests.

It must be realized that maintaining a stable human rights regime in Turkey is key in sustaining stability in a regional context, especially at a time where Middle Eastern politics is at a critical juncture. So why aren't Turkey’s human rights credentials a foreign policy priority for everyone? 

Instead of hosting Erdoğan at expensive dinner tables in capitals of so-called consolidated democracies, world leaders should speak up on his deplorable leadership, which is driving a whole country and consequently the entire region into a obscure future.

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