Theater of Cruelty

War as election campaign

The Turkish president is tightening his grip on growing violence in Turkey – now the opposition fears he will speed up the upcoming election in 2019 to further consolidate power.


20. In January, Turkey launched an offensive military operation in Afrin, northern Syria, under the guise of clearing border areas for terrorists. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, uses this operation named 'Olivengren' – a so-called 'peace operation' – to sink votes to the upcoming 2019 presidential and parliamentary elections. At the same time, a new law creates fears that the country is approaching a police state where violence and murder can go unpunished in a society with ever more privately owned weapons.

US statements to support a Kurdish border force in Syria prompted Erdoğan – who claims the Kurdish YPG guerrilla is terrorists – to send the army into Syria. Anyone who criticizes the war on social media risks being charged with treason. In one week, over 300 was arrested in Turkey in the wake of the military operation.

Illegal peace. Ny Tid meets Metin Şenerguç who is a writer for the Turkish newspaper Açik Gazete in London – where he has lived since he fled Turkey in the 80 century for political reasons. He emphasizes that even those who do nothing but encourage peace are subject to reprisals from the regime.

"It looks like Erdoğan has given too many promises to retire now."
- Özturan

"In Turkey, it is now against the law to talk about peace. The worst is how all this changes the culture. The system can be changed overnight by enacting a few laws, but it takes generations to change the culture, ”says ergenerguç.

"Even if today's government resigns tomorrow, it will take ten years to reverse everything it has done. If Erdoğan wins the election, the race is over. Turkey will be worse than Iran. "

According to Turkish media, the operation in Syria is aimed at terrorists, but Robert Fisk writes in The Independent  on January 28 that the bombs have mainly hit civilian peasants. He also reports that Russian soldiers are in Afrin, contrary to previous statements that Russia has withdrawn from the conflict.

Ergenerguç points out that the Russians control the situation:

"Russia has given Erdoğan green light for this operation, otherwise he would not have acted. Putin already has a good position in Syria and now he lets the Turks do the work for himself in Afrin. But both the United States and Russia have the power to stop the operation; one phone call is enough. ”

Ergenerguç believes that the restraint of the great powers over Turkey's advance in Syria is because they do not think it is about conquering new territories.

"Had the Turks really had any intentions of invading Afrin, they would have done so in 3 days, smooth. Turkey has the second largest army in NATO. They don't take the war seriously, they move slowly and pull it out for what it's worth. They take two steps forward and one back, ”Şenerguç claims.

"The system can be changed overnight by passing a few laws, but it takes generations to change the culture." ? – ergenerguç

Possibility of accelerating elections. In the office of Dokuz8Haber, an independent citizen journalism platform in Turkey, Gürkan Özturan describes how Erdoğan is using the war to lower votes for the upcoming 2019 presidential election.

“Erdoğan has made promises to many groups. To the Conservatives he promises to make the Ottoman Empire 'great again' and to businessmen he promises an open market in Syria where they can invest in the construction industry. In addition, the clean-up in Syria could mean that Syrian refugees in Turkey could be sent back, ”Özturan says.

“Different groups require different outcomes of this operation in exchange for their support. It looks like Erdoğan has given too many promises to retire now. "

Ergenerguç believes the upcoming election could be accelerated for 2018:

"If the AKP realizes that polls are going bad, they will not hesitate to announce elections. They are at war and the war works for them. The war is an election campaign in itself. ”

Increasing violence. According to Senerguç, the president can hardly manage to keep the war going for another year and a half. Therefore, they are more likely to hold elections while the war is still a topical issue.

Although the Turkish opposition is weakened, Erdoğan takes no chances.

"He can't afford to lose. He knows it means prison. After the Gezi uprising in 2013, he learned how to handle the uprising; he constantly warns that 'his people' are ready if something similar happens. The AKP has its own civil defense, which is very well organized, and armed. During the coup attempt in 2016, the AKP distributed weapons, including machine guns, to civilians. After that, no one collected those weapons again, ”he says.

Özturan confirms that privately-owned weapons are increasing in Turkey. In addition, a new law passed on Christmas Eve 2017 opens for more violence.

Section 696 states that civilians who injure or kill a "terrorist" or "coup-maker" act in defense of the nation, and should therefore be immune from prosecution.

"Since the law was not addressed by parliament, it could be canceled in the future. But in the meantime, the mentality is affected – now all criminal acts can be excused for doing so to defend the state against terrorism, ”says Özturan.

When a newspaper in Cyprus criticized the Afrin operation, Erdoğan went out in Turkish media, saying: "I trust that my brothers there will give them the necessary response." His supporters mobilized a mob of 300 people and attacked the newspaper's premises.

"The war is an election campaign in itself."
? – Şenerguç

Turkish authorities generally often call for violence. Police received direct orders from Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu to break the leg of those selling drugs outside Turkish schools. Referring to the Aegean conflict between Greece and Turkey – which includes the archipelago of Kardak (Imia in Greek) – Erdogan said that the Turks would break arms and legs of Greek officers and ministers who dared to set foot on the disputed islands.

“Erdoğan literally controls everything; he has the law in his hollow hand. And his supporters know they can do whatever they want when they have the government in the back, "warns Senerguç.

Turkey's new Atatürk? In late January, DBP – a faction of the Kurdish party HDP – debated whether Erdoğan could be charged with war crimes. As the attack on Afrin is carried out outside Turkey's borders, they believe that the president can stand before the International Criminal Court.

But Özturan thinks this is unlikely. "It never happened to a leader in power – if he wins the election, he is safe. In that case, other countries had to refuse to trade with Turkey until he was extradited, but that will not happen. Slobodan Milošević was not extradited until Serbia was destroyed. "

The West fears that Turkey could be thrown into chaos if Erdoğan disappears, so they let him sit. If he were to win the upcoming presidential election, he would have ruled longer than Atatürk. He can then celebrate Turkey's 100th anniversary in 2023 as the Republic's new country father.

Today's young Turks know no other leader; will the next generation be able to remember a reality other than what Turkey now faces?

Emma Bakkevik
Emma Bakkevik
International freelance writer for Ny Tid

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