Recep Erdogan: Building an autocratic narrative in Turkey by criminalizing truth speaking

Catherine Shakdam
Catherine Shakdam is a political analyst, writer and commentator for the Middle East with a special focus on radical movements and Yemen. A regular pundit on RT and other networks her work has appeared in major publications: MintPress, the Foreign Policy Journal, Mehr News and many others.Director of Programs at the Shafaqna Institute for Middle Eastern Studies, Catherine is also the co-founder of Veritas Consulting. She is the author of Arabia’s Rising - Under The Banner Of The First Imam
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan. © Christian Hartmann
Turkish President Recep Erdogan recently clashed against the most prominent scholar of our time, Noam Chomsky, labeling his truth speaking a parody of intellectualism. I will let you decide which of the two stand the fool.

These days all paths of oppression appear to lead to Turkey. Once again, and probably not for the last time, Turkish President Recep Erdogan has flexed his autocratic muscles to silence the opposition and whomever else he perceives as a threat.

Of course on this long and slippery road that is fascist paranoia, and Turkey's leader will likely find that there are indeed many enemies to be had. Autocracy is a lonely state of affair!

A rising despot, President Erdogan may have actually overstepped the license his people relinquished to his rule, now that his ire has been directed not at politicians, or ethnic minorities, but intellectuals - Turkey’s academic cream - because they dared protest his treatment of Kurds.

Earlier this week, President Erdogan called on his security services to crackdown on academics, demanding that they face criminal charges for a petition they circulated that called for an end to Turkey’s “deliberate massacre and deportation of Kurdish people.”

The opening statement of the petition reads as follow: “We ask the state to put an end to violence inflicted against citizens right now, we as academics and researchers of this country declare that we won’t be a party to this crime and that promise that we will sustain our stance in the presence of political parties, parliament and international public”.

1,128 academics from 89 universities in Turkey, and over 355 academics and researchers from abroad - including prominent figures such as Noam Chomsky, Judith Butler, Etienne Balibar, David Harvey and Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek - have offered their personal support to the petition. Those are the men and women whom President Erdogan had the gall of publicly defaming.

Before such a clear exercise of academic conscience, before such an injunction to reason and political restraint, Erdogan answered by way of chilling violence, which of course betrays the very nature of Ankara’s new political paradigm. If Turkey continues to hide behind a democratic veneer, calling itself a model for all aspiring democracies in the region, I would argue that the country in fact should serve as a cautionary tale against absolutist presidentialism.

There is a lot which can be said about a political system that preys on its intellectuals, its teachers, and its thinkers - more importantly against those who wish to speak the truth, and offer an alternative to the tyranny they witness. Devoid of direction, devoid of academic guidance, exactly how long can a nation stand before it is swallowed completely into the abyss of ignorance and falsehood, the ugly step-sisters of fascism?

If ever President Erdogan wanted to come out as a brutal despot, that was pretty much his moment. I don’t think there will be any going back from that point on… The ship has already entered the ominous high seas and Erdogan’s vantage-point principles - such as freedom of expression, civil liberties, and of course political self-determination - are but mirages in the distance, shadows preventing his unique strain of government from ever shining.

"Unfortunately these so-called academics claim that the state is carrying out a massacre. You, those so-called intellectuals! You are dark people. You are not intellectuals," Erdogan railed against the group.

I believe Mr Erdogan exemplified the very political and moral devolution Noam Chomsky and 1,127 other academics were alluding to through their denunciation of Ankara’s repression campaign against an ethnic minority: the Kurds.

Forget politics for a second and consider the human implications of Erdogan’s witch-hunt against a people based on their ethnic markers … can there ever be a justification? Can there ever be a rationale behind the engineered persecution of any group, or community, on account of geography? Because really, when we discuss ethnicity, we are actually referring to geography. I’d like to think that we know better.

Actually we do, at least our most brilliant thinkers do. And therefore we ought to pay attention to what it is that they are saying.

“The detention and harassment of these academics is an ominous marker of the precarious state of human rights in Turkey. They have as much right as anyone else to exercise their right to freedom of expression, without being branded as terrorists and menaced with arrest,” said Andrew Gardner from Amnesty International.

Turkey today, under Erdogan’s rule, is heading toward a brick wall. Not only is Ankara criminalizing free speech by waving terrorism charges at its nationals, but it is also wielding Syrian refugees’ human tragedy to score very geopolitical points.

A political vulture, President Erdogan has built an entire narrative of hate, suspicion and criminality around Syrian refugees, to better sell internment camps as a viable option.

On January 15, Mark Lowen wrote a report for the BBC in which he carefully lays out Turkey’s new humanitarian paradigm - cracking open a window into Erdogan’s little house of horrors.

While Turkey has allowed for Wahhabi-inspired militants to freely move across its borders, while its officials have exploited Terror’s industries to fill their coffers, and turned a blind eye to the despicable infamies ISIL has committed against Syria and Iraq, it is Syrian war refugees the state sees as an enemy!

Dystopian does not even begin to cut it.

Amnesty International has already confirmed that its research found that scores of refugees and asylum-seekers have been sent back to Syria and Iraq, in clear and complete violation of international law - yet Turkey was offered a handsome sum of money by the EU to bear both Syria and Iraq war burden.

"This is absolutely illegal, both under Turkish and international law, because you cannot forcibly return someone to a place where their lives and rights are in danger," Andrew Gardner, the head of Amnesty in Turkey told the press.

Ankara has already been proven guilty of terror profiteering, today it has raised the bar one step higher by adding humanitarian exploitation to its list of capitalist crimes - not bad for a thriving democracy sitting a NATO member … not bad indeed!

But here is my question, of Turkey still holds the title democratic, what does autocratic looks like?

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.