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Is Turkey Really a ‘Vibrant Democracy’?

A closer examination reveals a nation sliding into dictatorship.

by
Okan Altiparmak

Bio

September 30, 2011 - 12:00 am
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There is more. Prior to the ruling AKP party’s takeover of Turkish politics in 2002, state institutions such as the YÖK (Higher Education Board) and Diyanet (Directorate of Religious Affairs) were infected with considerable corruption. Each institution was controlled by a different special interest group. In the post-2007 era, all have been overtaken by pro-AKP interest groups. Nearly all formerly independent bodies have become attached to the government ministries. The lack of real checks and balances has placed the nation’s resources at the disposal of the prime minister and his government for full exploitation.

Yet despite this grab of growing power and its use to change Turkey’s system, much of the Western media has been touting Erdogan and the AKP as the new, improved “vibrant” democracy in Turkey:

Turkey is now a vibrant, competitive democracy…”

New York Times on June 8, 2010

A vibrant democracy that in spite of its imperfections is seen as an example of  reform in the region…”

Foreign Policy on May 26, 2011

A vibrant democracy with the rule of law…”

The Economist on October 21, 2010

A vibrant democracy… led by Islam’s equivalent to Christian Democrats…”

The same language has also been used by the AKP itself. Here is the Turkish president speaking to students at the College of Europe at Natolin, Poland, June 7, 2011:

Turkey is also becoming a source of inspiration of a vibrant democracy… in the region.

However, the reality may point to a situation quite different: Turkey has fallen from the 99th spot in 2006 to 138th in 2010 in the Press Freedom Index with more than 50 journalists jailed since 2007.

When U.S. Ambassador Francis Ricciardone finally spoke up against the erosion of media freedom, he was bluntly told to mind his own business. The State Department’s 2010 Human Rights Report indicates that “the law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention; however, the government at times did not observe these prohibitions.”

Thousands of websites have been banned, and internet freedom is seriously challenged for the 35 million internet users in the country.

The goverment has even tackled Turkey’s scientific institutions, issuing a decree giving itself tighter control of Turkey’s two main scientific organizations: the funding agency TÜBİTAK and the Turkish Academy of Sciences (TÜBA).

Hundreds of people have been jailed under the investigations called Ergekenekon and Sledgehammer, which began in July 2008 and July 2010, respectively. Yet not a single conviction has been achieved to date. Ergun Poyraz, first detained in July 2007 and the author of over eight anti-AKP or anti-Erdoğan books, has now spent four years in jail with no end in sight. This appears to be the pattern that will affect other victims.

Gareth Jenkins, one of the most knowledgeable analysts on Turkish political matters, writes:

Not only is the evidence in both cases deeply flawed, there are also increasing indications that much of it has been fabricated.

Turkey’s democracy is cited as an inspiration to Arab countries at the very moment when it is disappearing in Turkey itself.

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Okan Altiparmak is a consultant and filmmaker based in Istanbul.
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