Turkey’s authoritarian drift threatens rights, rule of law

turkey0914_reportcoverHRWTurkey under Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government is taking far-reaching steps to weaken the rule of law, control the media and Internet, and clamp down on critics and protestors, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today.

The 38-page report, “Turkey’s Human Rights Rollback: Recommendations for Reform”, outlines the rollback of human rights and rule of law in Turkey, linked to mass anti-government protests in 2013 and corruption allegations that go to the very heart of the government of the ruling AKP.

Human Rights Watch tracked the government’s response to the recent developments and made concrete recommendations, focusing on four areas: strengthening the human rights context of the peace process with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK); reforming the criminal justice system; ending impunity for past and present abuses by state officials and for family violence against women; and ending restrictions on speech, media, Internet, and the rights to assembly and association.

“Over the past year, Erdoğan’s AKP has responded to political opposition by tearing up the rule book, silencing critical voices, and wielding a stick,” said Emma Sinclair-Webb, senior Turkey researcher at Human Rights Watch and author of the report. “For the sake of Turkey’s future and the rights of its citizens, the government needs to change course and protect rights instead of attacking them.”

“As Turkey feels the heat of war in Syria and Iraq, Ankara has renewed its interest in closer ties to Europe,” Sinclair-Webb said. “But Turkey is unlikely to succeed in moving closer to Europe unless Turkey’s leaders take steps to reverse the rollback on rights and strengthen the rule of law.”

Turkey: strike down internet curbs, says rights group


Human Rights Watch

Human Rights Watch

New legal amendments giving the Turkish authorities broad powers to block websites and to amass users’ internet activity data should be overturned, Human Rights Watch said today.
The new measures deepen existing internet censorship in Turkey, increase surveillance of internet users, and violate privacy.

“After hosting the 2014 Internet Governance Forum, Prime Minister Davutoglu’s new government has adopted even more provisions to restrict free speech online and the privacy of internet users,” said Emma Sinclair-Webb, senior Turkey researcher at Human Rights Watch. “These measures would violate basic rights protected in the constitution and guaranteed under international law and should be struck down.”

A new law adopted by parliament on September 10, 2014, that would amend a range of other laws on a broad range of subjects introduces two new measures increasing the powers of the Telecom Directorate (TIB), a regulatory body whose head is appointed by the government. In July, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, then the prime minister, stated that the directorate should be run by the National Intelligence Agency (MİT). The current head is a former MİT operative….

In February and March the government adopted amendments to the existing internet law (no. 6551) giving the directorate the authority to block internet content deemed to violate privacy. The government’s changes were a response to the circulation of wiretapped telephone conversations of politicians, including the prime minister, via social media. …These two amendments were included (as articles 126 and 127) in the major reform bill that parliament approved on September 10. ….

“The latest steps are the latest blow to net freedom and privacy rights in a year in which Turkey unlawfully blocked both Twitter and YouTube,” Sinclair-Webb said. “They should be reversed now, before Turkey has to account for and redress these violations at regional and international levels.”


The new Thirty Years’ War?

middle_east-450x320Today’s Middle East risks incurring something akin to Europe’s seventeenth century Thirty Years’ War, the most violent and destructive episode in European history until the two world wars of the twentieth century, says a leading foreign policy expert.

Three and a half years after the dawn of the “Arab Spring,” there is a real possibility that we are witnessing the early phase of a prolonged, costly, and deadly struggle; as bad as things are, they could well become worse, says Richard N. Haass, President of the Council on Foreign Relations.

“The region is ripe for unrest. Most of its people are politically impotent and poor in terms of both wealth and prospects. Islam never experienced something akin to the Reformation in Europe; the lines between the sacred and the secular are unclear and contested,” he writes for Project Syndicate:

Moreover, national identities often compete with – and are increasingly overwhelmed by – those stemming from religion, sect, and tribe. Civil society is weak. In some countries, the presence of oil and gas discourages the emergence of a diversified economy and, with it, a middle class. Education emphasizes rote learning over critical thinking. In many cases, authoritarian rulers lack legitimacy.

Democracy promotion in Turkey and Egypt should focus on strengthening civil society and creating robust constitutions that diffuse power,” Haass suggests. But….

There is no room for illusions. Regime change is no panacea; it can be difficult to achieve and nearly impossible to consolidate. Negotiations cannot resolve all or even most conflicts….

Policymakers must recognize their limits. For now and for the foreseeable future – until a new local order emerges or exhaustion sets in – the Middle East will be less a problem to be solved than a condition to be managed.



The future of Turkish democracy – in Europe

CagaptayTurkeyBookCoverHiResIn the past decade, Turkey has outperformed its neighbors, rising as a stable and wealthy nation, says Soner Cagaptay, director of the Turkish Research Program at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy. While all of their neighbors experienced economic meltdown, political instability, and some even war, the Turks have enjoyed a decade of unprecedented growth. Turkey is now in a prime position to become an even more important ally to the United States given its robust economy.

As I describe in my recent monograph, “The Rise of Turkey” the country has now become a majority middle-class society. This has yielded impressive results: Turkey is on the cusp of becoming the first large Muslim-majority society to attain universal literacy. Economic development has connected the Turkish people to the rest of the world in ways that cannot be reversed.

For these key accomplishments, Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and its prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, deserve credit.

However, there is also a less bright side to the AKP’s legacy. Under the party, Turkey has become more prosperous, but ironically, at the same time, also less free. When the party took power in 2002, Turkey’s record on liberties, as measured by international indices, improved along with the country’s ambitious work to qualify for European Union accession. Later under the AKP, Turkey’s record on liberties stagnated, subsequently taking a nose dive.

Despite being elected through a democratic process, the AKP has governed in an authoritarian manner. The party has made a habit of quashing any opposition, most prominently during the 2013 Gezi Park rallies, where police used tear gas and water cannons on protestors. The recent Twitter and YouTube ban is the latest example of the AKP’s propensity for curbing basic freedoms.

A second alarming issue concerning the United States has been Turkey’s pivot to the Middle East, which has met serious challenges. Before the AKP, the Turks thought of themselves as a European country situated next to the Middle East. Toward the end of the last decade, Ankara decided that the path to greater power and influence was through the Middle East rather than Europe.

This has turned out to be a miscalculation. With the exception of the Kurds, Turkey currently has no allies in the Middle East. What is more, the country is flanked by enemies, ranging from the Assad regime to the “Islamic State” (IS), as well as brutal competitors such as Iran and Saudi Arabia.

There are other reasons to be optimistic about Turkey’s future: the middle class, which has grown as a result of the AKP’s economic policies, is committed to individual freedoms and is now challenging the party’s style of governance.

The main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) is slowly but surely becoming a liberal movement. Recently, the State Department honored party deputy Safak Pavey with an International Women of Courage Award, recognizing the CHP’s commitment to gender equality and democratic values.

Turkey’s trajectory points toward democracy and makes its accession into the EU an attractive prospect. ..U.S. policy should encourage Turkish reorientation toward Europe. We stand at an opportune moment regarding such a pivot. The AKP’s drive to transform Turkey into a Middle Eastern power has failed, and the Turks feel burnt out from such efforts.

Failing to consolidate power in the Middle East, Ankara needs to re-embrace the EU and its democratic values. …………….Turkey is of vital interest to Europe, and in turn the United States. Its location and proclivity to capitalism and democracy make it an important ally. The developments facing Europe and the Middle East may have pushed Turkey from the forefront of the news, but it must not be forgotten. Washington and Ankara share interests, and Turkey’s path will have great strategic importance to the United States in situations ranging from Ukraine to Iraq and Syria for years to come.

Soner Cagaptay is the Beyer Family Fellow and director of the Turkish Research Program at The Washington Institute. This extract is taken from his testimony before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia, and Emerging Threats.

Erdogan’s path of ‘illiberal democracy’


TURKEYmustafaakyolThe current question in Turkey is what kind of “regime” will emerge after Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s likely election as president, notes Mustafa Akyol, a columnist for Al-Monitor’Turkey Pulse and the author of Islam Without Extremes: A Muslim Case for Liberty.

Many of Erdogan’s die-hard opponents are already condemning him as a “dictator,” he writes for Al-Monitor. “It all sounds like nonsense, however, to Erdogan and his supporters, who emphasize that he is in power because he and his party have been winning free and fair elections. Erdogan himself has said on many occasions, “If I am a dictator, then come beat me at the elections,” Akyol notes:

erdogan-150x150In a recent interview with Al Jazeera Turk, political scientist and professor Mustafa Erdogan, a pillar of classical liberal thought in Turkey, stated: “What Erdogan has in mind is a Latin American style of governance where one single leader controls the totality of political power. Of course, this is a conceptualization that is impossible to be separated from his perception of himself. He seems to think that he has an almost divinely ordained mission for establishing such a leadership.”

The so-called Latin American style that Erdogan speaks of is also what political scientists refer to as illiberal democracy, a system where free and fair elections are held, but civil liberties — such as freedom of the press and assembly — are limited. Illiberal democracies can be ranked as “democratic” if one only considers holding free elections. They typically rank as only “partly free” when civil liberties are measured objectively, such as Freedom House does.

Not all Latin American countries are illiberal democracies, but. according to academics Peter H. Smith and Melissa R. Ziegler, this particular form of democracy was “the most common, pervasive, and visible form of political organization” in Latin America from the late 1970s into the 21st century. Typical examples include Venezuela under Hugo Chavez, Argentina under Carlos Menem and Bolivia under Evo Morales. Chavez’s populist democracy is particularly interesting, in the way he was associated with “the people” and the way his references to Christianity implied an almost messianic mission to “save” the people.