Turkey: The Seventh Seal

You may or may not have heard it. They are the Christian Zionists – or the Christian Right – a sophisticated political and social movement organised in the United States who are ambitiously attempting to spur the Second Coming of Christ. These evangelical fundamentalists have popularised the idea the Bible must be read literally. While perhaps a portion of the scriptures may clearly articulate laws and behaviour to correspond directly with our reality, to take the poetic and figurative narrative literally in other sections of the book would make the contents of the Book of Revelations, Book of Daniel and the Book of Ezekiel is real.

As such, they are actively participating in the implementation of the coming rapture or Armageddon despite the highly ambiguous and dream-like apocalyptic content by interpreting those descriptions into a physical reality. For instance, Ezekiel’ Temple Vision has been interpreted as the restoration of the temple that replaces the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem. While they may appear a strange and insular people driven by eccentric beliefs and a violent do-it-yourself form of salvation, they are a powerful community now even more visible under the leadership of Trump who are committed in their efforts to endorse all the proxy-wars and other terrible activities in the Middle East.

These activities bring chills down my spine, including exclusivity to Jerusalem that later led to sovereignty of what is now West Jerusalem and occupation of the East, Trump moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem in a provocative attempt to remind the Palestinians and the world of their underlying stratagem in the region. Some of the most horrific anti-Arab, anti-Muslim, and anti-Palestinian content has flourished with statements and claims worthy of psychological projection and propaganda. While certain biblical prophecies of the restoration of the Jewish state at the end of times is apparently foretold, actively attempting to create the conditions of horror and instability in the Middle East is distressing to say the least. While it may appear unlikely, Turkey is positioned as a powerful and strategic balance of powers in the region as a Muslim country that also allies with Israel, thus the civil instability domestically in Turkey is certainly a cause for concern. Ideas such as the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers drying at this apocalyptic domain and the United States funding the Atatürk Dam that not only killed and displaced many internally but also has the power over the two rivers, with “beasts” like Russia and China – or perhaps Gog and Magog – violently counteracting and participating in the proxy-wars that have led to the terrible demise in Syria and millions of refugees and internally displaced people and millions more dead without burial or even familial mourning, Turkey has become strategically pivotal in ensuring that the brutal and unstable foreign policies of the United States under the conservatives is stopped.

The Justice and Development Party (AKP) received the majority vote in 2007 while the Republican People’s Party (CHP) – the centre-left Kemalist party – came second on the national polls. A close third was the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), the ultra-nationalist party accused of neo-fascism with just over five million votes, nearly three million more than in 2002. The schism of opinions that stand either for or against Recep Tayyip Erdogan – current president of Turkey and former Prime Minister – is riddled with a number of suspicions, distrust against him and his party, distrust for his intentions to control the military, distrust that a gradual implementation of Islamic culture is being enforced despite Turkey’s history since the time of Kemal Ataturk who viewed religion as archaic and should be removed from any political involved.

The Justice and Development Party (AKP) emerged as a saviour during a difficult economic and social time in Turkey, encouraging the prospect that they can embrace both Islam and Democracy under the banner of human rights and freedoms and effectively implement reforms to complete the Copenhagen criteria toward EU accession. These reforms included legislative changes through amendments of the constitution underlined by the strengthening of an independent judiciary and the advancement of freedoms and cultural rights. As said by Erdogan himself, “one of the greatest common denominators of mankind’s existence on earth is the development of humanistic values over centuries. Universal values that are embodied in the concept of democracy and supported by principles such as human rights, rule of law, good governance are the product of the collected wisdom derived from different civilisations.”[1]

Such discourse on responsibility and gaining prominence by acting as an example in a complex global environment has consistently been reiterated by the AKP and while constitutional reforms along with a number of ratified international conventions have since taken place, the current social and political dynamics prove such discourses to have been nothing but mere flatteries without weight to the mechanisms that strengthen the principles of human rights. The almost schizophrenic movement between an uncompromising, conservative paternalism with the conservative-moderate political model appears to be a type of Newtons Cradle between a want for EU accession and an opportunity to strengthen a neo-Ottoman agenda. The AKP has either way attempted to strengthen legitimacy by showcasing popular domestic support and representing themselves as significant actors of democracy and human rights, an image recently proven by social media to be fictitious. While it is evident that media representation of the party is one-sided with Turkey becoming notorious for arresting journalists and restricting the independence of journalism and the media in its entirety, social media has become an expressive platform to expose the discontent displayed by the population.

Historically, Turkey was born out of the ashes of a failing Ottoman Empire, the late nineteenth century initiated the beginnings of Turkish nationalism through Jöntürkler or the Young Turks, when the underlying complexity between “a territorial, an ethnic or a religious basis for the ‘nation’”[2] promoted discourse on political identity and what it meant to be ‘Turkish’. It was not long afterwards that the proclamation of the Turkish Republic headed by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk was established following intense international and domestic upheaval including the First World War, the Balkan Wars and the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire, together with domestic strife such as the Sheik Said rebellion in the Eastern provinces. While the efforts and overall establishment of the Turkish parliament can be considered a success, the contradictory nationalist ideas particularly between Islamism and Turkism along with violence against ethnic and religious minorities proved the application of this new Turkish identity was initiated through an aggressive state nationalism in an attempt to submerge resistance.

As such, intense cultural and social transformations were implemented to change the structural dynamic of the new country from the old culture, the first being the abolishment of the caliphate that had been the primary system of governance in the region for centuries. Other instituted policies included the control of the appointments of imams, the abolishment of religious courts and schools, and other laws such as enacting the prohibition of any religious interference within the Grand National Assembly and Turkish politics.[3] While such political and cultural reforms no doubt had an impact on the calculated efforts to transform civic society and culture by strengthening loyalty to the new Turkish nationalism, the schism between secularists and Islamists proved the acceptance of the new ideology was indeed a complicated endeavour.

The one-party system changed in the late 1940’s toward a multi-party system and this process of democratisation exposed the broader Islamic sensibilities and cultural norms of the citizens. Consolidating the transformation toward democracy also allowed the country’s marginalised an avenue for political participation and thus this new opportunity never previously afforded to a public desirous to engage in a politics of identity became the basis of confrontational movements as part of this transformative process. By 1950, the Democratic Party (Demokrat Partisi) swept into power under the leadership of Adnan Menderes marking the first political change since 1923. The main reason for this transformation was rural frustration at the economic conditions and political antagonism toward Islam. The Demokrat Partisi relaxed on harsh demands against religion and introduced major economic and social changes, but it also opened the doors to the far-right that eventually led to a major political divide that continues to haunt the country. Their political and social policies ultimately caused the 1960 coup that resulted in the leader of the party Adnan Menderes to be sentenced to death that only deepened the domestic issues.

menderes_a04

Consequently, particularly during the late 1970’s, Turkey experienced serious social and political upheaval between what became known as the ‘leftists’ with the ‘rightists’.[4] With the propagation of Islamic nationalism by identifying Turkish nationalism with Pan-Turkic identity, an ultranationalist right-wing ideology founded by political leader Alparslan Turkeş and strengthened by the youth-wing (the terror organisation Grey Wolves), the determination to fight against what it saw as the growth of left-wing humanism escalated the violence.[5] Political parties such as the Aydinlar Ocaği or the Hearth of the Enlightened (AO) and the National Salvation Party (MSP) mobilised support and increased social turbulence. The evolution of the violence was amplified with the changes from a predominantly rural context toward an urban environment with mass population movements to the cities for employment causing poverty and squatter settlements. A ‘clash’ of various groups illustrated by serious street violence between the Alevi and Sunni, Kurdish, non-Turkish such as Muslims from the Balkans, Communists and right-wing Ultranationalists among others proved that espousing Turkish nationalism and identity within a democratic space clearly contained hostilities that had not been effectively uprooted.

This period of unrivalled turmoil led to the 1980 military coup d’état, whereby the Turkish military took control of the government and closed down political parties, banning leaders from political interference and revoking the constitution as part of its sweeping reforms of the country.[6] The intervention of the Turkish armed forces into social and political life during the most tumultuous period of its history can be viewed as both a breakthrough since the military are seen to have saved the country from an impending civil war and become the bastion of Kemalism, but in doing so implemented a harsh regiment of torture and extreme violence that found hundreds of thousands arrested, executed or dying in custody.[7] Recent developments found the final two surviving military leaders General Kenan Evren – who served as president during the junta – along with Tahsin Sahinkaya arrested and sentenced to life imprisonment for the brutality of the military during that period.[8] The several years of martial rule was an attempt to transition Turkish society and governance toward democratisation; the first and significant step required was a complete overhaul of the Turkish constitution and restoring a more effective civilian government.

Other changes included basic education of Islamic principles and morals,[9] whereby military authorities purported that religious education had been corrupted by leadership and as such became part of the cause of the political and civic violence. Additionally, neo-liberal economic reforms based on individualistic and profitable activities – perhaps unintentionally – developed as a causal effect from the trauma of the radical changes that were implemented during the military coup and as such an increase in political disengagement and fear of losing property and family members compelled a change in economic processes.[10]

Military interference continued particularly during the 1990’s where ideological and ethnic violence reared its ugly head once again, particularly the PKK and the Kurdish-Turkish conflict, mass violence such as the Sivas massacre, along with “deep state” suspicions that led to the death of President Turgut Ozal with assassinations of important military and judicial figures. These suspicions have been solidified with the Ergenekon trials that found the indictment of apparent members of a clandestine secularist organisation that were secretly plotting against the Turkish government.[11] On the contrary, the Adelet ve Kalkinma Partisi [AKP], the popular centre-right political party founded by Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been consistently accused of implementing an Islamist agenda by addressing domestic lawmakers to execute changes against restrictions set by secular policies, foreign policy statements that imply a neo-Ottoman stance, and as said earlier, gradually restricting the power of the military that some imply to be a way to provide him with the freedom to continue strengthening this agenda hiding under the banner of international obligations toward EU accession.

Recent attacks against free media – with Turkey reported as one of the worst places for journalists – plurality and independence of the media is in serious jeopardy, relying on international cases to outline whether the restrictions are justifiable. There have been a number of cases against Turkey breaching Article 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights. One such case was Ürper and Others V Turkey[12] where the publication and distribution of a series of newspapers were restricted under section 6(5) of Law no. 3713 (the Prevention of Terrorism Act) for disseminating propaganda[13] due to alleged connections or sympathies with the PKK (Kurdish Workers Party). The European Court of Human Rights found in favour of Ürper and Others[14] that the government failed to safeguard freedom of the press. The suspension of their newspapers even for short periods had an impact on the value of the information it intended on supplying.[15]

The bridges between moral laws and democracy have often co-existed on shaky grounds, particularly in Islamic countries. While Turkey views itself as a champion of synthesising Islam with Democracy, the recent events particularly the Gezi Park protests demonstrates that this is not the case. When one considers the power the military has in Turkey being the second largest NATO army to date, to stage a coup that fails as badly as it did in Turkey raises many questions. As Turkey maintains this important and determined separation between religion and a secular government with the Turkish military the backbone to the Kemalist agenda, penetrating and ultimately challenging the separation of powers could leap Turkey into the authoritarian realm that many secularists fear Erdogan is attempting to achieve.

Democracy sets the political foundation for the establishment of human rights and fundamental freedoms, raising the problem of whether Islam and Democracy is mutually exclusive or compatible. Social media has thus become a symbol of the right to expression and to obtain information from sources otherwise unavailable in Turkey and the Arab World and itself a voice of democracy. The separation of religion from state has been an ongoing problem, John Locke writing about the social contract theory and why absolute power and governance fails to protect natural liberties. “For no government can have a right to obedience from a people who have not freely consented to it.”[16]

Freedom of expression has been one of the key issues in Turkey’s democratisation process. The European Court of Human Rights has found Turkey in violation of the European Convention on Human Rights in a number of cases and the laws of internet censorship contains provisions that continue to violate fundamental freedoms. While legislation against public denigration is not something that is unique to Turkey, with Italy, Poland, Spain and Germany also regulating and convicting under similar laws,[17] variations in the application and interpretation of these laws exist in part from the legal and political history and cultural attitudes of the country in question.

This is clearly visible with Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code relating to the criminalisation against those that denigrate Turkishness, the Republic and institutions and organs of the state. The ambiguous nature of the term ‘Turkishness’ and the various interpretations and definitions particularly by political parties and institutions prove the controversial nature of the term. In addition, justifiable terms that inhibit human rights in the name of security, such as prosecuting freedom of speech under ‘terrorism’ laws is in itself dangerous territory. The lack of transparency as to the number of sites blocked and the reasons ascertaining the ban is certainly not clear, making it difficult to correctly assess and analyse the justifications behind the blockage or ban.

If there exists any chance of uniting democratic ideals with religious, economic and political standards, where human rights and freedom of expression remains the key component, Turkey may strengthen its civil displacement and remain an important shield protecting the broader, international domain. The shaky grounds that it has experienced over the last century exemplifies a survival of continuous civil unrest, but we need to work hard to support Turkey as that mechanism that can build the bridge between East and West, an Islamic symbol that can prevent violence as an ally with Israel.

 

 

[1] Recep Tayyip Erdogan, “Conservative Democracy and the Globalization of Freedom” Speech at the American Enterprise Institute (January 29, 2004)
[2] Hugh Poulton, Top Hat, Grey Wolf and the Crescent: Turkish Nationalism and the Turkish Republic, New York University Press (1997) 315
[3] Tuğrul Ansay, Don Wallace, Introduction to Turkish Law, Kluwer Law International (2011) 52
[4]Meltem Müftüler-Bac, Yannis A. Stivachtis, Turkey-European Union Relations: Dilemmas, Opportunities, and Constraints, Lexington Books (2008) 304
[5] Gerald MacLean, Abdullah Gul and the Making of the New Turkey, Oneworld Publications (2014)
[6] Elifcan Karacan, Remembering the 1980 Turkish Military Coup d‘État: Memory, Violence, and Trauma, Springer (2015) 139
[7]According to statistics, 650,000 citizens were arrested and taken into custody, with 230,000 placed on trial. 517 were sentenced to the death penality and 50 executed by hanging, along with 299 prisoners dying from ‘unknown’ causes. See The Mobilization of Political Islam in Turkey by Banu Elgur, (2010) 90
[8] Robert B Durham, False Flags, Covert Operations, & Propaganda (2014) 348
[9] Milli Eğitim Bakanlığı Din Bilgisi Oğretimi (Ankara, September 1981). Op. Cit., Hugh Poulton, 181.
[10] Op. Cit., Elifcan Karacan, 162
[11]Ebru Canan-Sokullu, Debating Security in Turkey: Challenges and Changes in the Twenty-First Century, Rowman & Littlefield (2013) 86
[12] Ürper and Others v. Turkey, (Applications nos. 14526/07, 14747/07, 15022/07, 15737/07, 36137/07, 47245/07, 50371/07, 50372/07 and 54637/07), Chamber Judgment of 20.10.2009, paras 39-45.
[13] §6(2) and §7(2) of Law no. 3713, as well as Articles 215 and 218 of the Criminal Code
[14] Article 44 §2 of the Convention
[15] Op. Cit., Jane Boulden and Will Kymlicka
[16] John Locke, Second Treatise of Government, §192
[17] Louis-Léon Christians, Expert workshop on the prohibition of incitement to national, racial or religious hatred, Study for the workshop on Europe (9 and 10 February 2011, Vienna).

Also see New Law to Further Tighten Turkey’s Internet Control, January 24 (2015) Today’s Zaman http://www.todayszaman.com/anasayfa_new-law-to-further-tighten-turkeys-internet-control_370721.html and BBC News, England riots: Government mulls social media controls (11 August 2011).