Turkey has conducted a referendum, which legally terminated their republic. But it had already died long ago, having been eroded under Recep Tayyip Erdogan since he took charge in 2003.
“So this is how democracy dies, with thunderous applause.” These words were uttered not by a member of the opposition to the Nazis in Germany, or a victim of Japan’s termination of the Taisho Democracy, crushed as easily as Hitler’s destruction of the Weimar Republic. It didn’t even come from a Turk, luckless enough to be left behind in Erdogan’s Empire.
The quote came from actress Natalie Portman, playing Senator Amadala in the Star Wars movie “Revenge of the Sith,” as she sadly observes how her old republic was converted into a Galactic Empire, not by force but by an overwhelming vote to give the Supreme Chancellor the power to do whatever he wanted. Atrocities followed rather quickly.
But in the case of Turkey, it’s the last breath of a patient who has been on life support since Erdogan came to power.
Erdogan took advantage of dissatisfaction with secular parties to help his Islamist party come to power, via elections. He seemed to the very person who could blend his Middle East party with democracy, a model for others in the region. But such a commitment to freedom turned out to be a smoke screen for the development of a hereditary dictatorship.
First he sought to oust the military leadership, the guardians of the republic. He even won support in such an endeavor from other Islamists and democratic political parties, who chafed under prior coups.
Then he targeted the followers of Fethullah Gulen, who made the mistake of uncovering massive corruption by Erdogan family members, as well as government links to terrorists. The purge began long before any military coup, with Gulenists being fired from their jobs, their media enterprises being taken and turned into government mouthpieces and businesses were shut down.
Then it was the Kurds’ turn. When they had the audacity to vote for their own savvy political party, the HDP, they made the mistake of denying Erdogan a majority in parliament. Erdogan got even by ending the ceasefire with the Kurds, and thousands were slaughtered in the anti-Kurdish campaign. Academics who spoke out against the genocide were fired from their university jobs.
The ruling party members didn’t seem to mind when the leaders of the Kurdish political party were arrested and jailed, so they couldn’t oppose the referendum. They didn’t complain when Erdogan spoke admiringly of Hitler’s form of government (he claimed he was misquoted, but there’s no way that quote could have ever said anything critical of Hitler). Few in the majority complained when ISIS bombs only killed scores of younger people at opposition party gatherings, instead of ruling party rallies.
Then came the military coup. Even though waged only by a small unit of disgruntled junior military officers, Erdogan saw to it that judges, reporters, professors, teachers and anyone even related to a follower of Fethullah Gulen was arrested. More than 100,000 were fired and more than 40,000 were arrested. Ask yourself how a democracy is one of the world leaders of incarcerated journalists.
During the “election” he used his “state of emergency powers” to deny the opposition the ability to campaign. Opposition party members were locked up, and others were afraid to openly campaign, or get arrested themselves, or get a “Gezi Park Protest” special, with water cannons and jailings.
So Erdogan has his win, and can be a legal dictator until 2029. His appointment powers, ability to run roughshod over the legislature, continue to give privileged positions to relatives can continue unabated, to the cheers of his supporters and AKP.
Meanwhile, expect even more ISIS attacks, pro-democracy refugees to beg for asylum, continued opposition to Israel and America’s foreign policy, another Putin pal and a generation of Turks to be educated by strictly-controlled bureaucrats that their leader is descended from above and the U.S.A. is the enemy, as Erdogan’s family continues his legacy. It will be like having North Korea in the Middle East, right next to Europe.
John A. Tures is a professor of political science at LaGrange College in LaGrange, Ga. He can be reached at email@example.com.