Peter Hitchens: Turkey's growing repression

Peter Hitchens, Daily Mail:
A deeper change is under way. Deliberately unremarked by Western commentators for some years, Turkey has a fiercely Islamist Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Even now, Barack Obama, like George W. Bush before him, still bleats about how Turkey should be allowed to join the EU. And establishment commentators, encouraged by liberal Turkish intellectuals, absurdly continue to insist that Erdogan is in some way 'moderate'.

How odd. Back in the Nineties, this supposed moderate was railing that: 'The Muslim world is waiting for Turkey to rise up. We will rise up! With Allah's permission, the rebellion will start.' Erdogan was even imprisoned for quoting a fervent Islamist poem that declared: 'The mosques are our barracks, the domes our helmets, the minarets our bayonets and the faithful our soldiers...'

Now he is Prime Minister, he has not stopped thinking this. He simply knows better than to blurt it out.

Fashionable liberals in the West prefer to worry about the sinister Deep State, or Derin Devlet, which they claim really governs Turkey through a combination of military power and thuggery. And they have a point, though not as much of one as they used to.

Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the dictatorial-founder of modern Turkey, was almost as ruthless as Stalin, using military and police power in the Twenties to sweep away the fez, the turban and the veil, impose Western script and emancipate women. His inheritors are the Turkish army, who have emerged from their barracks four times since the Second World War to stage a putsch, hang a few politicians and drive the mullahs back into their mosques. Even further out of sight, and based on a Cold War organisation designed to perform acts of resistance in the event of a Soviet takeover, are profoundly secret networks of government agents committed to safeguard Ataturk's secular order.

They have made some unsavoury allies. Their existence gives credence to the genuinely creepy Ergenekon trials, aimed at a misty and possibly non-existent secret network of conspirators. The plotters are supposed to have sought to foment a fifth military coup. Personally, I think it a swirling tub of fantasy. In a brilliant demolition job (Ergenekon: Between Fact And Fiction: Turkey's Ergenekon Investigation), Turkish expert Gareth Jenkins has gone through more than 4,000 pages of indictments. And he accepts some wrongdoing has been uncovered.

But he concludes: 'The majority of the accused...appear to be guilty of nothing more than holding strong secularist and ultranationalist views.'

As the case wears on, Turkey slips decisively towards the more alarming end of the Islamic spectrum...

Foes of the Islamist government are arrested in surprise dawn raids. One of those scooped up in the arrest net was a 73-year-old woman, head of an educational charity, in the final stages of cancer. Many of the 200-odd accused have been held for years on vague charges. But their arrests fuel the government's claim that it is threatened by a vast alleged conspiracy to bring it down. This supposedly implicates everyone from army officers to journalists.

Above all, the charges are aimed at the army, the force that has kept the mullahs in check, and incidentally kept the women unveiled, in Turkey for the past 90 years.

The supposed plot has now become so enormous that a special courthouse has been built in the suburbs of Istanbul to handle the hearings.

Ilter Turan, Professor of Political Science at Bilgi University, Istanbul, says: 'Erdogan has authoritarian proclivities. He will take journalists to court if he does not like what they write about him. He scolds them for writing critical things. He asks editors, "Why don't you come and tell us about the problem in private before printing it?" He's a potential autocrat who likes to engage in acts of personal generosity, like an old-fashioned monarch.' ...

Under Turkey's proportional representation voting system, Erdogan can - and does - choose all his candidates. Critics and opponents can be easily got rid of. His power is about to increase if he wins a planned constitutional referendum set for September 12. If voters want increased 'human rights' they will also have to increase Erdogan's power to appoint judges and other key officials...

One such intellectual is so nervous about Erdogan's thin skin that he asks me not to name him. Some of his allegations against the government - of corruption and Judophobia - are so alarming that I can only hint at them here.

And he flatly contradicts Ahmet Altan about Ergenekon, saying: 'All the government is trying to do is to humiliate and intimidate the army, and make sure it is powerless to interfere in politics in future. This coup attempt is supposed to have been hatched years ago, and never took place - because it had no support in the army. Among all these dozens of people in the dock there is not one who has the power or the prestige to lead a putsch. They're just nonentities. The documents in the case come from nowhere. '

Even more emphatic is an impressive retired general, Haldun Solmazturk, a quiet professional who certainly can't be dismissed as a Westernised intellectual. He told me: 'Ergenekon is a tool to intimidate democratic opponents. I cannot call Erdogan a democratic leader. He has no interest at all in progressive Turkish democracy.

'They have shown no interest in finding a middle way. Ergenekon is a huge pot into which they throw anybody associated with any kind of opposition - the military, the universities, the media. There are people still in prison after three years, with no convictions. Many friends of mine have been arrested. I have no doubt that the majority of the suspects didn't commit any crime.'

Wasn't the general afraid? No. 'They can't intimidate everybody. I am not afraid of them. That is exactly what they want.'

But he is contemptuous of Western politicians who fail to see the direction Turkey is taking. 'I, and many like me, are angry with those in the United States and Europe who have turned a blind eye and a deaf ear to attacks on democracy here.' ...

We in Western Europe have long assumed that the world that was created in 1945 would last for ever. But we have not paid enough attention to the rising new nations to our East, or to the new powers, fat with oil and gas, heedless of the old laws of liberty, which are gathering strength as America weakens.

Now we may have to pay attention. Among the bayonet-like minarets and helmet-like domes of ancient Istanbul an East wind is blowing, which I think will chill us all.
File under: Things David Cameron and Barack Obama will never know.

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