Don’t panic, Mr. President is online
The last time President Erdoğan physically took part in a meeting was a week ago. The venue was not the Presidential Palace, but the Çankaya Mansion in Ankara. Social distancing was carefully planned. A few days later, a picture was taken and shared of him on his balcony, clapping his hands in support of the health workers with his wife Emine Erdoğan.
When the street ban for people over 65 was imposed, Erdoğan’s phone conversation with an elderly AKP supported was shared on social media.
The other day, pictures of President Erdoğan wearing a bright green jacket, holding a mini teleconference with his cabinet were published. His expression is mildly concerned, but healthy.
It looks like President Erdoğan (66), like many other political leaders in Turkey -almost all above 65 years- isolated himself from the public when the epidemic hit Turkey. Probably the only social contact he now has is with his family. Which is the right decision, since the coronavirus is hitting older people and those with chronic diseases much worse.
However, nobody even mentions or asks about his whereabouts, or whether the President and his close circle have been tested. Of course, no one dares to ask what happens if he gets sick, and what the Turkish Presidential System would bring.
Meanwhile, the flow of information and updates on Coronavirus cases and deaths are solely announced by the Minister of Health, Fahrettin Koca. Some days, he holds a late press conference, thanking the President and the Ministry of Treasury, Berat Albayrak, multiple times. Some days, he only tweets new the number of cases and deaths. “All of them are old people, over 60” assures Koca.
This is basically all we get.
On social media, pressure continues about the number of test kits, and how many are being used. Concerns that the government is withholding data are growing as well. WhatsApp groups are flooded with unconfirmed, dramatic stories. Some journalists and health workers are investigated, just like in China in the first days of the outbreak.
Another pressure point is a complete lockdown. A few days ago, Minister Koca said “Everybody should declare his/her own State of Emergency. We don’t need to lock down the whole country if you comply with the rules.” However, professors of law warn that a complete lockdown will mean a State of Emergency Decree (SoE), whereby decrees by the President can not be legally constrained. Turkey was ruled for 2 years (2016-2018) with a SoE, and the Constitutional Court declined to review legal applications on the decrees.
Urgent warnings about the health system come rather from Turkish professors, scientists living abroad. Or those who don’t fear to be labelled as “opponents”. The most common criticism is that the government is not as transparent as other countries with COVID19 data, and more information on positive cases is needed.
Meanwhile, pro-government newspapers are full of stories of how strong Turkey is, how badly Europe is handling the crisis, leaving old people alone to die. The President, directing orders online, and a few cabinet members are quoted daily.
If you take the mass media seriously, you might believe that the coronavirus cure is already here (“The medicine which helps in 4 days has arrived”) or that the vaccine will be soon ready. There is no reason to panic, the motto goes: Everything is under control.
Nobody should panic, we will overcome this. Be patient and pray.
The Covid-19 will inevitably affect a much wider population, and Turkey’s limited testing is dramatic. Scientists, doctors unanimously urge for a radical testing procedure. In Istanbul, a city of 16 million, there are only four hospitals conducting tests. Meanwhile, states of emergency, strict restrictions and bans are anything but new in Turkey!
As he traveled back to Turkey from Azerbaijan, Erdoğan ominously announced a new wave of repression. A few days later, Osman Kavala was re-arrested, the mayor of Diyarbakır Selçuk Mızraklı was sentenced to more than 9 years in jail and 7 journalists were arrested.
Again we see them on the news, migrants flocking to the borders and the human traffickers going about their “business” in front of the cameras. As thousands of migrants seek to cross the border from Turkey to Greece and Bulgaria- some getting injured and dying whilst doing so - authorities talk of them as if they are cheap tokens. Not only in Turkey but in the EU countries as well.
The pro-governmental media in Turkey, which usually targets well-known individuals or critics, targets ordinary people as well. But what’s perhaps more worth talking about is how the life of the poor living in cities has changed — and how they are perceived. They, too, want to live a good life. Or just to be a part of it, even for a few seconds. And they, too, want to show off.
Just as Kavala was preparing for his release after 840 days spent in the Silivri Prison, the prosecutor’s office announced the philanthropist would be questioned on “attempting to overthrow the constitutional order." This proves how partial, arbitrary and politically involved the Turkish judiciary is. Yet the dynamics of this process remain unclear.
It’s hard to voice opposition to war when the coffins of slain soldiers are being sent back from Syria and when the nationalist mood is in full swing. However HDP deputy and former journalist Ahmet Şık, who has been jailed twice and is still tried on the Cumhuriyet case, says that they have the responsibility to question why so many young people are dying for.
The watchmen will not operate under a specific law or the constitution but under the government’s direct orders. Opposition parties thus warn of a “parallel police force” that enjoys unprecedented powers. At night, the watchmen could well turn into the state’s moral police.
Although the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled for his immediate release on Dec. 10, 2019, Osman Kavala remains as the only defendant under detention at the Gezi trial. So the question is whether the Council of Europe (CoE) and member states will stand up. If they will not do that, what is the function of the ECHR and why should other states bother to follow its rules?
Well-known economists have questioned how Kanal Istanbul will be financed, but they haven’t yet received any answers. Prof. Dr. Haluk Levent from Bilgi University believes that Kanal Istanbul is a Ponzi scheme, but with a difference: in a Ponzi Scheme, everything must be on the record, but this is not the case for Kanal Istanbul. The scheme is changing the town planning and zoning.
The media almost totally neglects or misinterprets cases related to July 15 in fear of being targeted themselves. On the other hand, high-ranking Gülenists, who have long fled the country, are in fact using the cases and prison sentences for their own PR.
Despite the government's pledge to combat femicide and domestic abuse, 474 women were murdered by men in 2019 in Turkey. Women’s rights advocates have repeatedly said the system is too weak to protect women.
Data from the last two years in Turkey points to a steady decrease in almost every aspect of a functioning, healthy democracy, such as freedom of speech, quality of education, gender and income equality, and the rule of law. It’s no surprise that society has become unhappier compared to 2017. Surely the AKP-MHP alliance is responsible for this great social, economic and political collapse.
Two days ago I went to the forth hearing of the Gezi trial in Silivri, where Kavala is the only imprisoned suspect among 16 civil society activists accused with ‘organizing and financing Gezi protests to overthrow the AKP government’ back in 2013. These trials are top examples of how rule of law is undermined and how human rights abuses are executed.
Kanal Istanbul is not only critical for Erdoğan financially. It also represents a political battlefield in which he wishes to beat his opponents, in this case the new opposition Istanbul Metropolitan Mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu.
General elections appear to be on the agenda in 2023. That is what statements from President Erdoğan and his alliance partner, the MHP leader Bahçeli, suggest. Yet, the prospect of snap elections also looms. Many politicians, economists and journalists claim snap elections will be held in 2020. While snap elections may not seem logical, logics don’t apply to Turkish politics.
The severe violations of sick prisoners rights are against the law and contradict with international agreements Turkey partakes in. Human right advocates accuse the government of being unwilling to address these problems and point to the The European Council, which remains silent.
Just a few hours before police teargassed women in the streets of Istanbul, Emine Erdoğan, wife of President Tayyip Erdoğan, was giving a speech that denounced violence against women on the occasion of the International Day for Eliminating Violence against Women. However, Mrs. Erdoğan has also stated that the rise in violence against women is just a perception and that today, thanks to the AKP, women can ask for their rights.
As a journalist, I find it to be embarrassing and paradoxical that President Trump, not known to be a supporter of the free press, mocked the Turkish press.
Yet his words, “You sure you’re a reporter? You don’t work for Turkey with that question?” reflect the truth regarding the group of people Erdoğan took along with him to Washington. These words sum up the status of the Turkish mainstream media.
Turkey generally does not rank high in suicide rates. One reason is religion; in Islam suicide is a sin. Culture and family ties also are among strong reasons why people refrain from taking their lives according to experts. However figures show that there is a rise in suicide rates in Turkey. The society does not only suffer from economical crisis and neo-liberalism, but also a harsh transformation from a hybrid democracy to a more authoritarian state.
Last week, another bunch of journalists were sacked from daily Hürriyet newspaper, which is still considered as the “flagship” of the mainstream media. In fact, Hürriyet lost its prestige long while ago. It doesn’t really matter who the editor in chief is now. Or why and how journalists were sacked. It is the final nail in the coffin. The mainstream media resembles the living death.
By looking at mainstream media, military salutes of popular figures or twitter trending topics, one might assume that Turkish people were heavily supporting the military operation in Northern Syria -officially called “Operation Peace Spring” ending in 8 days- no matter what the rest of the world says. When there is any military action in Turkey or outside its borders, it becomes even harder for critical voices to be heard.
Associate Professor Şık was the deputy director of the Food Safety and Agricultural Research Center at Akdeniz University. Then, due to his scientific research, he became an enemy of the state.