Turkey has one of the world’s fastest growing coronavirus outbreaks, confirmed cases double every three days. The statistics, combined with the capacity of the health system and nature of the restrictions raise great concerns.
Doctors are forced to apologize for their critical remarks, health workers are banned from making press releases on their conditions. Aside from handful of villages of towns, strict measures are not enforced, though people are repeatedly told to “self quarantine.”
Yet, as President Erdoğan repeats, “the wheels have to keep on rolling” and production has to continue. While some firms have halted their production, construction and energy projects – even megaprojects such as Kanal Istanbul – are still underway.
Meanwhile, Erdoğan has launched a “national solidarity campaign”, calling on businessmen to further support the poor. “No virus is stronger than our unity” states the campaign slogan. The public is also encouraged to donate 10 TL (1.5 dollars) with a text. Erdoğan himself donated seven months of his salary to the cause. Some AKP members and MPs say they have donated their salaries as well in solidarity.
Pro-AKP and pro-MHP have embraced the national solidarity campaign and the names of the “brave”donors get published. Opposition voices, however, are highly critical of the campaign and say they will not give a dime to the corrupt system. As usual, the authorities have investigated critics on social media.
Renowned writers pointed out that the President has a budget of 8 billion 700 TL, urging the President to cut back on his any planes and on his lavish palace. Cigdem Toker, a columnist at the Sözcü daily, wrote that businessmen close to the regime can now cut back from their taxes if they make Covid-19 donations. Those businesses got a 18.9 billion TL guarantee from the government, plus their rents covered, while others, especially small businesses get nothing.
This is why the national solidarity campaign seems rather like another way to support contractors building bridges, roads, tunnels, mega projects. What made the campaign and the president’s strategies with regard to the coronavirus outbreak even more explosive, was a block on attempts by local municipalities to raise funds.
While many lives are at stake, the war against the opposition carries on. The Minister of the Interior Süleyman Soylu announced on March 31 that the donation accounts opened by the municipalities of Istanbul and Ankara were blocked as they were “against the regulations.”
Again, this was another way to crush the opposition, by preventing Republican People’s Party (CHP) mayors, Ekrem Imamoglu (Istanbul) and Mansur Yavaş (Ankara) from becoming even more popular. The message is: Only the president is allowed to control and manage donations, the rest of the country should stay at home and do practically nothing.
Yavaş, who announced that the donations would be given to those in need in Ankara, tweeted “Don’t worry, we won’t let anyone be in need. We’ll continue to help as planned.”
Imamoglu, on the other hand, continues to appear on mostly opposition TV shows, explaining that the block is unlawful. As for the leader of the CHP, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu lags behind in the political discourse, as usual. On March 31, he told a journalist he would work on the tax law and make a “detailed announcement” on the donation campaign as late as next week.
The strategy of the main opposition party CHP with regard to the pandemic mostly consists in announcing the necessary steps to be taken.
There is not much talk of the recent crackdown on municipalities held by the opposition People’s Democratic Party (HDP). On March 23, eight more trustees were appointed to HDP-held municipalities. Four mayors have been detained, a warrant has been released for the fifth.
The AKP-MHP alliance seems to interpret the coronavirus outbreak as an opportunity for its own PR: People will get help only if they support their cause. Critical voices are deemed “terrorists” and the coronavirus battle can only be waged with their own means.
This year, the May 19 celebrations in Turkey were held within homes due to the coronavirus lockdown. Nationalist and neo-nationalist accounts called for a united celebration at exactly 19:19 in the evening. Even Atatürk as a symbol seems to have been partially adopted by the AKP regime in order to create total control over the public.
Last week President Erdoğan accused the main opposition CHP of "fascism" and "plotting a coup". "We will not give in to terrorists, who are the leftovers of the sword,” he added. ‘Leftovers of the sword’ clearly belongs to the realm of hate speech. Everyone in Turkey knows exactly what it means.
Like the rest of the world, Turkey is discussing when and how to ease the coronavirus restrictions. While shopping malls are to be reopened in 10 days, the Parliament is to be shut down until June 2 and courts until June 15. This gives an idea of the government’s priorities.
In Turkey, tens of thousands dissidents are unjustly jailed. Two lawyers and one discharged mayor told me about their cases. They are very telling of how the government is manipulating the law to rule over the country.
Müslüm Aslan was in prison for stabbing his wife. When he was released due to the new parole law, he went to see his children, who were staying at their grandparent’s house with their mother. He took them home, tortured and beat his 9-year-old daughter to death in front of his two sons.
In Turkey, a recent law that was passed by the parliament and which allowed the release of tens of thousands of prisoners was presented as a measure of protection against the coronavirus pandemic. The laws favors people who had been convicted for the Soma mine disaster, the Çorlu train accident as well as convicted police officers who had killed teenagers during the Gezi protests and notorious mafia leaders like Alaattin Çakıcı.
Some medical experts in Turkey argue that the hospitals which were previously emptied by the AKP government, can easily be ransformed into functioning hospitals with minimal spending to treat COVID-19 patients. One might wonder why they were closed in the first place.
The last time President Erdoğan, who is 66 years-old, physically took part in a meeting was a week ago. Nobody asks whether the President and his close circle have been tested for coronavirus. And of course, no one dares to ask what happens if he gets sick, and what the Turkish Presidential System would bring.
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.