David Cameron’s zealous outpouring of support for Turkish accession to the EU last July illustrated the extent to which the administration of Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, through clever political and economic manoeuvring, has effectively been able to win friends and turn international attention away from it’s appalling human rights record. Lucrative trade deals, logistical support for the war in Iraq and the perception of Turkey as a ‘moderate ally in the region’ have long appealed to states such as the UK and encouraged their governments to ignore the Turkish authorities’ multitude of abuses including ill-treatment of Kurds, suppression of free speech and systematic failure to defend women’s rights.
It come as little surprise therefore, that Erdogan and his cronies are now cynically utilising the turmoil unfolding in Libya to further strengthen relations with European states and deflect international attention from their latest ruthless crackdown on domestic critics. Turkish military support in evacuating European citizens from Libya has drawn vocal praise from the EU, whilst the Turkish administration’s willingness to formally represent the UK in the wake of the latter’s withdrawal from Tripoli has significantly tightened the Erdogan-Cameron bond. In return European states have been relatively muted following the arrest and sentencing of Turkish journalists Ahmet Sik and Nedim Sener as part of a wider crackdown on dissent that in the last month alone has seen the imprisonment of several other journalists and a police raid on the offices of an internet-tv channel. Ahmet and Nedim were most likely singled out for their recent exposés of police complicity in state terror, including the murder of Armenian-Turkish journalist Hrant Dink four years ago.
Though the USA and EU have expressed tokenistic concern, no genuine and firm criticism of the sentences has been forthcoming, much less so concerning the wider state restrictions on freedom of expression, especially in occupied Kurdistan. Right now European and American leaders are far keener on maintaining what they view as valuable strategic ties – lauding Turkey as an ‘important partner’ rather than risk falling out over the fate of those inside the country who dare to question their government. In some ways this mind-set may have been shored up by Gaddafi’s criticism of Turkish state oppression in Kurdistan during one who his increasingly insane rants; after all no individual or state wants to be publicly viewed as agreeing on any point with the genocidal maniac they are trying to topple.
Ironically, for all the friendships that Erdogan has built through his government’s response to the situation in Libya, Turkey’s actual position has been far from constructive – vehemently hindering proposals for sanctions and a no-fly zone intended to cripple Gaddafi’s regime whilst continuing to supply various despots around North Africa and the Middle East with military hardware. Of course, in this the Erdogan administration is most certainly not alone; many politicians and academics have raised concerns about the effectiveness of a no-fly zone and numerous states including the USA and the UK regularly channel weapons to ruthless dictatorships, most prominently in Saudi Arabia. However, the double standards panning out here underscore the calculated diplomacy at play; with Erdogan & Co brazenly canvassing for support from influential states even where their foreign policy objectives do not align- a stance undoubtedly deriving at least in part from a desire to protect internal abuses from scrutiny or criticism.
This should not be tolerated by those with whom Turkey is attempting to build links. That is not to say that states and regional groupings should not work with the Turkish authorities at all, but that no matter how important the international situations or trade deals in question are, Turkey’s human rights issues should be addressed both firmly and promptly. Erdogan is far from the tyrant that Gadaffi is, but oppressive policies towards minority groups, the crushing of free press and the maintenance of articles in the penal code that conflict with international human rights law on freedom of expression- are all dangerous signs that Turkey is not a liberal democratic state in any meaningful sense. Working alongside Erdogan and his government is one thing – but for the sake of Ahmet Sik, Nedim Seder and thousands of others like them –silence is not acceptable.
Turkey: Journalists vs Police