MESOP : THE GENERAL PROBLEM CALLED ERDOGAN – Turkey’s Democracy in Decline, Future Looks Bleak

By Zeynep Karatas – Todays Zaman – 28 Jan 2016 – Human Rights Watch’s (HRW) senior Turkey researcher Emma Sinclair-Webb expressed deep concern for the future of Turkey and its declining democracy in light of the sharp spike in human rights violations that have been committed over the past year.

“We are seeing the dismantling of all checks on power of the [country’s] leaders. Turkey is basically dismantling and eroding its democratic framework. This spells, for Turkey, dark times ahead,” the senior researcher stated to the press.Sinclair-Webb was joined by International Executive Director for HRW Kenneth Roth in ?stanbul on Wednesday morning for the international release of the group’s world report for 2016 titled “‘Politics of Fear’ Threatens Rights, Terror Attacks, Refugee Crisis, and Broad Global Crackdown.”

Expounding on the “politics of fear” theme, the Turkey analyst explained that “Turkish political leaders, especially President Recep Tayyip Erdo?an, have shown an unprecedented willingness over the last year to create a climate of fear for their critics and demonize their opponents.”Sinclair-Webb slammed the current government’s oppression of critical voices, whether it be from civilians or the press, and explained: “In instilling fear in your opponents you are in fact demonstrating your own fear: fear of dissent, fear of criticism and fear of people demanding their rights. Over the past year in Turkey, we have witnessed, I think, the most serious deterioration of human rights that I have seen in the entire time I have worked on Turkey, which has been throughout the entire AKP [Justice and Development Party (AK Party)] period.”

For Turkey, the newly released human rights report cited three themes that need attention in the current country’s turbulent political climate which lead to major human rights violations. These included the renewed violence in the Southeast, the crackdown on the media, and the refugee crisis.

Renewed violence in Kurdish region

“The sheer spread of the descent into violence has been so shocking. We see that the state security forces are willing to take the conflict to city centers and that we are seeing that the PKK are a willing partner in taking the conflict to city centers,” Sinclair-Webb explained.The HRW representative stated that the civilian death toll is rising, as is the number of displaced persons who are fleeing their homes amid the conflict. Additionally, the Turkish government has refused to bear any of the responsibility for the crackdown on the media.

“You have a situation in the Southeast which is actually cloaked, there is a fog over it often described as the ‘fog of war,’ in which you literally cannot know circumstances of the kinds of fighting that is going on in city centers,” Sinclair-Webb explained. She added: “The civilian death toll is very high but difficult to give in numbers. On the state side, we know there is a denial of the civilian population being the victim of this terrible declining situation.”

Crackdown on media

Amid the continuing chaos in the country, President Erdo?an’s intolerance of criticism has also taken a dramatic toll on Turkey, with the imprisonment of journalists and the literal takeover of news outlets.Speaking on the crackdown being carried out on the media, the HRW Turkey expert stated, “The scenes that come before our eyes when we think of this are the brutal attack where the police burst into the offices of the Koza ?pek Media group with Bugün TV and other channels, and literally pulling the plug on a live broadcast, and the imprisonment of Can Dündar and the Cumhuriyet Ankara representative Erdem Gül, who were sentenced to jail, where they joined many other colleagues.”

Refugee crisis

The third major concern for Turkey, although it may be the leading concern for Europe, is the influx of refugees that are using Turkey as a transit point. As the Syrian civil war enters its fifth year, the world has been forced to become acquainted with the country’s turmoil because of the waves of refugees that are now reaching European soil. As a close neighbor of Syria, Turkey has hosted refugees from the country as “guests” for a few years now, but has refused them asylum status. This has led to refugees flocking westward. The Aegean Sea between Turkey and Greece has been the site of hundreds of drownings as the refugees attempt a journey to Europe.

Roth touched on this crisis while speaking on Wednesday, suggesting that neighboring countries like Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon should do more to ensure the rights of these refugees are respected. “Obviously, if refugees can have their claims heard with a reasonable prospect of finding safety in a country of first asylum, many will choose that option rather than risking their own lives and the lives of their families on one of these awful rickety boats across the Aegean or across the Mediterranean,” he said.