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Turkey: the rule of law no longer applied

interview with Cengiz Aktar

Turkish university students demonstrating against the government in Ankara on Nov 6, 2015

Turkish university students demonstrating against the government in Ankara on Nov 6, 2015 AFP

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has signed into law a constitutional amendment lifting immunity for deputies who face potential prosecution. The reform, approved on May 20 by 376 of 550 lawmakers, was proposed by the ruling party AKP and is seen as a weapon against the leaders of the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) under investigation for allegedly supporting the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), considered a terrorist group by Ankara. A country where "the rule of law is no longer applied," the independent press cannot report and religious radicalism is spreading, while the government is focused on fighting the Kurds, says political analyst Cengiz Aktar in the interview with Gariwo.

Were there any political reactions after the constitutional amendment that lifted the immunities of 138 lawmakers, mainly from the opposition parties HDP and CHP?

Most recently there has been a petition signed by 85 opinion leaders calling on the CHP to take that amendment to the Constitutional Court, because it is unconstitutional. Very few CHP MPs voted “yes” with the chairman of the party, while the majority of the CHP was against the bill. But now in Turkey every day something unconstitutional or unlawful is happening, like big building projects, all illegal, because they have no proper environmental impact analysis. Turkey has become a State where the rule of law is no longer applied and citizens have no guarantee of security. The only party which still proposes other kind of policy is the HDP and the government is trying to get rid of it and to keep it out of the parliament.

Is there any other kind of opposition?

Of course there is, 50% of the Turkish population if not more are opposed to the ruling party, but this is not an organized opposition and some of those against the government are also against the Kurds. Very few people understand this ruling party is dividing everybody: “divide et impera”. And as long as the opposition is divided nothing will happen in the country.

It seems that now citizens don’t want to march on the streets, as they did in the past years.

Yes, this is a new phenomenon since the "Gezi event" in spring 2013. Many people are now afraid, there is no more civil protest because the meetings are forbidden or the police brutally disperse the gatherings.

You recently took part to the 'Istanbul Seminars 2016' organized by the association 'Reset-Dialogues on Civilizations' and the Istanbul Bilgi University, on “Religion, Rights and the Public Sphere”, with religious radicalization under the spotlight. How is the situation in Turkey regarding this danger?

The radicalization is there, the intelligence authorities are talking about 8,500 new recruits in the last two years for ISIS - Daesh from Turkey. There is a symbiosis between radical groups in Turkey, Iraq and Syria and the Turkish Islam is getting more and more connected to the Salafist movement and its various schools of thoughts. Turkey is already suffering for many terror attacks targeting Kurds, tourists and the civilians.

Is the government taking serious measures against this?

No, there are press reports according to which for some terror attacks the law enforcement authorities had learned beforehand but didn’t do anything to prevent them and this is worrisome. Now they are apparently realizing the danger of ISIS, but they are incapable of fighting it effectively.

Apart from police measures are also other means, like education, used to fight radicalism?

Maybe some Western European countries are trying also other means, unfortunately it doesn’t happen in Turkey, where the officials have always been much too tolerant with the radical Islam.

Regarding the press freedom, after the seizure of the opposition paper Zaman, with the English online version Today’s Zaman closed and the Turkish edition censored, are there other impartial newspapers?

Almost not. The only newspaper, which still tries trying to be objective, is Cumhuriyet, and its editor-in-chief together with its Ankara correspondent have been sentenced to five years jail. The weekly Agos is good but cannot cover everything. The only remaining tools for free expression and opinion are the social media, especially Twitter, and this is why the government is so allergic to it, and then the Internet and the Kurdish media, like the news-agency DIHA. But of course the majority of the Turkish population doesn’t have access to the social media and is under heavy pressure by the official propaganda.

Turkey signed the agreement with the European Union to help curb the flow of migrants into Europe in exchange for visa-free travel to the EU for Turks. Do you believe it is working?

The only tangible result of this agreement is the diminishing number of crossings from Turkey to Greece. But what for? Syrians have no prospects, no future in Turkey. Therefore they will be tempted to leave the country and sooner or later the pressure will mount again. Only 10% of them are in the camps, the rest are in the streets and have difficulties in the daily life. Besides the figures of asylum seekers or illegal migrants rejected from Greece to Turkey are very low and also the resettlements of Syrians from Turkey to Western European countries are very few.

In southeast Turkey the clashes between the security forces and the Kurdish militants have caused devastations. How can the Kurdish issue find a solution?

The army is running this operation and thinks to solve the problem, but it’s a chimera, a fine dream. Turkish authorities tried to solve this problem by force before and have always failed and most probably will fail again. Turkey would probably need a third party, a “honest broker” like the US in the former Yugoslavia to create the conditions for a lasting peace, but we are very far away from it.

The appointment of Mr. Binali Yildirim as the new Prime Minister is a change in the Turkish politics?

He is no Prime Minister, he looks like a Prime Minister. He announced that his task is to facilitate the creation of a presidential system, which means he will be working against his himself.

And Mr. Ahment Davutoglu was better?

Davutoglu was a creation of Mr. Erdogan, and when he decided that his function and utility was over, he got rid of him.

Cengiz Aktar is Senior Scholar at Istanbul Policy Center, Professor of EU studies and  advocate of Turkey's integration into the EU, expert in minorities issues and supporter of the Turkish-Armenian dialogue, former director at the United Nations for 22 years, writer and columnist at Al-Jazeera network and Hrant Dink Foundation's Board member.

by Viviana Vestrucci

13 June 2016

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