As Turkey moves closer to elections, the chronically tangled up areas which further knotted up under the current regime are slowly surfacing.
Occupy Gezi protests has paved the way to most issues being brought back to the spotlight, giving space to the opposition to dig in on Erdogan’s weaknesses. Divisions inside the ruling party have also became visible in the interim. The street has brought the courage back to some, and the motivation to others to believe that it is possible to change things. Although the intentions are good, the direction is still not clear. In other words, for the knots to come undone, the country needs time. But it is exactly what Turkey does not have: time is running out and the country is rushing towards regional elections in March, followed by general elections in 2015. With the recent events, there is even talk of early general elections, and the voices on the streets in major cities are certainly loud, convincing and increasingly anti-government. The frustration is fueled by government’s continuing acts of injustice, its insensitivity to public demands, and its determination to trudge forth with dubious investment schemes and murky foreign aid activities.
On the justice front: the trials of the two young men, killed during this summer’s protests, took place this month. Ali Ismail Korkmaz and Mehmet Ayvalitas were both merely kids, and both fatally injured, one beaten to oblivion, the other razed to ground by a car driven into a crowd of civilian protesters. Ayvalitas’s mother soon followed in her son’s footsteps, her heart failing her at the pain of her loss.
It is not so much the brutal deaths of these young men that is distressing, it is the unwillingness of the Erdogan government to bring those responsible to justice. In Ali Ismail’s case, there is a graphic video of his beating. We know who the perpetrators are. We can see their faces from in the black and white security camera footage. We know how they hit, and how many times. Yet flimsy excuses stated at the courthouse during the hearing – the cop kicking Ali Ismail in the video: “my foot was hurting that day, so I couldn’t have kicked hard enough”; the no-show of the accused in Ayvalitas’ hearing couple of days later; followed by the courts’ call for a future date for the trials postponing any hope of a resolution for another four months, with the court possibly aiming a wrap due to lack of further evidence and time running out, are heart breaking so much as the closure that is evading the family of the victims.
Blocking access to justice in Turkey is nothing new. However things have never been this chronic, on such a wide scale, and so blatantly in our faces. On December 17, the day the corruption headlines fell on the papers, and police issued raids at the houses of the elite gang of alleged robbers with links to the Prime Minister’s son and possibly Erdogan himself, direct intervention by the government – the Ministry of Interior to be exact- took place in the run of the investigation with immediate transfers of prosecutors and chiefs of police. It was a record number of officials transferred in a matter of a few days, and the speed in which it took place was merely blinding. Anyone, anywhere that was remotely involved in the investigation was moved to a different post, effective immediately. Newbies were brought in to run the investigation, and all due power was taken from the prosecutor to conduct a covert investigation. No investigating without the knowledge of the powers-that-be, that was the final line. The prosecutor would from now on have to notify the Ministry of Interior of his every move.
As the music died and the high ranking officials, judges, prosecutors, and the police were shifted around, and only after the Prime Minister was confident that no harm would come to him or to his family, weeks later, his son succumbed to the invites to be questioned in relation to the unfolding corruption scandal.
Justice and security back in relative control, the government then shifted its gaze to the next problem: The Internet. When it became clear that with the government intervention there would not be a transparent investigation of the alleged corruption claims, sound recordings of phone conversations between heads of corporations and Erdogan and those close to him had already started circulating on social media sites such as Twitter, Soundcloud, YouTube, Vimeo, The Prime Minister had already declared Twitter as public enemy number one during occupy Gezi. Now he needed a more extensive hand over the public airwaves to control the dissemination of information and block it where necessary. A bill, prepared in haste and rushed off to the Parliament in early February, passed around 11 p.m. on a Tuesday with a show of hands by the AKP majority. Should the President ratify it, absolute power will be granted to the government to close down any site it considers problematic.
Turkey is a multi-cultural society. The Anatolian heartland itself is a palimpsest where the more you dig, the more you find, layer upon layer, civilization, belief, language, all piled one on top of the other. A mishmash, a mix bag, a mosaic. Yet it has never really been a “melting pot”. The cultures do stand apart, and the beliefs take caution not to intermingle. That said, the country has had its tumultuous yet more democratic times mainly under coalition governments. The Turkish parliament needs just that: Poliphony. So does the Turkish public.
However that said, voices of the people are trying to be muted with all these attempts at censorship. The circle around what is left of a free and just media is becoming tighter, life in Turkey becoming suffocating.
Still, if you talk to the man on the street in the bustling metropolis of Istanbul, you will sense the strong will, the determination, no matter which party they vote for. No matter how much you goad one, he will decide for himself in the end. The individuality of the Turkish people have many a times been insulted by the very Turks themselves, calling those that vote for the popular choice flocks of sheep. However, the man who had to trudge through snow in the Eastern highlands, with the corpse of his baby son strapped to his back, he is no sheep. He may or may not have voted for the governing party, he may not be educated, nor rich, certainly not a member of the 1% gang, but that man is no sheep. Sorry.
In Turkey, we live parallel lives. It is not much different than the jumbled accusations of the Prime Minister over a “parallel government” an entity, he claims, that holds the ropes behind the scenes in this recent corruption scandal, and in the “scenarios over Turkey”.
A gang of thugs that “push buttons”.
The elusive “interest lobby”.
For the group that holds Erdogan dear, and continues to vote for him with eyes closed, these are nice excuses, viable conspiracy theories to hold onto the dream that their Prime Minister, the man who they voted for is speck-less, spotless, innocent as a newborn. The other option would be too painful. Imagine cladding yourself in a white bed-sheet and walking the streets to follow up on the words of your leader who in turn turns out to be a kingpin of corruption. Now, the sheets represent their “burial cloth” a Muslim tradition of being buried naked only wrapped in a clean, white sheet. And the act follows an Erdogan speech making reference to his determination to fight at the ballot box to the death: “we clad our burial cloths on this road.”
The images of middle-aged man walking around their bedsheets to show support for their president do create some serious stock for running jokes. However it doesn’t change the fact that Erdogan has a fanatic supporter base. Although recent charges of massive corruption have left huge dents in his party and band of supporters, the white sheeted crowd is still there.
Now this is the big city. With fingers on the mobile phones, tablets, keypads, tweeting away. A war of words, a war of worlds. However in the parallel universe we call rural Turkey, it doesn’t change the fact that there are hoards of young people unemployed, girls left without a proper education and married off soon as they get their first period (and sometimes before), preventable child deaths. Poverty, ignorance, pedophilia, illness and death. None of these people have the luxury or the free time in their hands to clad themselves in white bedsheets and walk the streets of their villages. If they did, they would probably be takes for the town’s lunatic. However it is these votes, primarily, that will determine the faith of the bloody battle that is being fought in the urban landscape, if you wish, in the parallel world.