[Politik] From Suruç to the suspension of the European Convention on Human Rights

There is this amazing software tool Evernote, which I generally use to store online news articles and other non-confidential documents of all kind somewhere in „the cloud“. To make the respective document easily retrievable by intuition, you can immediately add one or more tags. For instance, if you want to save an article on Recep Tayyip Erdogan, you can add the tag „Erdogan“. Once you want to retrieve all articles, notes, pictures, etc. related to Erdogan, you can chose the tag „Erdogan“, and Evernote will compile all entries tagged with Erdogan. You can also retrieve one or more combinations of tags, e.g., all articles which are tagged „Erdogan“, and/or „Turkey at war“, „Bosniak-Turkish friendship“, etc.

In my evernote account, one of the tags with the highest number of entries was created last July, and it is named after Suruç (the tag goes „Suruc“), a town on the Turkish-Syrian border, just opposite to Kobanê. Kobanê (Ain-al Arab) is that Kurdish town which was in the headlines over weeks and months, from fall 2014 through february 2015, while being under heavy attack of Daesh (and please feel free to call this nihilist, terrorist Lumpenproletariat-movement, born in despair, however you like: IS, ISIS,…). After some of the most dramatic reporting on female Kurdish heroines and the direct democratic political project of Rojava, Kobanê would fall into oblivion very soon, to be replaced by other bloodbaths (one of the last news on Kobanê that I could read in mainstream media was in early September 2015, when the picture of the dead three year old Aylan Kurdi shocked the European public. Aylan Kurdi was from Kobanê and died on the Aegean shore of Anatolia, while his family was seeking refuge on the „safe island“ of Europe). In early October 2014, Recep Tayyip Erdogan (RTE), whose proximity to Daesh is an open secret, said about Kobanê,“Kobanê has fallen, is falling.“ The project of Rojava represented pretty much the opposite of his own mindset, and the fact that Rojava, a majoritarian Kurdish canton bordering Turkey with its considerable Kurdish population, dared to have own political plans, made him furious. Obviously, he favored Daesh.

Kobanê did not fall, and not much went well for RTE in the months preceding July 2015. His Kobanê forecast was a slap in the face for Anatolia’s Kurds, and probably an important factor in the course of the general elections on 7 June 2015, when RTE’s party AKP lost the absolute majority for the first time after 2002. More importantly, the pro-Kurdish party HDP with its smart frontman Selahattin Demirtaş made it into the parliament. „Frontman“ – and not leader – is a quite suiting title for Demirtaş: unlike RTE’s hateful and polarizing speaches, handsome Demirtaş (who was often called „the Kurdish Obama“) campaigned by playing the Saz on Turkish television, an instrument which is popular amongst both Turks and Kurds. He really never lost his temper, even in midst of the numerous, most primitive attacks against him, and he always kept his friendly smile.

RTE seemed to have passed a dramatic watershed, and his dreams of a one-man state were in real danger of falling through. By early summer 2015, civil society in Turkey was fighting its heroic battle against one of the most addictive drugs you can think of: an updated cult of personality — nothing unknown in Turkey from its very foundation, but under changed parameters now. Just before the elections, things were not easy for the democratic camp, and yet, the outcome of the political process was not yet predictable, neither. Very carefully, people sometimes even dared to conjure the „spirit of Gezi“, Turkey’s powerful and shining spring-moment of 2013. Some of my friends were volunteering as election watchdogs during the 2015 elections, because they were convinced that the AKP regime would try to manipulate the elections. When it was finally clear that the HDP had hurdled the merciless 10% threshold (which is, like the whole constitution from 1982, a remnant of the 1980 coup d’état), they gathered on public places to dance halay. They thought they had won an important victory — and choleric RTE fell into a rage, again, and prepared for vengeance.

Consequently, the RTE camp chose to wage war against the political process by the use of heavy anti-political weaponry. First, it ignored the election results and refused to accept the idea of coalition formation, which would have been the „normal“ way of handling such a situation. The election results were, after all, not devastating for the AKP: 40,9 % is a result that many political parties in Germany can only dream of. Nevertheless, the situation was in a way desperate for the AKP, and especially for its always roaring alpha male, RTE: deeply involved in crime, corruption and nepotism, he couldn’t allow the democratic process to block his pathway towards a Putin-styled presidential system (and one should not forget, neither, the opposition’s inglorious role). But, the AKP isn’t a random political party embedded in a multiparty system. The fact that it actually is (or was) embedded in a multiparty system, is rather ignored by the AKP and RTE, or considered an annoying obstruction. Only the party is in possession of the true view on Turkey, and they are committed to a clear sense of mission: to transform „Old Turkey“ into „New Turkey“ (Yeni Türkiye). The way how „New Turkey“ should take shape can only be achieved under one-party rule, AKP followers believe. Even non-AKP followers often uttered that „coalitions aren’t for Turkey“, as history showed.

In any serious political order based on democratic principles of pluralism and the rule of law, a president with RTE’s crime record would be unsustainable. Many foreigners and domestic oppositional observers were laughing loudly about RTE’s ceaușescuesque faible for megalomaniac, tasteless buildings and his general parvenu-style. Everybody who wants to see it, will see that RTE isn’t a regular politician. He is behaving like a feudal lord. As such, RTE hates and fears nothing more than laughter, which explains his hysteric and nervous committment to suing people for insulting „His Highness“. The number of libel suits against journalists, artists, students, and even children is probably unrivaled. One of the most abundant sources of amusement is his illegally built „Ak Saray“ (White Palace), the presidential palace in Ankara, which is often referred to as „Kaçak Saray“ (Illegal Palace) by the critical public. RTE and his followers, for instance, call the building „Cumhurbaşkanlığı Külliyesi“: Presidential Complex. The latter designation, the „presidential complex“, perfectly summarizes RTE’s mindset and psychological complexes. He dreams of a presidential system with him being the president — but there is more to it: by calling the building „külliye“, a term that is used for building complexes around Ottoman mosques, this designation draws to RTE’s Neo-Ottoman ambitions of becoming the Muslim leader in a region stretching from the Balkans to the Middle East.

RTE believes to be able to achieve this by the massive abuse of religious institutions as the most important tool of soft power. What it means to abuse religious institutions massively, can be experienced five times daily (and recently even moreoften) by the 104 decibel level that the ezan, the prayer calls, sometimes reach. I personally love to listen to the moment of spirituality and beauty that the prayer call can facilitate, for instance in Sarajevo during prayer time. I never perceive Sarajevo’s audiotaped prayer calls in quranic Arabic as disturbing — whereas in Istanbul, I usually closed the window. 104 decibel are somewhere between the volume of a ghettoblaster and a chainsaw, and moreover, not every live-performing muezzin is gifted with such a beautiful voice that you want to listen to him at chainsaw volume.

The reason for this abuse of religion is too obvious: religion, and in the given case, official Turkish Sunni Islam and its institutions, are the perfect weapon to beat pluralist democracy by gaining massive plebiscitary support by devout masses. Against the regime’s opponents, this „plebiscitarian sultanism“ can even serve as an argument for „real democracy“: look, more than half of the population is supporting me. And aren’t all critics of Islam, in the end, islamophobic? It would be wrong not to point to the problematic role that Islamic institutions play in RTE’s nervous struggle for power. And yet, I am not referring to Islam per se, of course. This would be as absurd as judging Christianity per se because of the role that the Serbian Orthodox Church has played in what Milan Milošević has labeled „plebiscitarian caesarism“: in the 1980s and 1990s, the Serbian Orthodox Church and its institutions were brought into line and used by Serb leaders to mobilize the masses which were just demoralized by the sinking star of the precedent societal myth of socialist brotherhood and unity (bratstvo i jedinstvo). In Turkey, the situation is at once very different and somewhat similar: the precedent hegemonic myth of Kemalism is deligitimized and doesn’t correspond to social reality any more, if it ever did. Mustafa Kemal’s, and more importantly, his heirs’ forceful project of top-down modernization and westernization, simply didn’t work for most parts of society.

As one of the symbolic benchmarks for (European) modernization and westernization, suffrage and the role of women in society is often discussed. When I first came to study in Turkey in 2006, many Istanbulite women told me proudly that Turkish women were franchized prior to many of their European sisters. True: only think of Switzerland. On the other hand, one of my new, female fellow students from Istanbul was forced to unveil her head every day in a small white box at the entrance of Istanbul University’s brutalist Letters Department. She originates from a traditional family in eastern central Anatolia, where Mustafa Kemal’s cultural projects were largely disregarded. We met again in Istanbul on 30 March 2014 to have tea in Süleymaniye. It was the day of the Turkish local elections, and I just came back from Sabiha Gökçen Airport, where I had brought a group of German students whom I had accompanied as a co-coordinator of an exchange program. Earlier on the same day, in the morning, there was confusion and anxiety, because RTE had spontaneously decided to delay the switch to summer time, allegedly because of the elections. The result was chaos at the airports and confusion about the implications for flight schedules. The group of German students was lucky, and their flight was adapted to RTE time. Perhaps, I thought, RTE just wanted to show to everybody that, if he pleased so, he was even able to change the course of time. Or cut off electricity, as it was also reported from many eastern provinces.

Sipping on our tea glasses, my friend’s phone was ringing all the time. I realized that she was talking to her brothers and relatives in her memleket, her homeland in eastern central Anatolia, where people tried to figure out who had voted for which party, even before the election results were counted and made public. She told me that her family’s branch of their tribe (aşiret) had, upon decision of her father, voted for a non-AKP Islamist party (Saadet), because they had lost trust in the AKP’s moral legitimacy following the 2013 corruption scandal. She stressed the importance of same vote by every branch of the tribe, in order to impede dissent and outbreaks of violence. Her relatives were nervous about a tribe member who had announced that his branch would vote for the pro-Kurdish BDP. It turned out that the deviant tribe member pulled himself together and voted for the same party as the other tribe members did. This example shows that suffrage isn’t per se an indicator of free choice. My friend didn’t disagree with her father’s decision over her voice: she just didn’t question it. Questioning it, however, was not an option, even if she had disagreed. Asked for her own political opinion, she said that voting for any of the „non-religious“ parties (like HDP/BDP and CHP) was unthinkable for her. The most important criterion, to her, was the party’s committment to Islam, since Islamic spirituality played an important role in her life (and in our conversations). She was not fancing Mustafa Kemal’s view on society, and in later discussions, she turned out to be a supporter of RTE, who had abolished the headscarf-ban at universities. Unlike Mustafa Kemal, she perceived  RTE as a positive leader who was able to guarantee her personal and her community’s security – despite her vote for Saadet. And yet, the main difference between the cult of personality around Mustafa Kemal and RTE consist of the propositions articulated by the respective leader, alive or post-mortem.

Like any other cult of personality, the cult around RTE is feeding on wide-spread, yet simplified pseudo-transcendental and religious believes. Besides moral values of everyday behavior like the female dresscode, it includes topoi of victimhood, bloodshed and belligerent invocations to fight inner and external ennemies. And, most importantly: every cult of personality is arguing with security. To be effective, the topos of bloodshed needs real bloodshed; victimhood needs victimhood, and war needs war. To argue with security, insecurity must be achieved or at least projected. With the massacre of Suruç, where 34 left-wing youth were killed by a suicide assassin (or „human bomb“), a series of bloodshed was initiated, and finally amounted to war in the southeast, to the killing of many people by brute force, to the destruction of the historic district Sur in Diyarbakır, as well as many other places. A general atmosphere of insecurity was fostered. RTE, his accomplices and camp followers, succesfully conveyed the message that some more or less obscure forces from abroad and inside Turkey wanted to destabilize the country.


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