Op-Ed

The West remains silent as Turkey clamps down on citizens’ freedoms

A woman was among those injured when Turkish police broke up a demonstration in from of a government-seized newspaper.
A woman was among those injured when Turkish police broke up a demonstration in from of a government-seized newspaper. Zaman via AP

The second takeover of an opposition media group through a ruling by a highly politicized judiciary has proved that Turkey is already a “democratatorship.”

Democratators, as defined by the Committee to Protect Journalists’ Joel Simon, are skillful enough to be re-elected in popular elections and yet use their mandate to justify repressive policies.

Turkish democracy is an American investment, with Europe as a major shareholder.

The silence in European and American capitals in the face of an increasingly brutal Turkish regime resembles the denial of near-bankrupt businessmen who adamantly insist that their portfolio is performing well. Yet, with 50 percent of society still in opposition, Turkey is not yet a lost cause. But every such cause that is lost becomes so precisely because the friends of democracy play the three monkeys who hear, see and speak no evil.

We, the opposition groups in Turkey, are no longer the full half of the glass. We are the empty half. Empty, in the sense that we don’t have political leadership that can challenge democratator par excellence, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, at the ballot box.

Empty in the sense that, with the conversion of Zaman Media Group into a pro-government media, we lack communication channels to warn the public that Turkey is on the verge of collapse.

Empty in the sense that we now find ourselves all too empty-handed.

And yet the democratic world is silent. Western capitals play a strange word game of finding new adjectives to put in front of “concerned.” The West is seriously, deeply, troublingly concerned about the silencing of critical media in Turkey. From where I’m standing, all these adjectives add up to a big, fat “not at all.”

I view this situation from the perspective of a self-exiled journalist, one who is trying to save his publication from the “caretakers” of the Turkish government.

But more than 1 million Kurdish citizens of Turkey, internally displaced in the past six months by the operation without ethical borders of the Turkish army in the country’s southeast have the same perspective.

The country’s ever-forgotten Alevis —Shi’a Muslims — have the same perspective. The left-wing intellectuals, religious minorities, businessmen who supported the education and dialogue activities of the Hizmet Movement, the secular and the veiled women of the country — we all share this perspective.

We are not concerned, Western friends! We are in jail; we are in exile; we are on blacklists; we are in pieces; we are forgotten. We are heartbroken.

The world saw the bloodied face of a veiled woman, crying in shock as Turkish police broke up a peaceful demonstration in front of Zaman’s headquarters.

“We don’t make a veiled/non-veiled distinction,” the Turkish democratator said the next day.

Yes, Mr. Erdogan, we know. You don’t make a Turkish/Kurdish, right-wing/left-wing, religious/secular distinction, either. Anybody critical of your lust for power is a traitor, an agent, a spy. We know only too well that you make no distinctions.

But we expected the West to make a distinction between a democratator and an ally. We didn’t expect financial sanctions or a halt to the European Union membership process.

We love our country, but had just one Western country declared it would welcome asylum applications from the oppressedin Turkey; had the Scholars at Risk Program of Western universities declared they would welcome applications from blacklisted academics in Turkey; had prominent columnists in world media offered their columns to Turkey’s censored journalists, then we might find ourselves again the full half of the glass.

Kerim Balci is editor-in-chief of Turkish Review and was a columnist for Zaman and Today’s Zaman dailies. Both publications were taken over by the Turkish government in the latest operations against critical media.

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