This was taken during a 40-minute stroll on Akdeniz Avenue, in Istanbul’s Fatih neighborhood last April that I posted about here. It was early spring, two months before the attacks at Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport that killed more than 40 people would launch President Recep Erdogan on his fast track path to all but absolute power. Once lauded as a shining example of reform in the region, Turkey quickly began loosing its luster.
There’s always a tipping point where democracy dies; and Turkey’s President Erdoğan reached it last week, when he dismissed another 10,000 civil servants, closed more media outlets and, crucially, arrested the editor and a dozen of his finest journalists on Cumhuriyet.
That’s now more than 160 media outlets shut down by Erdogan since the failed coup, and more than 100,000 civil servants purged, mostly dismissed but many also arrested. There’s no indication that the purges will end any time soon, at least not from Erdogan, who remains unapologetic.
“I don’t care if they call me a dictator or whatever else,” he said today, “it goes in one ear, out the other. What matters is what my people call me.”
The speed with which things continue to deteriorate is also notable, and alarming.
The speed of Turkey’s decline is mind-boggling, even when you live through its the day-to-day machinations.
This week started with the Turkish government announcing plans to reintroduce the death penalty at the urging of the country’s strongman, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in order to garner the support of ultra-nationalists in his bid to expand the powers of his presidency. Later in the week came the arrests of the editor-in-chief and columnists of Cumhuriyet, Turkey’s oldest paper and a symbol of its fast-eroding secularism, on trumped-up charges of terrorism. And finally, Thursday night brought the detentions of Selahattin Demirtas, the charismatic leader of the country’s pro-Kurdish party, and Figen Yuksekdag, the co-leader of the party. Ten other elected Kurdish deputies were also arrested.
As I write these lines, citizens cannot communicate to organize demonstrations — Twitter is down in Turkey, Facebook is unreachable, and social media applications such as WhatsApp remain blocked. The social media crackdown is an entirely unnecessary measure; who would go out and risk arrest when there is an emergency rule and a formal ban on protests? Protests happen in free and semi-free societies — or when people have the feeling that they have a chance to make an impact. There was a time when mass urban protests shook the country and pushed the government to announce a series of reforms. Today’s Turkey is a shell of itself. No such optimism remains.
Whatever shine was there last spring is long since gone.