No end to crack­down, Er­doğan in­sists

EU warn­ing af­ter pres­i­dent backs death penalty re­turn Re­li­gious fo­cus to events mark­ing at­tempted coup

The Guardian - - INTERNATIONAL - Ka­reem Sha­heen

The Turk­ish pres­i­dent, Re­cep Tayyip Er­doğan, sig­nalled yes­ter­day that his gov­ern­ment would not re­lent in its crack­down against the al­leged per­pe­tra­tors of last year’s coup at­tempt, which has been broad­ened to in­clude dis­si­dents, jour­nal­ists and hu­man rights ac­tivists.

In a pair of com­bat­ive and emo­tive speeches re­plete with re­li­gious in­vo­ca­tions, on the an­niver­sary of moves to unseat him, Er­doğan pledged to sup­port the rein­tro­duc­tion of the death penalty if it was ap­proved in par­lia­ment, draw­ing a warn­ing from the Euro­pean Union about Turkey’s stalled mem­ber­ship talks.

Er­doğan also con­demned an op­po­si­tion leader who re­fused to take part in the com­mem­o­ra­tions, in a move that will anger western al­lies. The op­po­si­tion took part in thwart­ing the coup at­tempt, which Turkey blames on sup­port­ers of the ex­iled cleric Fethul­lah Gülen.

Er­doğan’s fo­cus on re­li­gion was also a pointed chal­lenge to sec­u­lar­ists who be­lieve the re­pub­lic’s found­ing prin­ci­ples are be­ing un­der­mined. The com­mem­o­ra­tions in­cluded a recita­tion of Qur’anic verses on be­trayal, mar­tyr­dom and stand­ing one’s ground in front of en­e­mies, as well as an ex­tended prayer by the head of the re­li­gious af­fairs direc­torate on the steps of the Turk­ish par­lia­ment.

Er­doğan’s un­com­pro­mis­ing words, de­liv­ered by an ap­par­ently buoy­ant pres­i­dent, sug­gested no let-up in the di­vi­sions that have po­larised Turkey along lines of re­li­gion, sec­u­lar­ism, class and eth­nic­ity in the run-up to pres­i­den­tial and par­lia­men­tary elec­tions sched­uled for 2019.

“Did my na­tion march against the scoundrels and traitors with weapons in their hands? No, my na­tion march with their flag and their faith,” Er­doğan de­clared at a pre-dawn rally mark­ing the mo­ment when the coup plot­ters bombed the Grand Na­tional Assem­bly. “There is no other ex­am­ple of this. There is no other peo­ple that stopped the bul­lets with its chests.”

The ad­dress was timed to mark the ex­act mo­ment a year ago when fighter jets bombed the Turk­ish par­lia­ment as tanks rolled on to the streets of Ankara and Is­tan­bul in an at­tempt to over­throw the elected gov­ern­ment.

The coup at­tempt was de­feated when thou­sands of Turks of all po­lit­i­cal stripes took to the streets to re­sist the sol­diers, at the cost of at least 290 dead and more than 2,100 wounded. Turkey has yet to come to terms with the coup at­tempt, and lives in the shadow of a re­sponse that has seen tens of thou­sands of civil ser­vants, judges, aca­demics, jour­nal­ists, po­lice and mil­i­tary of­fi­cers purged or im­pris­oned over al­leged links to Gülen’s move­ment.

That crack­down has taken in dis­si­dents, hu­man rights cam­paign­ers and se­nior op­po­si­tion politi­cians. Turkey now im­pris­ons more jour­nal­ists than any other coun­try and, un­der the state of emer­gency, many of those de­tained have been held for months with­out for­mal in­dict­ment.

Er­doğan in­di­cated in his speech that the na­tional se­cu­rity coun­cil would this week rec­om­mend an­other three-month ex­ten­sion of the state of emer­gency.

But more con­tro­ver­sial was his re­it­er­a­tion in his two speeches, the first be­fore hun­dreds of thou­sands at the Bospho­rus bridge in Is­tan­bul where 36 peo­ple died, that he would back the death penalty in the event of its ap­proval by par­lia­ment.

Turkey abol­ished cap­i­tal pun­ish­ment as part of re­forms ush­ered in by Er­doğan as prime min­is­ter to bring the coun­try’s laws into line with Euro­pean Union leg­is­la­tion as part of Ankara’s ac­ces­sion talks. But ne­go­ti­a­tions have been frozen for years and the re­turn of cap­i­tal pun­ish­ment, a key de­mand of his na­tion­al­ist al­lies, would put a de­fin­i­tive end to them.

In re­sponse to chants of “idam is­teriz” (“we want ex­e­cu­tion”) from crowds at both ral­lies, the pres­i­dent said he would not hes­i­tate to sign such a bill into law if it were to be passed.

The pres­i­dent de­scribed the coup plot­ters as “un­be­liev­ers” and said the coun­try would “cut the heads off” traitors bent on desta­bil­is­ing the na­tion. He said that he wanted those stand­ing trial for tak­ing part in the coup to wear a uni­form “like in Guan­tá­namo”.

The pres­i­dent of the Euro­pean com­mis­sion, Jean-Claude Juncker, warned yes­ter­day that re­in­stat­ing the death penalty would end any hope of Turkey join­ing the EU. “If Turkey were to in­tro­duce the death penalty, the Turk­ish gov­ern­ment would defini­tively slam the door on EU mem­ber­ship,” he wrote in a Ger­man news­pa­per. “[Turkey] should move closer to Europe rather than mov­ing away from us.”

Er­doğan also tar­geted the leader of the main op­po­si­tion party, Ke­mal Kılıç­daroğlu, who one year ago joined the pres­i­dent at a rally in Is­tan­bul af­ter the coup, rais­ing the prospect of unit­ing the di­vided na­tion.

The op­po­si­tion leader has re­peat­edly used the phrase “con­trolled coup” to de­scribe the putsch, an in­sin­u­a­tion that the gov­ern­ment may have known about it in ad­vance and did noth­ing to stop it.

The op­po­si­tion has long de­manded a more thor­ough ac­count of events on the night of the coup, but gov­ern­ment sup­port­ers be­lieve hints of a con­spir­acy are a be­trayal and a se­ri­ous dis­re­spect to the me­mories of those who died re­sist­ing the mil­i­tary takeover.

Kılıç­daroğlu’s party de­clined to take part in the com­mem­o­ra­tion events, ar­gu­ing that the gov­ern­ment had co-opted the nar­ra­tive of the coup’s de­feat.

‘If Turkey in­tro­duced the death penalty it would slam the door on EU mem­ber­ship’

Main pho­to­graph: Adem Al­tan/ AFP/Getty

Above and far left, huge crowds at a rally in Ankara mark the coup an­niver­sary; left, Pres­i­dent Er­doğan and his wife, Emine, ar­rive; right, calls to prayer fig­ured promi­nently

A mon­u­ment to those killed in the coup at­tempt was in­au­gu­rated yes­ter­day

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