Democ­racy on Trial in Ankara

The Washington Times Daily - - TURKEY - Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) rep­re­sents the 48th District of Cal­i­for­nia and is chair­man of the House For­eign Af­fairs sub­com­mit­tee on Europe, Eura­sia and Emerg­ing Threats.

Ten years ago, Turkey was a solid NATO ally, a staunch op­po­nent of rad­i­cal Is­lam and a friend of the United States. Today all that is in ques­tion. Turkey’s cur­rent gov­ern­ment is em­phat­i­cally Is­lamist. Pres­i­dent Re­cep Tayyip Er­do­gan has be­come more ag­gres­sive in his Is­lamic be­liefs. There are two rea­sons for us to be se­ri­ously con­cerned:

First, the Turk­ish gov­ern­ment has be­come steadily more aligned with Is­lamist ter­ror­ists in the Mid­dle East. Turkey’s emerg­ing democ­racy, in the past one of the strong­est and most de­vel­oped mul­ti­party sys­tems in the Mid­dle East, is slid­ing into a dic­ta­tor­ship. Pres­i­dent Er­do­gan is cre­at­ing not only a cult of per­son­al­ity, but also a cen­tral­ized state in which all power lies in his hands.

Sec­ond, the gov­ern­ment blinded it­self to the years-long pres­ence of Is­lamic ter­ror­ists on its ter­ri­tory un­til 2016, when the Is­lamic State launched a se­ries of bloody at­tacks on its soil.

The Turk­ish peo­ple will vote in a pub­lic ref­er­en­dum on April 16 on whether to give the pres­i­dent ex­panded ex­ec­u­tive pow­ers. How­ever, free elec­tions are tough to hold in the ab­sence of a free press, which Pres­i­dent Er­do­gan has de­lib­er­ately elim­i­nated.

When the Repub­lic of Turkey joined NATO in 1952, it was a sec­u­lar repub­lic. Al­though the Turk­ish mil­i­tary top­pled sev­eral of the elected gov­ern­ments, in ev­ery case it re­stored power to civil­ian gov­er­nance within a short time.

As many have noted, the na­tion’s faith in its mil­i­tary was dev­as­tated by the failed coup of July 15, 2016. Un­der­stand­ably, the Turk­ish peo­ple ral­lied round their pres­i­dent. He lever­aged that sup­port to im­prison thou­sands of Turk­ish lead­ers who op­posed his ex­pand­ing dic­ta­tor­ship.

Pres­i­dent Er­do­gan over­played his hand by us­ing the coup as a pre­text for purg­ing ev­ery branch of the gov­ern­ment of po­ten­tial op­po­nents, shut­ting down any print and broad­cast me­dia that could chal­lenge his view of re­al­ity.

Declar­ing a state of emer­gency, the gov­ern­ment ar­rested myr­i­ads of jour­nal­ists, sec­u­lar­ists, mil­i­tary of­fi­cers and gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials — vir­tu­ally any­one who did not agree with Pres­i­dent Er­do­gan’s vi­sion for Turkey. More than 100,000 were sacked, more than 40,000 ar­rested. Many suf­fered tor­ture.

The Turk­ish gov­ern­ment blames its tra­vail on a geri­atric Turk­ish re­li­gious philoso­pher liv­ing in ex­ile on a Penn­syl­va­nia farm. Many Turk­ish cit­i­zens, de­spite the lack of ev­i­dence, have ac­cepted the ab­surd claim that Fe­tul­lah Gulen per­son­ally planned and or­dered the coup — Pres­i­dent Er­do­gan’s pre­text for es­tab­lish­ing tyranny.

One ex­am­ple of how far th­ese ridicu­lous purges have gone: Turk­ish soc­cer au­thor­i­ties an­nounced they have fired 94 of­fi­cials, in­clud­ing a num­ber of ref­er­ees, for their ties to the coup.

Tens of thou­sands of cit­i­zens have been ar­rested, and Turkey’s gov­ern­ment is us­ing this coup to set­tle old scores and to clean out the house of those it does not see as suf­fi­ciently loyal to Pres­i­dent Er­do­gan’s vi­sion for Turkey.

Per­haps the most bizarre el­e­ment of this episode was last month’s re­port that Turkey would re­lease 38,000 crim­i­nals from prison to make room for those taken into cus­tody in th­ese purges. Mur­der­ers, rapists and thieves were re­leased in or­der to make room for po­lit­i­cal op­po­nents. It does not get much worse than that.

I want to un­der­line my de­sire to see Turkey be­come an eco­nom­i­cally strong part­ner with the United States, with the na­tions of Europe, and with Turkey’s neigh­bors in the Mid­dle East. The Turks have been su­perb al­lies of the Amer­i­can peo­ple. They are essential to the NATO al­liance.

We must wish the Turk­ish peo­ple well and do what we can to try to help them through th­ese con­fus­ing times. Amer­ica should do all it can to help the Turk­ish peo­ple suc­ceed. For them to suc­ceed, Turkey must have strong demo­cratic in­sti­tu­tions, a free press and a coun­try in which peo­ple abide by the rule of law.

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