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Turkey’s Systematic Regression from the Rule of Law

By Eren Kaya

The Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) have been in power in Turkey since 2002. The power that the AKP gained via democratic parliamentary elections has systematically and methodically turned into a one-man reign over recent years.

Although it is widely acknowledged that Erdoğan mostly owes his success to the Sunni conservative electoral votes, with only 12% of the population favoring the decision to make Islamic law the official law of Turkey [1] - It is safe to assume that his supporters make a pragmatic rather than a religious choice.

The majority of AKP supporters appear to define themselves as Muslims rather than Turks, and Turkey’s Middle Eastern style nationalism lives off religious pillars to survive and even flourish. Erdoğan assured his followers that Turkey was much closer to the Middle East, than it is to Europe. This recognition is what makes him the tyrant of a once secular and Western-oriented Turkey to a now Islamist, hostile, nationalistic and oppressive Turkey.


The only power that seemed to be likely to stop Erdoğan from dismantling constitutional safeguards and pursuing his intention of becoming an authoritarian president was the opposition party People’s Democratic Party (HDP). The pro-Kurdish, pro-women, pro- democracy, pro-liberty opposition party was born with a brand new description that differentiated it from its pro-Kurdish predecessors. It promised to represent all citizens in parliament. This was described as “Turkey-ization” and found its grounds immediately after the Gezi protests where the Turkish leftists and liberals started to comprehend what being a minority and what oppression meant in practice.

In the June 2015 general elections, HDP’s co-chair Selahattin Demirtaş coined the progressive and highly effective slogan with an anti-authoritarian emphasis "We won't let you become president!", on which they built their campaign.


Indeed the HDP did not let him become president! The elections of June 7, 2015 marked a milestone, with this revolutionary political party gaining 13% of the electoral votes and for the first time in Turkish political history, it was able to attract the votes of conservatives, liberals, feminists, Kurds and Turks all at the same time. Although the HDP was expected to reach the 10% threshold required to enter parliament, 13% was an unexpected and unprecedented result. Among the many firsts, HDP placed great emphasis on representation of women and minorities. This victory, (which was the strongest possible barrier to autocracy as it blocked Erdogan’s push towards an executive presidency, and which combined with control of judicial and legislative branches amounted to a soft dictatorship) was mostly the result of Selahattin Demirtaş’s political brilliance made up of humour, sarcasm and the use of effective social media.


HDP’s victory started a new era in Turkey at the time, if it did not slow down, or even block Erdoğan’s path to dictatorship. However, by calling everyone who opposed his rule terrorists, traitors, and outlaws; Erdoğan triggered hatred, and violence flourished. Blocking the way for a coalition government, Erdogan called for snap elections in November 2015.

The Suruç massacre occurred, on July 2, 2015, where ISIS claimed responsibility for killing 33 young people who were on their way to Kobane to deliver toys to children [2]. Security forces’ battles were not limited to the PKK [3] (Kurdistan Workers’ Party), but they also attacked civilians living in the Kurdish cities of Turkey.

On October 10, 2015 Turkey witnessed one of the deadliest massacres in its history in Ankara. Two bombs were detonated outside Ankara Central railway station and a peace rally organized by leftists, Kurds, Alevis and other anti-AKP organizations were attacked. The bombings, scheduled only a few weeks before the snap November elections killed 103 people and hundreds were left wounded [4]. The war with the HDP, which had gradually transformed into a war with the Kurds up until this massacre, then extended the threatening message to non-Kurds who stood up against Erdoğan and his ruling party.


Since then, curfews have been declared in 23 Kurdish towns which have created grounds for massive human rights violations. More than 500,000 civilians have been forcibly displaced and 500 civilians including women and children have been killed. The death toll is believed to be far above these official numbers since the government refuses to give access to NGOs. The public message by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, asking for permission to verify the veracity of the reports on violations allegedly committed by Turkish military and security forces in the region, remains unanswered [5].


Turkey’s human rights abuses and unruly despotic practices continued with the announcement of a state of emergency after the failed coup d'état attempt on July 15 2016. These violations have extended across the entirety of Turkey and escalated in intensity. State security officials routinely have been torturing, beating, sleep depriving and sexually abusing unlawfully arrested people. More than 35,000 people have been arrested and thousands were detained among which are co-chairs of HDP Selahattin Demirtaş and Figen Yüksekdağ. The possibility of peace has been indisputably obliterated for Turkey as the strongest driving force for democratization is behind bars today.

Eren Kaya [1] http://www.pewforum.org/2013/04/30/the-worlds-muslims-religion-politics-society-beliefs-about-sharia/

[2]http://www.birgun.net/haber-detay/remembering-the-suicide-attack-that-led-turkey-to-chaos-suruc-massacre-of-july-20th-120831.html

[3] The PKK is a leftist organization who has been fighting with armed forces since the beginning of the 1980s for equal rights for Kurds and their right of self-determination. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kurdistan_Workers'_Party

[4] http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2015/10/explosions-hit-turkey-ankara-peace-march-151010073827607.html

[5] http://www.ohchr.org/

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