How liberal is Turkey

Turkey under Erdogan : Only the left and liberals in the country are rebelling

In other metropolises around the world, automobile brands or perfumes may be advertised floor-to-ceiling on building facades - in Istanbul it is now political slogans and appeals from private individuals, born out of defiance and despair. “The people have sovereignty”, is the writing that envelops the dilapidated Ataturk Cultural Center on Taksim Square in Istanbul. 50 meters by 20 meters, on the red background of the Turkish flag. It is intended to remind the Turks of the victory over the putschists in the summer of last year. And the fact that the authoritarian course is wanted by the citizens.

Elsewhere in the metropolis you can also see how much tension the country is under. "We are the people. We will not let the coup and terrorism devour Turkey, ”the government proclaims on facades. Merchants and restaurant owners, on the other hand, have erected a garland-shaped portal at the entrance of a side street into the entertainment district on Tarlabasi Boulevard, below Taksim and opposite a police station, richly decorated with small Turkish flags. “We are all with our police officers,” it says.

A new hero

As of this week, the country has a new tragic hero. His name is Fethi Sekin, a 43-year-old traffic policeman. Sekin foiled an even worse terrorist attack outside the Palace of Justice in Izmir on Thursday. But he died in the exchange of fire with the fugitive assassins. When a car bomb exploded in the courthouse parking lot, there were injuries but no deaths.

The Turkish government assigned responsibility for the attack to the Kurdish PKK, and 18 suspects were arrested on Friday. It was the third terrorist attack in Turkey within just one month: 39 people died on New Year's Eve in Istanbul's noble club "Reina", 47 were in front of the Besiktas football stadium. The “Islamic State” confessed to one act, a PKK splinter group to the other. They should show themselves if they have the courage, said President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in a speech these days. “I challenge you!” It was a desperate declaration of war on the terrorists.

In Turkey there is only terror and, as the government's compelling response, the fall into an authoritarian regime, it seems, a state of emergency. This has now been in effect for almost six months and should remain in force at least until April. In addition, the intended constitutional amendment is intended to pave the way for Erdogan's presidential system and which parliament will debate from Monday.

"The state of emergency does not prevent an attack"

Only the left and the liberals in the country are rebelling. "The state of emergency does not prevent terrorism," says Binnaz Toprak, a retired sociology professor and a short-term MP for the largest opposition party, the CHP. “We don't need a state of emergency. What we need is more democracy and civil rights. "

Binnaz Toprak founded a political rallying movement together with Riza Türmen, a former judge at the European Court of Human Rights, in the summer of last year, even before the failed military coup. It is called “Unity for Democracy”. It is about synergies between left parties, the Kurds, trade unions and non-governmental organizations, Toprak explains. And about a united opposition that could be an alternative to the ruling conservative Islamic AKP. “We are concerned about the path the country has taken,” says the sociologist.

How much leeway do liberal-minded people have in these times? Binnaz Toprak has no clear answer to this. You have to be careful, of course, and not cross borders. But the more important question seems to her what the "unity for democracy" can do against the Erdogan state. “Maybe they don't take it seriously. And they are right about that. Because I don't know where this movement is going and what it could one day be in view of the current situation. "

The terror series and the impotence of the government are damaging the morale of the Turks. There is still great support for the state of emergency and Erdogan's rule with emergency decrees. But it is shrinking: from 87 percent last October to 67 percent now, if you want to believe the polls.

The government is at a critical point, says Özge Genç, a researcher at the Center for Public Policy and Democracy (Podem) in Istanbul. She has her eyes on the Kurdish extremists, one part of terrorism in Turkey. The Kurds in the country have never been so disaffected with the PKK, says the researcher. Now would be an opportunity for the government to improve the lives of the Kurds and win their hearts.

On behalf of the government, Podem did a lot of field research in the mostly Kurdish south-east of Turkey and even conducted interviews with PKK fighters in their military base in northern Iraq. That was when the Erdogan government was still negotiating with the underground army. It is difficult for NGOs to make themselves heard in times like these, says Özge Genç. "But it doesn't prevent us from doing our job."

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