Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s AKP at dawn on Sunday 14th December had some 400 journalists, editors, directors and producers detained in a countrywide clampdown on freedom of expression in the press. Correspondents who had been reporting objectively on the government’s sweeping changes; TV series makers who represented the prophet Mohammed as a beam of light entering a truck; practically anyone of any ‘subversive’ import in the media have been silenced, cowed or intimidated overnight.
The timing is interesting. On the 17th of December and Christmas day 2013, the police arrested many politicians and business leaders in a graft probe, concerning billions of dollars exchanged and stored in shoeboxes, and including a telephone conversation between the then prime minister and his son, with the former imploring the latter to get rid of evidence of the money, somehow or other. After the Gezi protests of the previous summer, press reporting of this constituted a major obstacle to the absolute power that Erdogan was aiming for.
It should be remembered that Erdogan and his cohorts already control or own the majority of the press, so he doesn’t need to worry about them. His new nemesis, exiled cleric Fethullah Gulen owns a clutch more, and his power is comparative, with The Gulen Movement operating religious schools and media outlets all over the world. In Erdogan’s speeches, he makes frequent reference to the ‘parallel state’ headed up by Gulen – all quite ironic since the two leaders are reading from essentially the same Islamist hymn sheet. The president, in his divide and rule idiom, often calls for Gulen to return to Turkey to face the music, or at least stand for parliament.
In his almost daily, unbelievably provocative pronouncements, Erdogan attempts to label any non Sunni-majority social group who dare to speak up as terrorists. It was this charge that was applied to the arrested media on the 14th. In Erdogan and the AKP’s deeply precarious collective psyche, all criticism is a threat, and far from being countered, simply needs to be stamped out. With the rapidly fluctuating economy of a sell sell sell bubble that has either burst or is permanently about to, this kind of what he sees as irrelevant bourgeouis commentary cannot be tolerated – since it is coming from ‘them’, not ‘us’ – and is thus seen as yet another postmodern coup attempt.
The AKP’s defence of their radical social changes is that the secular republic had oppressed the observant Islamic majority for well over half a century. The facts of that position are a matter of public record – but revenge is never pretty. This chippy victim-complex is writ large over everything that comes out of the premiere’s mouth, and now he has hammered in the last nail of the coffin of a creaking and pretty much already buried free speech.