Turkey’s megalomaniacal president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has turned his once-promising developing country into a gulag state. The mechanism by which the increasingly one-party government has accomplished this Stalinization of the country is the tagging of millions of Turkish citizens as terrorists. The charge is unrelated to any actual act of terrorism. Erdogan has made them the political equivalent of ritually impure, branded as outcasts because they associated with other outcasts. Erdogan’s “anti-terror” net has now swept up the German government of Chancellor Angela Merkel, the US Pentagon, and even Amnesty International.
Erdogan focuses in his speeches on two bêtes noires, the neo-fundamentalist Muslim Gulen movement and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). He has legitimate grievances against leaders of both groups, but he has gone much further, tarring ordinary Gulenists and Kurds, as well as anyone who stands up for their civil rights, as terrorists. Moreover, Erdogan himself allied with the Gulen organization in the early 2000s, forming a united front of modernist, pro-Islam groups to challenge the top-down secularism of Turkey’s old 20th-century elite. If the Gulenists are really so universally wicked, surely Erdogan himself should resign over one of the great instances of poor political judgment in our new century.
In late July, UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson protested to Turkey over its arrest of the chair and the director of Amnesty International Turkey, Idil Eser and Taner Kiliç, respectively. Human-rights activism, in other words, is in Erdogan’s Turkey a form of material support for terrorism.
Turkey has given Germany dossiers on 4,500 Turks in the latter country it wants arrested, and is angry that the Merkel government does not agree that people may be made taboo by fiat despite having not actually committed a crime. Nor will the German police stop Turkish Kurds from rallying to protest Erdogan’s scorched-earth tactics in the villages of eastern Anatolia. Erdogan lashed out at German officials again this week, accusing them of abetting terrorism. Many German parliamentarians are convinced that Turkey’s prospects for ever joining the European Union, slim to begin with, have been ended by Erdogan’s authoritarianism. They are increasingly unhappy that it is a full member of NATO.
Ankara certainly is not acting very much like a NATO ally with regard to US efforts against ISIL (the Islamic State, ISIS, or Daesh) in Syria. Because the Pentagon has allied with left-wing Syrian Kurds, whom Erdogan sees as linked to the PKK, it has been thunderously denounced by Turkish government officials as supporting terrorism. Turkey itself has offered little help to the United States in rolling up ISIL.