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Human Landscapes: Turkey’s Secret Trials of Journalists


The secret trial of two Turkish journalists from the liberal mainstream daily CUMHURIYET—its Chief Editor Can Dundar and Erdem Gul—began this. They are charged with high treason for publishing material on a sensitive subject: Turkey’s collusion with ISIS and the US in the Syrian war.

Confronted with the human landscapes of contemporary Turkey, what might the late and great Communist poet Nazim Hikmet (who even Erdogan used to quote in his speeches) have written? Some things would have been familiar: the never ending transportation of political prisoners; the continuing suffering and torture of the Kurds (Hikmet was sentenced to 15 years after the 1925 Kurdish revolt); the endless talk in prison, reinterpreting the past; life in what could become a one-party state where the government exercises a virtual monopoly of information. A limiting of liberties…

Hikmet would not have been surprised in the least by the collapse of Republicanism, but the success of the Islamists would have stunned him. After all as a leftist he thought the only alternative was socialism. He had been a guard of honor at Lenin’s bier in that ice-cold January of 1924. He could never have believed that history would be so cruel. He certainly would never have signed the supportive letter that some liberal, secular intellectuals drafted a few years ago offering broad support to Erdogan’s government, a list that sadly included names like Murat Belge. Hikmet would have meditated on why this had come to pass and done so as a poet who wrote of his own work that ‘it is never for me a question of form or content but of consciousness, of philosophic, economic and social conception.’

The assault on the Kurds and dissidents, the imprisonment of journalists, the closure of Radikal, the disintegration of the ruling elite, the fantasies of Erdogan fuelled by the elixir of power, has created an extremely serious crisis. NATO’s favorite Islamists split with Gulen’s faction detached itself from Erdogan. The emergence of the HDP as a progressive party of all Turks—Kurds and non-Kurds, and its electoral successes appear to have unhinged Erdogan. I refer to him because he is the first among unequals in a government desperately short of talent. Power appears to have blinded him to the realities of his own country and region. He behaves more and more like a dictator.

Once a friend of Assad in Syria, making friendly noises to Teheran, he changed when the West decided to take advantage of the Syrian uprising and topple Assad. Turkey was the obvious conduit for supplying rebels of every stripe with weaponry and ‘advisers’, i.e. CIA units who were guiding the ‘armed resistance’ to the embattled regime in Damascus . Erdogan did what he was required to do and thought that he could also gain some advantage at home by acting as NATO’s key point man in the region. Damascus countered by giving the Syrian Kurds virtually complete autonomy.

In response there is little doubt that Turkey became the centre of the ISIS initiative to crush both Rojava and Damascus. The supply routes were on Turkish territory. This is hardly a secret, so why arrest senior journalists for writing the truth? The real problem for Erdogan and the Saudis is that ISIS, who took arms and money from anyone and everyone, were not a force that could be fully controlled by either Riyadh or Ankara. They live their own fantasy, of reuniting the Arab world under an iron Sunni dictatorship they call the Caliphate. In Turkey they must have established links with Turkish intelligence and, indeed, the deep state in Ankara did not deny that the horrific bombing of a peaceful demonstration was an ISIS initiative. They admitted that some of the ISIS personnel in Ankara were under watch, but that they had no idea of what they were planning. Perhaps this is true, but I find it difficult to believe. I think some people averted their eyes to let the outrage happen and frighten away many supporters of the HDP prior to the last general elections.

In Hikmet’s poem, Halil (Hikmet himself) meets an egotistic middle-class physician represented as the voice of an isolated and neurotic bourgeoisie, who finally commits suicide while in a neighboring hospital ward a child is being born. I’m not sure that Erdogan knows this poem but I would strongly recommend he read it even though mirrors are sometimes frightening. I would suggest the same to Davutogulu, but I don’t want to tax his brains too much.

Tariq Ali is the author of The Obama Syndrome (Verso).

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