Turkey: The feast of generals. An excerpt from Basharat Peer’s A Question of Order

A month has passed since the outcome of the referendum held in Turkey approved significant constitutional changes, first among them the passage to a presidential regime expected to come into force in 2019. Voting took place amidst much controversy and in a very critical context due to the state of emergency, introduced immediately after the failed military coup on July 15th 2016, and renewed every three months at least until next July. In recent months daily life in this country has been marked by hundreds of thousands arrests affecting the entire public sector – ministries, schools, universities, the administration, the police, the judicial system – and a particularly aggressive attack on the media.

There are currently about 150 journalists in prison, among them some very well-known personalities in the world of Turkish journalism such as Kadri Gürsel, also a member of the Turkish Committee at the International Press Institute (IPI), and Ahmet ??k, famous for his investigation of Fethullah Gülen’s movement, which caused the withdrawal of his book from the market and his arrest. The daily newspaper Cumhuriyet, the secular Kemalist opposition linked to the CHP Party’s main media outlet, has had ten employees in prison for over 200 days. Among them there is also the famous cartoonist Musa Kart. There are famous authors in prison, such as Ahmet Altan, while others such as the well-known writer Asli Erdo?an are out on bail after being detained for a number of months, and, deprived of their passports, are now awaiting trial. Arrests have included the HDP’s opposition party leader Selahattin Demirta? as well as many of its members. This is a pluralist progressive group that is mainly but not exclusively pro-Kurds, which following the 2013 Gezi protests had managed to become a potential force for change, innovative in its speeches and practices. To protest against these arrests, the HDP’s MPs boycotted the parliamentary debate on constitutional changes, which effectively left the other opposition party, the CHP, standing alone to oppose the reforms proposed by the AKP, changes also supported by the ultra-nationalists of the MHP.

The following is an excerpt from Basharat Peer’s A Question of Order: India, Turkey, and the Return of Strongmen, out March 21, 2017, from Columbia Global Reports.


Chapter Six


On July 20, 2010, Recep Tayyip Erdogan gave a nationally televised speech to the AKP members of Parliament. Erdogan is known for his menacing tone, but this afternoon he turned to poetry, as he had in 1997 when he was jailed for reciting what the courts considered an Islamist poem. But now he was in charge, and he used the occasion to talk about the notorious 1980 military coup that saw the junta murder young Turkish men across the political divide. Erdogan spoke of Necdet Adali, a 22-year-old leftist who was sentenced to death by the military three years after his arrest. The poet Nevzat Çelik’s “The Dawn’s Song” reimagined Adali’s last letter to his mother before his execution:

One morning, Mother, one morning

When you open the door to brush your pain away

Many of my peers

Whose names are different, whose voices are different

With flowers in their arms

Will a new country bloom.

Erdogan cried as he recited the poem, though it was clear that the tears were designed to garner support for his next major political move, one targeted at the decades-long entrenchment of the unelected wings of the Turkish state: the military, the judiciary, and the bureaucracy, all of them long been dominated by the Kemalist elite.

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