Where to begin when we look at Turkey? Here is a part of the world with so much culture and history in its favour but in the last couple of years it has become somewhere you would not choose to live and you would even have to think twice about visiting.
The biggest single reason for this is the country’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has made an obvious grab at taking greater constitutional powers after a referendum on greatly extending presidential authority was narrowly passed. Unsurprisingly, the opposition No campaign disputed at least one third of the votes as being legally valid.
Erdogan’s clear intent is to move Turkey away from its secular, non-religious policy towards a much stronger and stricter Islamic state with him firmly in control. He has recently ordered that the teaching of evolution in schools should stop and that the death penalty should be reintroduced, through another referendum if necessary.
Aside from these backward ideological steps, his regime has taken to using a supposed coup last year as fair grounds for strangling basic freedoms. Thousands of ordinary people (including writers) have been imprisoned and tortured without good reason. Turkey now jails more journalists than any other nation – a third of the worldwide total – largely on the flimsy pretence of them being terrorists. During the summer, two local Turkish leaders from the respected human rights organisation, Amnesty International, were also locked up.
I find all this so sad for political reasons but also for more personal ones. My family and I spent a week based in the capital Istanbul a couple of summers ago and were enchanted by it. As well, I once taught at an Islamic secondary school in Australia and have very fond memories of my Turkish-Australian former colleagues and students there. They were the warmest of people and I still have Turkish friends now, who are some of the most generous and lovely individuals you could ever wish to meet and spend time with.
Turkey has been a cultured, open-minded society for some time now, especially since revolutionary figure Kemal Atatürk led his people towards becoming a more modern European-influenced society. Just two of his major legacies include greater equality for women and an educated middle class population that supported an Islam that was neither doctrinal nor overbearing. Even Atatürk’s simple decision to change the Turkish language to a Latin based script was enlightened.
This progress is now quickly being wound back under the heavy hand of Erdogan and his followers, who have been rammed into key government and legal positions. Some 100,00 public officials have already been dismissed from their posts, with almost half of them imprisoned on terror charges. Yes, Turkey hosts around three million more Syrian refugees than any other country, but many “face obstacles [in] education and employment.”
Academic and author, Mehmet Altan, could be speaking for most of his countrymen when he says: “Should the rule of law reign in Turkey again one day I am confident that I won’t be considered a suspect even for a second. I am a suspect now only because I demanded democracy.”