The editorial board of the London-based Economist magazine said in a piece on Saturday that the recent crackdown on Turkey’s secularist Cumhuriyet daily is another step taken by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to establish a new country under his authority.
The Economist said more than 100,000 officials were sacked as part of “insatiable” purges of government following a failed coup attempt on July 15.
It also underlined that much of the media were already controlled by government loyalists and now nearly all are muzzled or intimidated as over a hundred journalists have been jailed since the coup attempt.
“The [official] gazette has turned into the chronicle of a seemingly insatiable purge. Under a state of emergency that allows Mr Erdogan to rule by decree, it may soon become the only Turkish paper worth reading,” the magazine wrote.
What follows is the full text of the Economist editorial, titled Goodbye, “Republic”:
LOADED with page-turners such as the latest exam procedures for food inspectors, Turkey’s official gazette, the journal that archives the everyday business of state, used to be as good a cure as any for insomnia. No longer. In the wake of this summer’s violent attempted coup against the government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, no newspaper in Turkey is read with more trepidation. With its lists of thousands of universities, news outlets and hospitals closed since the coup, and of the 100,000 officials sacked from state institutions, the gazette has turned into the chronicle of a seemingly insatiable purge. Under a state of emergency that allows Mr Erdogan to rule by decree, it may soon become the only Turkish paper worth reading.
Much of the media were already controlled by government loyalists. Now nearly all are muzzled or intimidated. Over a hundred journalists have been jailed. On October 31st the crackdown hit Cumhuriyet (“Republic”), a flagship daily of the secular left as old as modern Turkey itself. Police detained the paper’s editor, Murat Sabuncu, its leading cartoonist and a dozen or so columnists and executives. An arrest warrant was issued for its former editor, Can Dundar, who already faced charges for publishing articles on secret Turkish arms shipments. Mr Dundar fled the country earlier this year.
Prosecutors accuse Cumhuriyet of acting in cahoots with the Gulen movement, an Islamic sect suspected of engineering July’s coup, and with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which Turkey and Western countries consider a terrorist group. To most observers, that sounds bonkers. Cumhuriyethad been savagely critical of the Gulenists long before the ruling Justice and Development (AK) party, which allied itself with the movement for nearly a decade, broke with it around 2013.
The detentions suggest that few government critics are safe. Some 40,000 people, ranging from generals directly involved in the coup to Gulenist bureaucrats, Kurdish activists and leftist writers, have been detained since the summer. “[Erdogan] wants to establish a new country under his authority,” says Ozgur Mumcu, one of Cumhuriyet’s writers, “and everything the old Turkey represents will be eradicated sooner or later.”
AK insists it is simply protecting Turkey from enemies at home and abroad. “We just saved this country from a bloody coup attempt,” says Taha Ozhan, an influential MP. His office is a short walk away from a wing of the parliament bombed by jets during the coup. “This is the context.” Critics say the government is gutting what remains of Turkey’s democracy. Only a day before the Cumhuriyet detentions, the official gazette announced the closure of 15 other news outlets, most of them Kurdish. The same decree dismissed 10,131 more public officials and 1,267 academics. Another decree suspended attorney-client privilege in terrorism cases. It scrapped a system that offered academics a say in electing heads of their universities. Mr Erdogan will now appoint rectors directly.
Meanwhile, the Turkish strongman is whipping up support among nationalists and Islamists, an alliance he expects to hand him additional powers in a referendum in 2017. He has revived plans to restore the death penalty, a move that would spell the end of Turkey’s membership negotiations with the European Union. In the country’s southeast, scarred by a year of deadly clashes between the PKK and the army, his government has ousted scores of elected Kurdish officials. The arrests of the co-mayors of Diyarbakir, the region’s biggest city, on terrorism charges were followed by an internet blackout in as many as 15 provinces. Mr Erdogan now says he will take the fight to the PKK in northern Syria so as to protect gains made by Turkish troops in an incursion in August. He has also demanded a bigger role in Iraq’s offensive against Islamic State forces in Mosul.
The Republican People’s Party (CHP), the main secular opposition, swept up initially by the nationalist exhilaration that followed the failed coup, has turned into a shellshocked bystander. Emergency rule by decree has rendered parliament useless, says Selin Sayek Boke, the CHP’s deputy head. It is “a preview”, she adds, of what Turkey will look like if Mr Erdogan gets the additional powers he wants.
By the time the preview is over, there may be no critical media outlets left to report on it. The official gazette will happily pick up the slack.