Zekeriya Çamlıbel, national education director in the Pamukkale district of Denizli province, said the referendum on April 16 is the last opportunity to take the country back after 90 years of a “break,” in a veiled reference to the Turkish Republic, established by Atatürk, Cumhuriyet reported on Friday.
“For the first time, we are so close to taking our country back. This is the first turning point in 90 years. Either we, as heirs of the Ottomans, will explode the ballet boxes and take to the streets after banging our fists on the table, or we will continue to creep along for another 90 years,” said Çamlıbel on his social media account.
Kadem Özbay, a representative of education union Eğitim-İş, reacted to Çamlıbel’s message at a press conference, saying he would sue him for this “enmity against the republic.”
Çamlıbel’s controversial message came amid a debate over a statement by Ozan Erdem, deputy head of the ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) Manisa provincial office, in which he said, “If we cannot pass 50 percent and fail in the referendum, get ready for a civil war.”
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the AKP are pursuing an aggressive propaganda policy ahead of the referendum.
“April 16 will at the same time be an answer for July 15. It will be an important move against July 15. The position of naysayers is to take sides with July 15. Nobody should derive a different meaning from this,” said President Erdoğan last week while talking about the referendum on constitutional amendments that will open the way to a switch from a parliamentary system of governance to an executive presidency.
In a previous statement, Erdoğan as well as Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım accused the potential naysayers in the referendum of taking sides with terrorist organizations.
Imams of mosques have also been participating in the government campaign. An imam in İstanbul’s Ümraniye district accused naysayers of “treason” and “ignorance,” while an imam leading a group of Turks during Umrah in Mecca labeled naysayers as “infidels.”
Speaking during a live show on the pro-government Beyaz TV in early February, Vehbi Güler, a theologian and a staunch supporter of Erdoğan, pointed out that it was Satan who said “no” to God’s order to bow down before Adam and implied that those who vote against the amendment package in the April referendum are similar to Satan, who challenged God’s orders.
Under government pressure, Turkey’s Doğan Media Group fired Posta daily columnist Hakan Çelenk and Kanal D presenter İrfan Değirmenci because they voiced opposition to the executive presidency system for which President Erdoğan is seeking public approval.
The Doğan Group’s Hürriyet daily refused to publish an interview with Orhan Pamuk, Turkey’s most famous writer and a Nobel laureate in literature, because the author expressed his objection to the constitutional reform package.
Turkish Bureau Union (Türk Büro Sen) Chairman Fahrettin Yokuş, who called on people to say “no” in the April 16 referendum, was the target of gunshots in Ankara on Saturday.
Last month the headquarters of the Turkish Public Workers Labor Union (Kamu-Sen) was attacked by a group of people after İsmail Koncuk, the head of the union, announced that he would vote “no” in the referendum.
Many people believe that the constitutional amendments will pave the way for a one-man regime under Erdoğan, who has already been criticized for being authoritarian as he has purged and jailed countless thousands of critical academics, politicians, teachers, doctors, officials, businessmen, artists and journalists.