Nesrin Nas
Jan 30 2018

The bells are tolling for Turkey's peacemakers

War and peace are both political options.

Some consider war and others peace their ultimate “national priority" and determine their political preferences accordingly.

Democratic states determine their national priorities through their representatives' discussions and compromises in their national assemblies.

The public participates in every stage of this debate through a free and fair media, and governments seek alliances.

Still, it would be unlikely for all constituents to acquiesce to the same political stance.

The freedom to oppose the elected government without any fear of retribution and to have the means to voice objections reinforces not only the democratic nature of the regime but also the legitimacy of the elected administration. Furthermore, criticism shows the government a "way out" when their policies wind up at a dead end.

In an authoritarian/one-man rule, one person, group or party determines national priorities. Once the priority for the nation is specified, they do not allow subordinates to object or contest it. Discussion, persuasion, and reconciliation are not part of the authoritarian toolkit, but order, directive, coercion, and intimidation are.

Turkey’s offensive against the Kurdish-held district of Afrin started by precluding parliament and the public from discussions, instructing the media to publish only "official viewpoints" and eradicating all that was left of our democracy.

Our current state of emergency transformed into martial law.

And naturally, all the tools to silence and suppress those in favour of resolving disputes through dialogue and reconciliation; those who want peace, were mobilised.

A broad coalition, from the political elites to the pro-government media, from the president of the Bar Association to ordinary government supporters, launched a campaign to admonish and denounce the pacifists.

Journalists and politicians were arrested. A television journalist invited his audience to shoot the pacifists. Those who wanted to remain neutral were forced to announce their support for the operation on TV.

However, according to Article 25 of the Constitution, which is still in effect, entitled “Freedom of thought and opinion”, "Everyone has the freedom of thought and opinion. No matter what reason or purpose, nobody can be forced to explain their thoughts and convictions; and they cannot be charged for their thoughts and convictions."

It is even harder for those who speak out.

A handful of people sent a letter to parliamentarians and party leaders have been attacked in the media.

"We want peace in our country and in the region, not war. We believe that the best way to protect our borders and stay united as a country is by strengthening our regional relations with our neighbours. We are confident and know from our experiences that our national security can be achieved through mutual negotiations and collaborations, not at the expense of young people's lives and a war that will leave tens of thousands of families hopeless and homeless," the letter said.

The Turkish Medical Association has also been chastised for calling for peace.

Yet the preamble of our constitution states that "all Turkish citizens ... have the right to demand a peaceful life ... and the desire for and belief in the principle “Peace at home; peace in the world”.

Not only that, but Article 20/1 of the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Turkey is a signatory, states that propaganda for war should be prohibited by law.

Furthermore, the United Nations accepted a peaceful life to be a "fundamental human right" in 1978. In 1984, the United Nations General Assembly declared the "right of people to peace" as "a sacred right," and the "sacred duty of the state."

Turkey signed the UN Convention on the Rights of the People in 2000 and approved it in 2003, that is, after President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) came to power in 2002.

In 2004, Turkey amended the Article 90 of the constitution, so that international agreements have the force of law and precedence over local laws.

Despite this, everyone who wants to advocate for peace today is a target of the ruling party, its supporters and even the leader of the main opposition, who uneasily supports the Afrin operation. The slightest criticism is met with condemnation.

People of all ages and backgrounds have been arrested for the slightest signs of opposition.

In such times the government cannot even endure silence and is not satisfied until you say the exact words it wants to hear.

The bells are tolling for those who dare to say, "don't let the children die", for those who go to Friday prayer, for people on the bus, and for those who desperately want to remain neutral.

It is clear the current verbal attacks by government partisans will turn physical, especially given the apparent immunity granted to them by Executive Order 696 issued late last year.

Turkey's rulers genuinely believe they are besieged by internal and external enemies. And they repel with fury every warning, every criticism and every objection.

Since they label every warning as treachery by those unable to appreciate Turkey's greatness, they cannot see how they are poisoning the social peace and international relations of the country with their actions and their words.

As Edmund in William Shakespeare's "King Lear" says:

"This is a classic example of the idiocy of the world: when we’re down and out, often because of our own excesses, we put all the blame on the sun, the moon, and the stars, as if they forced us to be bad, or the heavens compelled us to be villainous or stupid."