Optimism in Erdoğan’s Turkey crushed by violence and paranoia - BBC

Optimism in the early days of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s rule has given way in recent years to a less hopeful and more polarised, violent and paranoid Turkey, BBC Turkey correspondent Mark Lowen reported on Wednesday. 

Leaving Istanbul after five years as the BBC’s correspondent, Lowen reflected on the changes and tragedies he had witnessed. 

“I reported on one of the most turbulent times in the country's modern history,” Lowen said, pointing to bomb attacks, the 2015 refugee crisis, the failed coup of 2016 and the purge that followed, as well as the conflict with Kurdish militants in Turkey’s southeast. 

Western optimism about Turkey seemed to fade around the time of the 2013 Gezi protests over a plan to build on one of Istanbul’s central green spaces, or when the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) split from the followers of U.S.-based Turkish cleric Fethullah Gülen, according to Lowen. 

“I moved to a Turkey drifting away from hope; it felt increasingly polarised,” said Lowen, recalling how fighting between the Turkish state and militants of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) resumed in 2015. 

“Then there were terror attacks from the Islamic State (ISIS),” he said. “Among their targets was Istanbul airport. I flew into it as the carnage unfolded.”

Lowen recalled how his reporting got him into trouble with Turkish authorities. “I kept the front page of a Turkish newspaper labelling me ‘a British traitor who should be captured and deported’ for daring to interview opposition activists,” he said. 

Lowen views the coup as a turning point that emboldened Erdoğan to launch a purge of some 250,000 people, who were either dismissed from their jobs or jailed. He recalled journalists and activists locked up on spurious charges. 

One time, he spoke to an 82-year-old neuropsychologist who had lost her pension as a result of the purge and remembered leaving Turkey after the 1971 coup, when torture was common. 

“Today it's worse,” she told Lowen, “because at least then we could trust the judiciary."


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