Latest arrest wave: Turkey closes in on a 'point of no return'

In the early hours of Friday more than a dozen academics, intellectuals and human rights defenders were arrested across Turkey. By the evening, it was reported that three of them had been released.

More than 5.5 years after the protests known as the “Gezi Park Protests”, which were initially ignited over the government’s proposal to close a park in downtown Istanbul but grew as rage over a fierce crackdown on the initial demonstrators inspired mass acts of resistance, those arrested on Friday have been accused of setting the stage for a coup.

This development was also met with the Turkish government’s announcement that those involved constituted the founders of another terrorist group. This is a turning point and may lead to anyone accused of being a member of ‘Gezi’ being detained and charged with a crime.

Nate Schenkkan, Director of Special Projects at the US-based NGO “Freedom House”, was at the forefront of those observing the ongoing developments and reacting on twitter.

“With these arrests, Turkey is crossing the Rubicon, (re)criminalizing the 2013 events under the narrative that everything since May 2013 - Gezi, December 17/25, PKK, ISIS, July 15 - has all been part of a single conspiracy to overthrow the constitution,” he said in a tweet.

These developments lead us to believe some observers that Turkey is turning a corner.

Osman Kavala, a Turkish philanthropist and civil society leader who had been called as a “Turkish George Soros”, has been held without charge by Turkish authorities for over a year. As protests against his detention have mounted, another 13 people have been accused of organized conspiracy with a connection to him.

Those who have been following developments in Turkey less intently might ask, “Has Turkey not been arresting academics for years? How is this different?” and we should be careful with our answers. Indeed, the fact that some Washington-based Turkey experts who are frequent twitter users and usually comment on every new development are ignoring these arrests should not be overlooked.

These arrests are different because, as Ahval Turkish Editor Ergun Babahan pointed out as if completing what Nate Schenkkan said in his tweet that, Turkey has singled out a new group, which could be described as the “Gezi terror organization” which they claim used the Gezi Park Protests to sew chaos in a hierarchical and organized manner. Therefore, they are accused of

‘Attempting to overthrow the Turkish Government or interrupt its activities or that of its representatives wholly or in part using violent force.”


The most important article of the criminal charges filed in 2017 against those who were accused of plotting the July 15th 2016 coup attempt, known as the Akıncı Indictment, explicitly mentions the Gezi Park Protests as ‘actions in preparations for a coup’, masterminded by a group. However, Friday’s arrest were the first to invoke this article.

Introduction of Akinci Base Coup Indictment
English translation of Akinci Base coup indictment:
Actions in Preparation for A Coup
In violation of the Turkish Constitution’s 6th Article which states that “The Government belongs to the Nation, without Condition or Reservation”,  the agents of certain masterminds carried out street protests in the Spring and Summer of 2013 at Istanbul’s Gezi Park, using the cutting of trees as an excuse to attempt to overthrow the administration elected freely and independently by the people. Unable to replace them, it has been ascertained that between the 17-25 of December, by means of their agents of the FETÖ/PYD Terror Organization within the security and legal institutions, they again attempted to overthrow the elected administration.

In addition, if we follow this logic it opens the door to the arrest or detention of potentially any member of the opposition in Turkey.

According to statistics reported at the time, over two million people participated in protests in more than 81 localities in Turkey during the Gezi Park period. Beside them, there were also many who joined or supported the protests via social media, so there may be as many as three million people.

In other words, there is a real possibility that we may see many more mornings like the morning of Friday, November 16 where many more Gezi protesters or supporters have their doors knocked down and end up under arrest. Of course, it wouldn’t be reasonable to arrest three million citizens, but those who, like today, have connections to important civil society leaders or successful academics may see themselves targeted.

With the theory that the Gezi Protests lead to the coup attempt, the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) has opened the door to arresting as many opposition figures as they see fit. Instead of arrests limited to those who did something like sign a petition demanding peace (like the famous Academics for Peace), by declaring Gezi to be a terrorist organization they can potentially arrest or apply pressure to any of the academics or civil society leaders in 2018 who attended the Gezi Park Protests in 2013 in any of the 81 localities.

Despite all of this, hours after the arrest none of the major opposition parties had reacted even though they know that the segments of society which made up the protesters also make up an important part of their base.

Some have given in to a false optimism that Turkey will normalize, and accepted defeat.

The hope that things would return to normal after Erdoğan won the elections of June 2018 have been quickly dashed.

Steven Cook, another important US-based Turkey expert pointed out that Erdoğan’s management style has been a model for the recent wave of right wing populist nationalist, extreme religious, and racist leaders.

The AKP understood the importance of social media after the 2013 Gezi Park protests and built its army of bots, sometimes known as the “Turkish Cyber Army”, long before such tactics were on the media’s radar.

That is when Turkish journalists understood the power of fake news used day in and day out during Gezi protests by pro-AKP newspapers and networks.

The flagshipmedia outlet for the network of US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen's Movement, Samanyolu TV was forcefully on the side of the Erdogan government, circulating conspiracy theories about the protests. Later on, the president of Samanyolu TV, Hidayet Karaca was jailed for using TV shows to send subliminal messages against the AKP government.

Turkish ministers have been espousing conspiracy theories since 2013 (for example, Egemen Bağış’s 2013 interview with the Financial Times).

Those who expected Erdoğan to calm down after the elections have had their hopes dashed by the events of Friday, November 16th, once again.

It is clear that from now on Erdoğan will continue his strategy of polarization, inventing new enemies in order to spread the panic and fear that allow him to stay in power.

There is no turning back.

It appears that there are days of increased intolerance ahead for Turkey.

Nilay Örnek tweet:

“These events, coming six years after Gezi, are frightening. They have divided us- although we also have a role in that - and made us each other’s enemies, made us unhappy, left us unemployed and penniless. We tried stubbornly to be hopeful or lost all hope. They spread terror, without even letting us become numb to it.”



The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Ahval.