Why categorise our anger to unjust practices?
Some of the good news in Turkey recently has been the acquittal of several people who were arrested following the May, 2013 Gezi protests in Istanbul, including businessman and philanthropist Osman Kavala, who has been imprisoned for over two years on flimsy charges of attempting to overthrow the government. While most people were happy about the court’s decision, some were mostly waiting to see arrested businessman Osman Kavala to leave the prison.
People being immediately re-arrested in other cases while waiting to be released is something that has become normal in Turkey. It was the same for Kavala, who has been re-arrested based on the same investigation files that actually freed him. It was also the same for the former chairman of pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democracy Party (HDP) Selahattin Demirtaş and many others.
Amid all of this myriad of illegality, it was actually a tweet that made me again lose hope for my country. After hearing the news of Kavala’s release, a friend who was following the case mentioned how nice it would be if jailed journalist Ahmet Altan were also set free, and a nearby lawyer uttered, “Somehow I don’t feel sorry for him.”
In fact, this reply, no matter who it’s about, explains how Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan continues to stay in power in Turkey and how the rule of law continues to evaporate. Simply looking at the trials of people and groups that oppose the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) doesn’t allow one to see the whole picture.
There’s a segment of society who sees people’s rights being trampled in the Gezi trials as different from Ahmet Altan’s trial, or the trials of other journalists, or Demirtaş’s trials, or those of other Kurdish politicians. People who react when government appoints trustees to replace elected main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) mayors remain silent when the same thing happens with the HDP co-mayors.
There are people who march for the killed in a train wreck or other accidents caused by negligence by state institutions but who don’t bat an eye for the children living in prison with their mothers. They don’t rise up for 8-year-old Ahmet Burhan Ataç, who is now being treated for cancer in Germany. Ataç’s father is in prison following the 2016 post-coup attempt purges and his mother is forbidden to leave the country, so the little boy is in the hospital fighting his battle all alone.
Another example is the Harb Okulu [military academy] cadets who were given life sentences following the coup attempt. Those who spoke up endlessly about the injustice of arresting enlisted soldiers are now silent about these students. At that time in fact, when former soldiers were getting arrested as suspects in a long list of unsolved murders, the CHP stood up for those soldiers but is saying nothing now.
In short, those who oppose the AKP or Erdoğan are only coming out against the issues that pertain to themselves. For other people, a “they got what they deserved” type of attitude prevails. What we can understand from this is that if the opposition comes to power, instead of taking steps to amend the rule of law, they’ll imprison anyone who doesn’t agree with them l and carry on with the same system.
When people are deeply angered by racist attacks against Turkish people in Europe but feel nothing for the millions of Syrians in Turkey or attacks against Syrians, those feelings of anger sound irrelevant.
For Turkey to change, we need to abandon this mentality of “things that don’t happen to me have nothing to do with me; they shouldn’t have gotten into that situation.” But is this an easy thing to do? Not at all. This is because generations of children, starting as early as elementary school, learn to obey authority and they grow up with this handicap. If, unlike their parents, they find the courage to speak up against authority, they only speak up about the things related to themselves and remain silent about everything else.
There are people angry about the thieves, murderers, and other criminals receiving light penalties or early release but who say nothing about the thousands of innocent people rotting in prison. When you don’t protest or speak up for those who shouldn’t be in prison, it doesn’t make any sense to get angry about people who committed actual crimes receiving light sentences.
When those close to us receive punishments and we rise up against this but fail to rise up when people who don’t think the same as us are punished, it’s the same as feeling secretly glad when we encounter lawlessness, and failing to rise up against it is a lot like justifying the murder of Jon Snow in ‘Game of Thrones.’
We react when we or our relatives are punished is how we should react when all people are punished in similar situations.
© Ahval English
The views expressed in this column are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect those of Ahval.