Cengiz Aktar
Nov 22 2018

Likely the last nail in the coffin for Turkey's civil society

Of the 13 prominent civil society activists detained last week, 12 of them were released within 36 hours. Only Yiğit Aksakoğlu remains in detention. On social media, there was an air of festivity as there always is in these sorts of situations. There was a flood of emotions accompanying the V-shaped symbol of victory. An outsider unfamiliar with the circumstances might have thought the country was celebrating a fiesta of democracy.  

It was impossible not to celebrate the release of our friends, many of whom are such freethinkers that they can hardly stand 10 minutes of privation of their liberty. However, we should not overdo it and try to construe this as a victory. The real measure is whether these people’s freedom is sustainable, not whether they have been released after preposterous charges were levelled against them. Besides, although released they have been stripped of their passports.

The regime has become a master in imposing a choice between two evils on Turkish society. It is useless to fall into this trap by overreacting positively to each release of citizens deprived of their freedom on the basis of absurd charges. By doing so one gives the impression of normality. It may be good for a sound sleep that night, but it does not help to wake up to another oppressive act the next morning. As long as you are unable to properly name the totalitarian regime we are living under, as long as you are unable to stop reassuring yourselves that the multidimensional crisis that you are already neck-deep in has not yet started, you are bound to be continuously disappointed. 

Now, if we try to read the regime’s intentions through these detentions, the writing is already on the wall. Intentions complete one another. It is clear there was an intention in the detention of Osman Kavala, who has spent more than a year in a jail cell without being charged while a tailor-made crime is being invented post-facto to suit his case. The regime’s police and judiciary have rolled up their sleeves, ready to manufacture a terror cocktail composed of “Fethullahist Terror Organisation, the PKK, the European Union, the United States, German Foundations, Jews, and George Soros”. The relationship diagrams from the telephone tapes show a prodigious effort to link one to another. One could not possibly assemble a crime from this mess, but positive law is not an issue here: Whatever order the raïs Erdoğan gives will be the “law”!

They will probably use these tapes and the testimonies they have collected to announce a stiff punishment and charge Kavala among others with making an organised attempt to overthrow the government using force and violence under Article 312 of the Penal Code. Since the tapes and testimonies will not constitute sufficient evidence of a violation, everyone will likely gradually be acquitted or have their sentences lifted over the course of a few months, probably after the March 31, 2109 local elections.

The big picture after all of this evil “judicial” engineering is that “Gezi” and civil society is still an issue for the president. Gezi is the only project the raïs wanted to realise but could not. He certainly was not going to forget such an affront, and the Gezi park protesters of 2013 are now firmly in his vengeful and malevolent sights. Remember how he was rejoicing with ecstasy when he ordered the demolition of the Atatürk Cultural Centre, another hated symbol, overlooking Gezi park in Istanbul’s Taksim square. 

Likewise, Gezi is a symbol of everything that the regime and its great mass of followers hate. It is a concrete application of civil disobedience and non-violent protest theory workshops given by Aksakoğlu, is the last of those held. It was like a rehearsal for the expression of frustration that the multidimensional crisis is bound to trigger sooner or later, and, in that sense, it is a huge threat to the regime. The arrests and the criminal cases that will soon be opened against those detained carry an intention to threaten and block opposition.

The shrewdness, satire, freedom, art and merriness of Gezi stood in stark contrast to the parochial, slavish, grim and violent masses at the leader’s command. It represents a place that they can never conquer. That is why it is now being shown as something to be eradicated wherever it is seen.

The tapes show that all of Turkey’s civil society’s struggle, cobbled together and fought for tooth and nail over the last 15 years, which has come together around the person of Kavala has been judged to be detrimental to the state and the so-called “sacred nation”, to be deviant and disruptive activities. However, from the point of view of the regime and its leader as well, this judgement won’t bear fruit. This oppressive determination against any civil, calm, peaceful potential, which is the regime’s worst nightmare and became a symbol with Gezi, stands in contrast. 

The regime carried out a dress rehearsal for this oppression of civil society on the group in Büyükada. By means of presidential executive orders, the civil voices in academia, the media, and NGOs had already been silenced. Apart from one or two exceptions, the voices of all of those who have been dismissed from their jobs or released from prison have gone quiet.

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