By David Kitz and Tim Kitz
Democracy and human rights have been steadily eroding in Turkey under the increasingly authoritarian rule of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
After serving as mayor of Istanbul in the ’90s, Erdoğan became Prime Minister in 2003, switching to President in 2014, and remaining in power to the present.
Erdoğan’s program promotes economic liberalism paired with a religious conservatism that seeks to undo the secular basis of the Turkish state. His ‘neo-Ottomanism’ glorifies the era of Turkish imperialism, when the Ottoman Empire dominated the region.
Erdoğan deploys a cult of personality, projecting an image as the individual personification of Turkish democracy.
Erdoğan cultivates an image as the individual personification of Turkish democracy, using religious rhetoric to legitimize his political authoritarianism among the devout.
The Islamic Felicity Party has criticized Erdoğan, saying he uses religious rhetoric to legitimize his political authoritarianism among the devout.
Erdoğan and those close to him have amassed enormous fortunes. When his associates were arrested in 2013 in a $100 billion corruption scandal, he dismissed and reassigned thousands of police officers, prosecutors, and judges. No convictions were ever made.
The coup attempt of July 2016 provided an ideal opportunity to crack down on those whom the regime saw as enemies. The coup was blamed on Fethullah Gülen, the religious leader of the humanitarian Hizmet movement. Using ongoing emergency powers, an estimated 120,000 so-called opponents of the people have been imprisoned. Ten of thousands more have fled the country as refugees (see our companion piece “The Faces of Present-Day Persecution.”)
Thousands have been purged from the judiciary, academy, military, and government bureaucracy. At least 131 independent media outlets have been shut down, 117 journalists have been arrested and a further 500+ have lost their journalistic accreditations. A number of websites are blocked within the country, including Wikipedia, Wikileaks, and the Turkish satirical Leman.
In an attempt to legitimize this assault on democratic systems and institutions, Erdoğan held a referendum that altered the constitution in 2017. This shifted Turkey from a parliamentary to a presidential system. It centralized legislative, executive, and judicial power in an Executive President position that seems to have been created with Erdoğan in mind.
Critics have called the role an “elective dictatorship” and Erdoğan won an early election in June 2018, amidst accusations of ballot stuffing and the arrest of opposition party leaders on terrorism charges.