Turkey’s Erdoğan tightens authoritarian rule

July 21, 2018

From the July-August 2018 issue of News & Letters

With his victory in the June 24 presidential election, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has further consolidated his one-man rule of Turkey’s 80 million-plus population. The election followed last year’s referendum, which eliminated the office of prime minister and created an executive presidency that Erdoğan will now administer. His powers include appointing ministers, vice presidents and top bureaucrats, preparing the budget and deciding on security policies, including removal of civil servants, all without parliamentary approval.


A new parliament with increased seats was elected. Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party together with the allied Nationalist Movement Party now control an absolute majority of seats.

Both last year’s referendum and this year’s election of president and parliament have been held under Erdoğan’s “state of emergency” following a military coup attempt in 2016 supposedly led by the cleric Fethullah Gulen.

Under the state of emergency, tens of thousands have been jailed and fired, including civil servants, teachers, and people in the military. Some 140 media organizations have been shut down. Now the largest media organizations support Erdoğan without question. Six journalists have just been convicted of terror-related charges and sentenced to long jail terms. They join 150 journalists already in jail.

The more than a decade and a half of Erdoğan’s rule brought deep change to Turkish society, as he worked to impose his religious ideology. Secular for decades, Turkey has now been inculcated with religious trappings directed by Erdoğan and his Justice and Development Party. Perhaps most emblematic of the transformation has been the field of education, with the opening of more government-funded religious schools.

Another part of Erdoğan’s deadly rule has been in relation to the Kurds, who make up close to one-fifth of Turkey’s population. He has waged sporadic wars on the Kurdish population. Despite early “dialogue” with the Kurds, including their right to participate in elections with their own party, Erdoğan has attacked any genuine discussion of autonomy, self-rule, or the possibility of a Kurdish state, as “terrorism” and treason. All such talk and action he counts as support for the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK), the armed militant Kurdish organization that has demanded independence and most recently autonomy. For Erdoğan, this is anathema. Thus, Selahattin Demirtaş, the pro-Kurdish candidate for the Turkish presidency, has been jailed for more than a year and a half.

Erdoğan has sent his troops into Syria to fight, not against Bashar al-Assad’s dictatorship, but against Kurds preserving an independent space, the enclave of Afrin, in face of Assad’s murderous rule.

Opposition continues against Erdoğan’s continual consolidation of power. Significant Parliamentary opposition forces were elected, including Kurds. Furthermore, there is the country’s dire economic situation. Erdoğan’s authoritarian rule will not have a free hand.

—Eugene Walker

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