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Middle East

Turkey: Fear marks 2016

From terror attacks to never-ending arrests, Turkey has suffered through a rough year. President Erdogan’s recent call for national mobilization may not be sufficient writes DW’s Seda Serdar.

It has been a traumatic year for Turkey. Terrorist attacks in big cities, trench warfare in eastern Turkey against the Kurds, the spill-over from the war in Syria and the failed coup attempt that led to the current state-of-emergency have left the country in a shambles.

The loss of lives and the fear of becoming a victim of a terror attack have fueled public anxiety. Despite the inculcations of the Turkish government and constant promises to end terror in the country, the instability continues to deepen.

Fear - the common denominator

Turkey is not only struggling with deadly attacks, but also with a rapidly deteriorating democracy. Following the failed coup attempt, the arrests and job losses of thousands have created another level of fear and unease in the country. Not only are people known as Gülenists being replaced. Anyone considered a threat to the ruling AKP rapidly becomes a target.

Türkei Istanbul nach den Anschlägen (Reuters/Handout Presidential Palace/K. Ozer)

President Erdogan (m.) presiding over a national security meeting

The systematic policy of attrition towards the Kurdish HDP is another element of oppression. This policy adds more fuel to the fire, inciting deeper divisions within society. It is important to keep in mind that the people behind bars today are the same people that the AKP was working with to find a solution to the Kurdish issue not long ago. Pushing aside an elected party and marginalizing their role in politics is clearly harming democracy.

The wall of shame rises even higher when one looks at the situation of Turkish media. The few remaining free voices are struggling not to drown between propaganda and self-censorship, if their editors are not already imprisoned.  

This gloomy picture becomes more complex when almost 4 million refugees are included. One cannot blame the refugees for not seeing any hope or future in Turkey. The majority of them see no perspective for the future and little hope. Since Turkey expects another refugee influx due to the intensified fighting in Aleppo, the future of these people and their integration becomes an even more important issue. Even though it is only the humane response to accommodate people fleeing war, one cannot deny that this is a social problem waiting to explode. At the same time, the refugee deal struck with the EU continues to hang in the balance.

What's the rush?

Türkei Istanbul nach den Anschlägen (Reuters/Handout /Presidential Palace/K. Ozer)

Erdogan visiting a policman wounded during the December 11 terror attack in Istanbul

With all these problems, it is clear that the timing for changing the constitution was poorly chosen. The recent terrorist attack in Istanbul also proved that there are more urgent issues that have to be dealt with. The government needs to invest all of its energy in finding a solution to terror, since this was not the first attack, but just one among many that shook Turkey in 2016.

Even though some argue that this was an attempt to slow down Turkey on the road to progress, it should rather be seen as proof that terrorism is on the rise and can influence daily lives anytime, anywhere. Therefore the problem needs undivided attention and resources.

Mixed signals

At a speech given to the elected neighborhood representatives, which has become one of President Erdogan's signature moves, he declared a national mobilization against terrorism. Erdogan called for unity among citizens and promised to strike back by intensifying the fight on terror.

At the same time, he ordered neighborhood representatives to report suspicious activities since who else would know what's happening in each and every household better than them? This however conflicts with the call for unity. Not only does it encourage the invasion of privacy, but also adds to the fear factor of being reported to the government. It is one thing to fight terrorism and to prevent attacks; it is quite another to grant authority to further intimidate an already traumatized public.

It seems that the AKP has realized that the ritual of paying respect to the victims of terrorist attacks is no longer sufficient. However, once the promises are put aside and the press conferences are over, there still seems to be no concrete plan of action in place to bring peace and unity to the country.

 

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