National Security

The Bad Guy Wins in Turkey

Erdogan's regime gets even worse with severe crack down on opposition.

Harold Hutchison · Jul. 18, 2016
Recip Tayyap Erdogan

Friday’s failed coup in Turkey is a setback for human rights, democracy, the United States, and the Middle East in general. You’re probably asking why that would be the case when Turkish President Recip Tayyap Erdogan appears to have been democratically elected a number of times. A closer look at Erdogan’s conduct, however, shows he is not exactly a hero of freedom and democracy. Quite the contrary — he is a thug dictator.

Erdogan’s regime long has been cracking down on the opposition press in Turkey. One opposition party has claimed that nearly 1,900 journalists have lost jobs since Erdogan took power. Opposition media outlets have been fined for covering anti-government demonstrations. The government has the power to shut down websites without a court order, and famously blocked YouTube and Twitter after audio of an incriminating conversation surfaced. A former Miss Turkey was sentenced to a year in jail for allegedly insulting Erdogan, and a 13-year-old was arrested for a Facebook post.

Since the coup collapsed by early Saturday, Erdogan’s regime has detained more than 6,000 military officers, soldiers, judges, police officers and others. He declared, “This uprising is a gift from god to us because this will be a reason to cleanse our army.” While rumors that Erdogan set up the whole thing are likely overblown, he clearly didn’t let a crisis go to waste.

More ominously, our NATO ally Turks have ordered a halt to operations at Incirlink Air Base, which is used by the 39th Air Base Wing of the United States Air Force, and which also hosts British, Saudi and German aircraft that carry out strikes against the Islamic State. Not only is Incirlik less than 70 miles from the Syrian border, the United States has a number of “special weapons” stored there, mostly B61 gravity bombs. The base is a critical and strategic launching point for the U.S.

Erdogan has allegedly turned a blind eye to foreign fighters who travel through Turkey to join the Islamic State, and his sympathies have been increasingly Islamist. Under Erdogan’s regime, Turkey denied the 4th Infantry Division permission to pass through Turkey to attack Saddam Hussein’s regime from the north in 2003. Israel has also come under fire from Erdogan, particularly after the Gaza flotilla incident.

Erdogan is also known for making anti-Semitic comments, and in 2013, was considered the second-most anti-Semitic personality of the year by the Simon Wiesenthal Center. In 2009, the Israeli Foreign Ministry accused Erdogan of inciting anti-Semitism. Erdogan also admires the late Ahmet Necip Fazil Kisakurek, who published a Turkish translation of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a notorious anti-Semitic forgery.

Since the failure of the coup, Erdogan has been moving to target his opponents. His regime is now demanding that the United States hand over Fethullah Gulen, a former ally of Erdogan’s. Gulen runs the Hizmet movement, which runs schools in Turkey. He also appears to be a real example of a moderate Muslim. He supports democracy, education, military action against the Islamic State, interfaith dialogue, and freedom of religion. Gulen cut ties with Erdogan after a 2013 corruption scandal, and since then, Erdogan has been moving to take out the moderate cleric.

Should the United States hand Gulen over to Erdogan, it would be for certain death. Not only would that strengthen the Erdogan regime, it would silence one of the most prominent moderate voices in Islam. That would be a huge loss for the people of the entire Middle East, not just a setback in the War on Terror. Bottom line on the coup: The fact that Erdogan’s regime survived means the bad guy has won this round. But as is usually the case in the Middle East, there aren’t all that many good guys.

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