As Turkey goes on the offensive in Syria against Kurdish-led fighters, international attention has been tightly focused on its issues. More and more people are being exposed to Turkey’s problems with corruption, censorship, oppression, and authoritarianism. The country was founded as a secular nation after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire but seems to be regressing back into a religious fundamentalist state and cracking down on any and all political dissidents. What lessons can Turkey learn from other authoritarian states in history?
Apparently, too many. Turkey’s current leader, President Erdogan, is an authoritarian. He’s the leader of the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, a far-right party that continuously undermines the supposedly secular nature of Turkey’s government and likes to dip its toes into religious fundamentalism. Mustafa Kemal Atatürk founded Turkey as a secular republic in 1923 but has since struggled with controversy over whether or not it is holding true to its secular founding principles, and Erdogan’s AKP has been overseeing this controversy and in power in most years since 2002. Throughout that time, Erdogan, as the leader of the AKP, has given himself more and more powers through referendums and reforms. As Hitler rose to power, he dedicated more and more governmental powers to himself and eliminated political opponents, concentrating political power in his own office. Erdogan is doing the same thing. For 95 years Turkey was a parliamentary democracy, with the Prime Minister being the most powerful office. That remained true while Erdogan was Prime Minister. Then, when he was elected to the office of President in 2014, then a mostly symbolic position, he began granting himself more powers, becoming more powerful than the prime minister. Then, after a 2017 referendum and a 2018 election, the office of Prime Minister was eliminated entirely, and Turkey has since adopted a presidential system, increasing Erdogan’s own power and diminishing the power of parliament. Historically, it makes sense for an authoritarian to consolidate political power in his own office and eliminate positions that could challenge or check his power, as the Nazis did in the 1930s.
Another classic authoritarian tactic is censorship and media crackdown. The Nazis made use of all forms of media to further their goals. They eliminated dissenting newspapers and directly controlled the press, using propaganda to convince the German people of anything they wished, and keeping tight control to make sure no voices could be heard that didn’t echo what they were saying themselves. The Nazis arrested dissidents and suppressed free speech to keep control of what was allowed to be said in Germany. Erdogan has gone on the record to cite Hitler’s Germany as an example of the kind of state he wants to run, so it comes as no surprise that he would copy the tactics of Hitler when it comes to free speech. Turkey has a history of jailing journalists and dissidents, blocking social media sites and news websites that do not carry an explicitly pro-Turkey or pro-Erdogan message. Turkey also has its own genocide under its belt, with over a million Armenians killed under Ottoman rule in World War I, for which Turkey has never officially apologized, offering only some vague condolences in reference to Armenians that died in 1915.
A supposedly secular, free and fair society has been corrupted and controlled by Erdogan’s authoritarian tendencies and is slowly but surely turning into an authoritarian state modeled after many of Hitler’s own ideas. While it isn’t quite time to point to Turkey as a fascist state or a genocidal one, Erdogan’s many similarities to Hitler cannot and should not be ignored by anyone, as they launch a major military invasion of another country to wipe out the Kurds in Syria.
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Hubbard, Ben, and Carlotta Gall. “Turkey Launches Offensive Against U.S.-Backed Syrian Militia.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 9 Oct. 2019, http://www.nytimes.com/2019/10/09/world/middleeast/turkey-attacks-syria.html.
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