In our last speaker event of the year, Aydoğan Vatandaş—an exiled Turkish journalist—spoke about the current state of Turkey. In his speech Vatandaş stated that Turkey, the once economically thriving democratic nation, has fallen into chaos just in the past decade. In fact Vatandaş stated that Turkey was anything but a democracy, in large part due to one man—Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
Erdoğan was Mayor of Istanbul from 1994 to 1998 and in 1998, was imprisoned for reciting an excerpt of a poem the Turkish government deemed inappropriate. After his release Erdoğan proclaimed himself a Muslim democrat and shortly thereafter assumed the position of Prime Minister of Turkey in 2003. His position as Prime Minister of Turkey lasted until 2014. During this time Erdoğan became determined to resurrect the Ottoman Empire. This led to conflicts with the United States, particularly in regards to the sanctions against Iran. To deal with this matter Erdoğan met with former president Barack Obama in 2012 to reach an agreement. Though the meeting showed some progress, it ultimately marked the beginning of the decline of the U.S.-Turkey relationship.
Even though Erdoğan wielded tremendous power as Prime Minister, his power reached its current height after the Turkish coup in July 2016. The coup is believed by Erdoğan to have been staged by Fethullah Gülen—a former ally of Erdoğan. The coup not only failed to achieve its goal of overthrowing Erdoğan, it bolstered his power. The coup was suppressed in a day and allowed Erdoğan to declare a Turkish state of emergency. Erdoğan began his one-person regime and ended Turkey’s long-lasting and prosperous democracy. This can be illustrated though the mass number of Turkish citizens who have fled and are still attempting to flee Turkey due to the poor conditions. As there is no legal way to leave under Erdoğan’s regime, many take to illegal and dangerous methods. Just in the past few weeks the five dead bodies of a Turkish family were found drowned in the Aegean Sea.
Erdoğan’s regime has even suppressed the freedom of the press. Upwards of ninety percent of the news broadcasted in Turkey is likely false, directly controlled by the government. Many of Turkey’s former journalists writing about Erdoğan’s corruption have either been jailed or have fled the country. According to Vatandaş, a friend of his who recently visited Turkey was arrested on the sole basis of being linked to him, who is a wanted man by Erdoğan’s government. He even cracked a joke, stating that, we, the listeners of his speech, now could not visit Turkey in the foreseeable future.
Turkey is in a state of chaos; they have even threatened to begin executing enemies of the state. As the Middle East is in turmoil, the United States is in dire need of a strong ally in the Middle East. However, with Turkey’s current government, an alliance does not appear to be an option. It is now impossible to ignore the state of Turkey.
Allen Zou, in addition to his volunteer work with the World Affairs Council, is a high school senior at Saint Xavier. He has a passion for understanding other cultures, especially through language-learning, and currently studies Mandarin, French, and German.