Summer issue: Erdogan’s Biggest Fear; Erdogan’s true totalitarian colors; Ergenekon trial; Media crackdown

Erdogan’s Biggest Fear: The ‘Concerned’ Islamists

On Aug. 14, following the release of a harsh statement against the Egyptian interim government from the office of the Turkish Prime Ministry, Ivan Watson of CNN tweeted: “Pot calling kettle black? Turkey’s PM Erdogan condemns Egyptian security forces for using “force against peaceful protests.” 

But the prompt reply to Watson’s tweet came from Ismail Cesur, one of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s advisors: “Sorry Ivan we do not consider vandals and provocateurs as ‘peaceful protesters.’ Try to watch objectively and see the difference.”

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Investors Nervous: Erdogan’s Witch Hunt

Endangers Economy

Photo Gallery: Erdogan Alienating Foreign Investors

Sedat Mehder/ DER SPIEGEL

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan has begun scouring the financial industry for scapegoats to blame for the political unrest in his country. Banks and industrialists are being controlled and intimidated, and foreign investors are being scared off.

Long after sunset, the day’s heat lingers in the urban canyons of Istanbul’s Levent financial district. Beneath billboards depicting lingerie models, black sedans crawl, bumper-to-bumper, along Büyükdere Caddesi, a four-lane highway.

In a café some distance from the office towers, Umut Keles, a Turkish analyst with an American investment bank, removes the battery from his mobile phone, afraid of being wiretapped by the Turkish government. He is speaking with us under two conditions: That we not use his real name or that of his employer. The investment banker believes that the government would take action against him if it knew his identity. “There’s a witch hunt underway here at the moment,” he says.

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In Turkey, Critics of Erdogan’s Government Claim Familiar Pattern of Reprisal

Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan

Umit Bektas / Reuters

The fallout from the June protests in Turkey is settling into a growing pattern of reprisal against those dissenting against Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, critics of his government say. But that pattern may be backfiring, as it is fueling further discontent among Erdogan’s opponents and bolstering their ranks with some of his former supporters.

Among the newly disenchanted is the prominent scholar Ihsan Dagi. The “new Turkey,” which Erdogan championed on coming to power, and which Dagi tried to understand and explain, has become “old,” the scholar wrote in his farewell note as editor of Insight Turkey, a quarterly review he had headed for more than five years. A professor at Ankara’s Middle East Technical University, Dagi is also stepping down from SETA, the progovernment think tank that publishes the journal.

For years, Dagi tells TIME, he supported Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) for its commitment to “democratization, membership in the E.U. and globalization.” Gradually, his support waned. Following Erdogan’s tough reaction to the protests that shook Turkey in June, Dagi’s support foundered completely. Dagi, whose wife is a former AKP parliamentarian, says, “I realized I had nothing in common left with the government and progovernment forces in Turkey.”

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Erdogan’s true totalitarian colors

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses his supporters and lawmakers at the parliament in Ankara, Turkey, Tuesday, June 25, 2013. (AP Photo)

(AP Photo)

You have to hand it to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. No matter what he does, the West continues to consider him an ally. The epitome of “Teflon” — used to describe someone to whom nothing undesirable sticks — the leader of the Islamist AKP-led government is at it again, with a vengeance.

On Monday, the Turkish courts, by now virtually under Erdogan’s complete control, convicted scores of military officers, politicians, academics, lawyers and members of the media for their role in the “Ergenekon coup plot.”

The trial, in which there were 275 defendants, was the culmination of an investigation that began in 2007, when explosives were found in the home of a former military officer. The investigation revealed a network involved in a “conspiracy” to topple Erdogan’s government, and to restore the previous secular nature of Turkish society, safeguarded by the military.

This network was dubbed “Ergenekon,” the mythical ancestral home of the Turks.

There is nothing new about Erdogan’s exploitation of the Turkish legal system to crack down on and silence opposition. Since coming to power in 2002, his government has engaged in press censorship, even to the point of imprisoning journalists, and in curtailing the army’s traditional role of protecting secular values.

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The Turkish Trial That Fell Far Short

erdogan 1

The sentences handed down Monday by the Istanbul Heavy Penal Court No. 13 against 275 defendants in the “Ergenekon trial” brought to a close perhaps the most politically divisive trial in Turkey’s history.

The defendants (66 of whom were in prison at the time of the verdict) received a range of long sentences, including life imprisonment, with the vast majority convicted of aiding and abetting or membership in a “terrorist organization” (the “Ergenekon” gang), which plotted coups against the government in 2004.

Those convicted include retired and serving military personnel, academics, journalists and some organized crime figures. Defendants are likely to appeal their sentences all the way to the European Court of Human Rights.

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Turkey media crackdown: Who to blame?

Turkish journalists protesting in Istanbul

Turkish journalists rallied in Istanbul last month to demand press freedom and denounce harassment of colleagues

Press freedom has become a burning issue in Turkey after the police crackdown on protesters in Istanbul’s Gezi Park and the way Turkish media initially avoided covering it.

As police fought running battles with protesters in June the mainstream news channels opted to air documentaries – including, infamously, one about penguins.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan recently remarked: “Not everyone has to like us. I’m being frank. There is no such obligation.”

That appeared to suggest tolerance for opposing views. But many sacked journalists are sceptical.

Since the Gezi Park protests – the biggest challenge yet to the AKP government after 11 years in power – at least 75 journalists have been fired or have resigned, the Turkish Journalists’ Union says.

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