THE BLOG

Erdogan Polishes His Iron Fist

17/03/2014 10:46 GMT | Updated 15/05/2014 10:59 BST

As of late, the world's major media outlets have turned their attention to Turkey to cover recent disturbances in the country. Last year, we saw clashes break out between police and protesters across the country; what originally was a sit-in demonstration against a proposed shopping mall in Gezi Park, Istanbul, soon spilled into the now infamous Taksim Square, and became an all-out movement against the authoritarianism and corruption in Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's government. It seemed to de-escalate, but the spirit of Taksim is far from dead.

10 months on, and the agitators are back in the streets. The most recent clashes, that occurred on Wednesday, initially came about as a reaction to the death of 15-year-old Berkin Elvan, who had, before his tragic passing on Wednesday morning, been in a coma since June last year, as a result of being hit by a police tear gas canister. Demonstrations and a heavy-handed police crackdown followed, with cries of "Berkin's murderers are the AKP police" coming from the protesters.

It is certainly clear that this isn't just angry youngsters looking for a scrap with the police; it goes much deeper - there are reasons beyond the death of Elvan. The corruption debacle that has sparked this new wave of protests began in November, when Erdogan threatened to close a network of schools operated by cleric Fethullah Gülen, who has an extensive influence in Turkish politics and state institutions. Whilst Erdogan and Gülen were once political allies and both shared a conservative Islamic vision for Turkey; however, this move has been seen by many as an attempt by Erdogan to consolidate all political power.

Following the aforementioned, a recording was leaked in December in which Erdogan appeared to order his son to dispose of large amounts of money; but according to Erdogan, the tapes were "fabricated".

More recently (Friday 7th March to be precise), Erdogan threatened to ban Facebook and Youtube, declaring with conviction that both are "immoral". In other words, "these websites and their way of connecting people are threatening my grip on power and I'm scared".

Indeed, Erdogan has a colourful past. In 1998 he was convicted for inciting religious hatred after reciting a poem that compared mosques to barracks, minarets to bayonets, and the faithful to an army. His present? Just as colourful. He has been known to personally contact news editors and demand that if a story is critical towards him or his government, they should take it down.

It is clear that a desire to cling to power is in his nature. A piece in The Economist said that "Mr Erdogan, in power for almost 11 years, has come to confuse his own fate with the fate of the country. His readiness to use strong-arm tactics on the police and judiciary weakens the rule of law. His refusal to tolerate any check on his own power stifles democracy."

Right now, Turkey is no place to be an activist - or a journalist. There are currently 50 behind bars for doing their jobs. Last year, it came top of the pile for journalists imprisoned, with Iran and China following close behind (source: Committee to Protect Journalists).

Democracy, press freedom, and the liberty of individuals are being slowly eroded by Mr. Erdogan and his pack of AKP wolves. However, as long as people the world over refuse to turn a blind eye, and as long as they continue to dissent, his goals of control over the press and the minds of the Turkish people will never succeed. Now more than ever, Turkey needs our attention and our support.

(Sources: AlJazeera, The Guardian, Today's Zaman, Committee to Protect Journalists, The Economist)