“It is not only the person who pulls the trigger, but those who made that possible who should be defined as terrorists, regardless of their title,” Turkish President Tayyip Recep Erdogan said on Monday, in an attempt to convince parliament to include journalists, politicians, academics, and activists under the country’s anti-extremism laws.
Erdogan’s comments came a day after the latest in a string of suicide bombings ripped through Ankara, killing 34 and wounding more than 100 in Kizilay. Since then, Turkey has arrested nearly 50 people with “suspected ties” to the PKK against which Erdogan is waging a highly personal crusade.
Apparently, the President doesn’t think parliament is moving fast enough on his “request” to expand the definition of “terrorist” because in a speech on Wednesday, he effectively instructed lawmakers to get moving before also urging parliament to deal with “the issue of immunities.”
Erdogan desperately wants to prosecute HDP members who he says are guilty of “inciting terrorism.” “We must swiftly finalize the issue of immunities,” he said. “Parliament must take steps on this issue swiftly,” he added, as if the first statement was in some way unclear.
(Erdogan gets it, why don't you?)
But frankly, we’re not even sure why he bothers parliament with these things. Erdogan is going to do whatever Erdogan wants to do. We're talking about a man who arrested two of the country's preeminent journalists and had the nerve to charge them with "deliberately aiding a terrorist organization" when what they were in fact doing was exposing Erdogan for... wait for it... deliberately aiding a terrorist organization.
And if that's not absurd enough for you, there are countless other examples including an incident which saw a medical doctor put on trial for posting a picture of the President next to a picture of a fictional creature from a Tolkein novel on social media.
Turks are in fact so scared of their "leader" that just last month, a Turkish truck driver literally sued his own wife for cursing at Erdogan when he spoke on television. "I warned her," the man later said.
True to form, Erdogan didn't wait on parliament to expand the definition of "terrorist" before he went ahead and arrested three academics for "terrorist propaganda" after they made the mistake of publicly asking the government to stop the siege on Cizre and other cities in the predominantly Kurdish southeast.
"More than 2,000 academics signed a petition in January criticizing military action in the southeast, including round-the-clock curfews aimed at rooting out PKK militants who have barricaded themselves in residential areas in southeastern cities," Reuters notes. "The petition outraged President Erdogan, who said the academics would pay a price for their 'treachery'".
A few days ago, a group of lawyers made the mistake of holding a press conference to defend the academics who signed the aforementioned petition. On Tuesday, Erdogan arrested the lawyers too.
Finally, when a British citizen who teaches at Bilgi University showed up at the courthouse to support the lawyers, he was also arrested. His crime, in his own words: "I am accused because I had several invitations to Kurdish new year (celebrations on March 21) published by the HDP - the third-largest party in the Turkish parliament - in my bag."
So there you go. Lessons learned all around we suppose.
Better still, the President says he plans to start campaigning in April for his long-planned push to expand the powers of the presidency (because clearly he's not powerful enough). Erdogan will look to rewrite the constitution (literally) in order that it might, in Bloomberg's words, "feature a strengthened presidency while retaining a key role for the parliament."
Yes, "a key role for parliament," where the third largest party is about to have their immunity stripped away so that Erdogan can prosecute the whole lot of them for being terrorists.
Erdogan, Bloomberg goes on to write, "has devoted much energy to expanding the executive role of what’s traditionally been a largely ceremonial post, arguing that strong leadership will help extend a record of economic growth [but] only holds 317 seats in the 550-member parliament, short of the 330 votes needed to take a new charter to a public vote."
Trust us. He'll get it to a referendum. Votes or no votes. And then he'll rig the referendum.
Clearly, Nihat Ali Ozcan at the Economic Policy Research Foundation in Ankara (who spoke to Bloomberg) doesn't get it: “The PKK is engaged in a direct confrontation with Erdogan with the aim of preventing him from turning his office into an executive presidency. However, Erdogan may benefit from a growing nationalist backlash in his campaign for a presidential system, as long as he maintains his crackdown on the PKK.”
Gee, do you think so?
That's been the entire gambit since last June's elections. Erdogan lost ground to the pro-Kurdish HDP and so, he used the war on ISIS as an excuse to deliberately restart the conflict with the PKK in order to convince the public that it needs his protection lest the entire country should descend into chaos. Three months and a whole lot of lost lives later, AKP performed better in a November redo election that Erdogan - gun to his head - was "forced" to call when the coalition building process was sabotaged fell apart in August.
We have no doubt that Erdogan will succeed one way or another in his bid to rewrite the constitution. Even if it kills him. Or wait. No. Even if it kills you.