Ankara (GPA) – Turkey’s state of emergency has finally been lifted, but critics of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan claim that new laws mean that this won’t change much.
Many in Turkey have been hoping for Thursday’s announcement for a long time. The news that the state of emergency is finally lifted after two years should be a cause for celebration. There is a problem, however, in that the political events of the last few years under emergency laws have made it so some of the worst features of post-coup Turkey are here to stay and the opposition has plenty of reasons to be wary.
The origins of Turkey’s state of emergency
Turkey’s state of emergency was first enacted almost exactly to years to the day it was finally lifted. The state of emergency was first declared in response to the attempted coup against President Erdogan in July of 2016.
Following the failed coup, Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) used the emergency laws to purge not just the members of the police and military involved in the coup but also members of the civil service including teachers, judges, and prosecutors.
The purges in Turkey began basically the moment the coup was over and have resulted in over 150,000 state employees losing their jobs and nearly 80,000 members of the opposition and Turks alleged to be connected to exiled cleric Fethullah Gulen arrested. Although alleged to be in response to the coup the targets of the purges have continued to expand over the last two years.
While nobody blames the AKP for the purges of the military and police directly involved in trying to topple Erdogan the later purges soon also began to consume people who owned things like large corporations. At this point in time, thanks to the purges, the Turkish government has seized 937 businesses belonging to opposition supporters and placed them in the hands of pro-AKP oligarchs which included the country’s largest media outlets, which has basically removed anti-AKP viewpoints from Turkish media altogether.
These purges have never stopped and even continued until the day before Turkey’s state of emergency was lifted with arrest warrants issued for over 100 military officers for alleged ties to the Gulen movement. These officers’ (and all the other purge victims) side of the story is unlikely to ever really be heard due to AKP control of the media, which the ruling party has used to their advantage several times, in tandem with emergency law, to keep all opposition down and tighten their hold on government.
2017 constitutional referendum
The first time these authoritarian muscles were really flexed was during the voting process for the controversial constitutional referendum that provides the office of President with more control over the government.
This referendum was highly contested, just passing by about one percentage point, after a voting process where the narrative was controlled by AKP media and the polling places were controlled by AKP thugs. The media, for their part, would’ve been willing to confirm the referendum had passed even if it wasn’t true. While you’d think most Turks know this, Turkish media also has undue influence in the Turkish media sphere since the state of emergency has also been used to restrict social media and the internet to keep any bad news from spreading.
It is likely the yes campaign did get the votes needed to change the constitution. How this was possible, though, wasn’t just pulled off by the pro-AKP media. While the Turkish media maintains a shiny image of the AKP and Erdogan, there is still obviously nearly half of the country that is opposed to both of these things. That is where the state of emergency and the role of the lower level purges come into play, with much of the opposition sitting in jails or at least accused of ties to terror groups or fired from their jobs (likely as a warning that the AKP was watching and could do worse).
Beyond the simple arrests and dismissals of opposition members, financiers and voters, sometimes the government also used the state of emergency to straight-up deny some areas the ability to cast their vote. This primarily happened in the southern parts of the country with large Kurdish populations said to be home to “terrorist activity” where people working campaigns for the “No” vote were arrested – some even on the day of the vote.
There were also many accusations of voter fraud, with multiple areas of the country claiming ballots had been accepted without being sealed – a measure used for verification. It’s likely this was orchestrated by the Erdogan government since a major part of the referendum also changed voting laws so that the seal was no longer necessary. These types of tactics have also continued until today, with more Turkish voters complaining during the last election of ballot boxes filled up before polling stations even opened.
Presidential powers and the new terror law
Thanks to the passage of these changes to the constitution, the reason many members of the Turkish opposition are apathetic o the lifting of the state of emergency is due to the new powers Erdogan has following his re-election. Much like during the state of emergency, the powers granted to Erdogan by the referendum still allow him to personally carry out the worst excesses of the purges such as appointing and dismissing ministers, judges, and prosecutors at will. Erdogan can now also make presidential decrees and veto bills from parliament that can’t be overturned without a majority (in a parliament run by Erdogan’s coalition).
If that wasn’t bad enough the parliament is expected to put forward a new anti-terror bill next week which will also grant them powers of appointment and dismissal similar to Erdogan’s as well as put in place other measures to silence the opposition.
The new law, which has the AKP’s blessing, should pass with no problem and is expected to remain in place at least three years. Beyond granting parliament new powers, the bill also looks to restrict “unauthorized demonstrations” after sunset and allows local officials to restrict the movement of Turkish citizens for up to 15 days at a time.
With all of this going into effect, it makes sense that the Turkish opposition doesn’t see much of a difference whether the state of emergency is in place or not. While the opposition to the AKP will no doubt continue fighting, they know the game still hasn’t really changed.
James Carey is an organizer based in Detroit, Michigan, founder of Geopolitics Alert, and an experienced analyst on Middle Eastern affairs with a particular focus on Turkey. He also covers topics ranging from Latin America and Asia to Europe. You can also hear James in his weekly podcast; The Left is Dead which he co-hosts with investigative journalist Jake Anderson.