As 2017 draws to a close, the crackdown on the Turkish media, civil society and the opposition that accelerated after the July 15, 2016 coup attempt, shows no sign of abating. Turkey remains the world’s worst jailer of journalists for the second consecutive year. Journalists, academics and opposition politicians face being squeezed even further in 2018.
The coming year is likely to be dangerous and testing on many fronts.
At a time when much of the world confronts multiple threats of political and social instability, growing populism in many countries, unpredictability and belligerence in international relations; there is a very real potential for outbreaks of simultaneous crisis in and around Turkey.
On the domestic front, repression has clearly become integral to the Justice and Development Party government’s survival.
A new emergency decree, issued just before the year ended, granting civilians immunity for their actions against individuals whom they suspect to be “terrorists” or coup plotters, has taken President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s tightening grip over the country’s politics and institutions to whole new level.
The latest decree, like the ones before it, came under the state of emergency, bypassing parliamentary scrutiny. This opaque, extrajudicial order has further undermined the rule of law and consolidated the culture of impunity in Turkey.
This time, it is not only government opponents that have highlighted the potential dangers of granting sweeping immunity to civilians who took part in stopping the coup attempt and anything that could be considered its “continuation”.
Former President Abdullah Gül has also raised concerns about the ambiguity over the wording, describing it “incompatible” with legal terminology.
Metin Feyzioğlu, head of the national bar association, a rare critic of the government, was “horrified”.
“People on the streets are going to start shooting one another in the head,” Feyzioglu said. “You just passed a law that allows citizens to kill one another, to lynch one another, without any punishment or compensation — what have you done?”
Both President Erdoğan and Prime Minister Yıldırım responded to criticism by saying that there would be no revision.
However, the Council of Europe, that reinstated monitoring in April, has already started examining it.
Turkey will remain a challenging issue for the Council of Europe in 2018. The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) is already flooded with appeals from Turkish citizens.
The Constitutional Court, Turkey’s top legal body, says that the emergency decrees do not come under its jurisdiction.
How long the ECHR can maintain its requirement that Turkish appellants must exhaust domestic remedies before coming to Strasbourg, will be interesting to see.
The Turkish government may choose to be unresponsive to domestic opposition, but it is pragmatic enough to shift its stance when the going gets tough outside.
There are now signs that Turkey is trying to mend its ties with Europe, particularly with Germany and Netherlands.
The European Union, too, is showing willingness to improve strained relations.
Just before the year ended, Ambassador Christian Berger, head of the EU Delegation to Turkey, announced that the European Commission contracted the last of the initial €3 billion package of humanitarian funds promised to Turkey under the March 2016 migrant deal. This has long been a sore point for Turkey, criticizing the EU for not delivering its financial commitments on time.
Neither side sees any realistic prospects left for Turkey’s eventual accession to the EU. Upgrading the existing customs union seems to be the way forward in the coming year.
A similar rapprochement in the U.S.-Turkish relations will be much more difficult to achieve. Anti-US sentiment in Turkey is not limited to government circles. As a recent Pew Global Poll indicated, a whopping majority of the Turkish public view the power and influence of the US as their top concern.
The outcome of the Zarrab/Atilla case in New York, Turkey’s diplomatic and defense ties with Russia, the status of Jerusalem and disagreements over Kurds in Syria will continue to create further tensions with the United States. However, as seen in the case of full resumption of visa services, a significant backtracking from Turkey goes a long way to overcome a crisis.
In 2018, both domestically and internationally, policy decisions will be taken, reshaped or reversed, to enable President Erdogan to shore up his domestic support before the next round of elections in 2019. If deemed more beneficial for the ruling party, there may be a snap election in 2018.
For anyone trying to look ahead, remembering that “the buck will stop with one person” remains the most reliable guide for prediction.
This post is also available in: Turkish