In a frank and poignant article published in al-Monitor this week, the Economist correspondent Amberin Zaman identified the essence of today’s political turmoil in Turkey. She wrote about the absence of any moral compass she had once believed the Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had.
When I listen to the Prime Minister who is campaigning around the country for municipal elections on March 30, and how the masses are reacting to his vindictive, authoritarian behavior, I cannot help thinking Mr Erdoğan and his ministers are not the only ones lacking a moral compass.
Throw in large parts of the media and business community into this cauldron; it becomes the witch’s brew that is Turkey today.
The stench that is rising is so strong; it is pervading every aspect of our lives.
When Berkin Elvan, the 15-year old boy died earlier this week after 269 days in a coma, tens of thousands of people attended his funeral. As well as mourning a young life lost, the crowds demanded an end to impunity and to police violence that has already taken eight young lives since the Gezi protests last summer.
The Prime Minister chose to ignore the grief felt by thousands. Instead, he condemned the mourners as “charlatans” bent on sowing chaos in the run-up to local elections. On a pro-government television channel, his only comment was about the temporary effect of the funeral on the country’s stock market.
Two days later, in the south eastern city of Gaziantep, he claimed Berkin Elvan was hit because he was carrying a slingshot with iron marbles. He condemned Berkin’s parents for burying their son with glass marbles and red carnations.
I couldn’t decide which was more abhorrent. The Prime Minister’s callous speech or the crowd in his rally booing the Elvan family?
One of his former ministers, removed from his post after bribery allegations, Egemen Bağış, tweeted during the funeral referring to Berkin Elvan’s mourners as “necrophiliacs.”
Another governing party deputy, Şamil Tayyar claimed Berkin Elvan’s life support machine might have been switched off to stir things up before the elections.
The leader of the main opposition Republican People’s Party, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu accused Mr. Erdoğan of a “dangerous provocation”, saying he was “dragging Turkey into great disorder and an atmosphere of chaos as his only path to salvation”.
Dangers of further polarizing the country were seen soon enough. On the day of Berkin Elvan’s funeral, another young man, Burak Can was killed in a clash between opposing groups in Istanbul’s Okmeydani district where the Elvan family live. A shady left-wing organization DHKP-C claimed responsibility.
Despite Mr Erdoğan’s reference to Burak Can as a “martyr” killed by the opposition leader Kılıçdaroğlu’s “unofficial illegal executioners”, the fathers of the two dead men, Sami Elvan and Halil Can extended condolences to each other and asked for their loss and pain not to be used as a political tool.
Yes, there are occasional rays of light appearing on the horizon as these two fathers and tens of thousands taking to the streets this week have demonstrated, but the chances of the public severely rebuking its rulers for disreputable behaviour seems unlikely in today’s Turkey.
Despite the corruption allegations and erosion of the country’s democratic institutions, voters continue to support the Justice and Development Party.
At the end of the day, it is this obvious decline of public morals that we should be most concerned about.
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