A doubletake on Erdogan’s doubletalk


Few people truly believe that states conduct their foreign and domestic affairs based on the ideals they pretend to espouse. For example, as the United States preaches about how lovely freedom and democracy are and how important they are to the U.S, one merely has to say the word “Afghanistan”, before the world’s collective conscience puts its hands on its hips and goes “Oh honey, please.” Because the U.S. is so loud in terms of its rhetoric, there are a lot of chances to go “Oh, honey.” But that’s not to say many, if not most, other countries exploit a certain set of values in order to advance their image and thus, their interests, all the while turning around and doing exactly the opposite of what they pretend they’re all about.

Oh honey, please.

Some countries, however, are better manipulators than others. No one puts their hands on their hips for them. For some reason, their rhetoric, sometimes plain propaganda, is accepted at face value, or at least, not questioned that deeply. Turkey, as a moderate-Islamic not Arab-or-European democracy cloaks itself very well, both in the European and Arab world. Straddling two continents and thousands of years of history, Turkey is regarded as a model for the Arab world. But the 34 civilian Kurds killed in the Uludere massacre, and the 1,500 Kurds arrested under terrorism charges just this year are putting their hands on their hips, and countless other victims of extreme Turkish nationalism and racism, are saying, “Oh honey, please.”

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has said many admirable things related to the defense of human rights, when those human rights are conveniently outside of his borders. From Somalia, to Syria, to Palestine, the defense of human dignity, freedom, and self-determination are incredibly important to Erdogan; as long as Kurds are not demanding the same values in his backyard.

In October, as a response to the severe famine in Somalia that continues to this day, Erdogan promised that Turkey would “redouble its efforts” to end the suffering of the Somali people.

“Regardless of which culture we come from or where we live, I am confident that our common heritage as human beings will motivate us to ease the suffering of Somalia.”

Later that month, after a devastating 7.2 magnitude earthquake leveled the Kurdish region of Wan,  Erdogan apparently wasn’t able to find enough of a “common heritage as human beings” with the Kurdish people, as inadequate aid to an already impoverished region turned a natural disaster into a humanitarian crisis, with a death toll over 600.

Erdogan could not find a "common heritage" with this Kurdish boy.

This is not to condemn Erdogan’s interest in aiding Somalia. Needless to say, Somalians need aid from people, organizations, and countries, not just to feed their stomachs but to repair the broken infrastructure caused by decades of corruption and exploitation. What is worthy of condemnation is the praise that Erdogan receives for being a hero in the world of humanitarian assistance, when Kurds in Turkey suffered so poignantly the effects of derelict buildings long ignored by the government and neglect in terms of humanitarian aid received. Erdogan’s hypocrisy is similarly biting when it comes to Syria.

From the beginning, Turkey emerged as a leader in diplomatic negotiations with the Assad regime. One of the first countries to condemn the violence, and already held in high esteem for its supposed support of the Egyptian and Libyan revolutions, Turkey has enjoyed a positive reputation as an advocate and a model for democracy. Erdogan himself has had very strong words for Syrian dictator Bashar al -Assad. When talking to Turkish reporters, Erdogan relayed a conversation they had, calling him a lier and saying,

“I asked him how many political prisoners there were. He [Assad] told me 83 and said ‘I can send you a list’. But I found out from various other sources that there are thousands of political prisoners.”

Thousands of political prisoners in Syria. It is brave of Erdogan to stand up for these thousands, often subject to torture or lifelong imprisonment. Or is it so brave of him? Again, Erdogan’s hypocrisy cheapens his comments about Syrian prisoners, when Turkish and Kurdish political prisoners and journalists languish by the thousands in Erdogan’s own prisons.

Over 1,500 people arrested under Turkey’s oppressive “terrorism” charge just this year, as in less than two months. 36 journalists were sent to prison in December, bringing the total number of journalists in prison in Turkey to over 100.

While Syrians take to the streets and die for political freedom, Erdogan claims to support them while silencing the same ideals Syrians are fighting for in his own country. Turkey’s anti-terrorism law unjustly targets any Kurdish voice of dissent, and Turkey cannot truly be a democracy, nor support emerging democracies, until its own repressive tactics are called out and stopped.

The deafening silence of the international community when it comes to Turkey’s crimes is still noticeable, despite how loud Turkey is regarding human rights elsewhere. The silence against Kurdish oppression is the most noticeable when Erdogan defends the Palestinians, another stateless people. Ironically, over the last few years Turkey has become famous for its defense of Palestine (despite enjoying warm relations with Israel prior to Israel killing several Turkish civilians during the 2010 Gaza flotilla raid). During Palestine’s UN bid for statehood last September, Erdogan had strong words for Israel, calling it a spoiled child, and saying,

“The legitimate demands of the people cannot be repressed with force and in blood… The Palestinian cause is the cause of human dignity.”

No one could deny the truth of Erdogan’s statement, and the Palestinians have certainly suffered at the hands of the Israelis. The Israeli occupation of Palestinian land has prevented Palestinians from taking claim to their own heritage, to having agency over their own fates, to enjoying the dignity of their own country. But Palestinians are not the only stateless people. Kurds have long suffered because imperialist powers and oppressive governments did not give them the authority to take charge over their own destiny. The legitimate demands of the people cannot be repressed with force and in blood. If Palestinian demands parallel Kurdish demands, then Kurdish demands are legitimate demands, being repressed by Erodgan himself with force and in blood.

Victims of the Uludere massacre

On December 28th, Turkish warplanes killed 34 Kurdish civilians in the small border town of Uludere. The military even knew that these Kurds were civilians, and the excuse that Turkey thought it was bombing a PKK base cheapens the lives of the Kurds that died in vain.

That is not to say that even if were a PKK base, it would a justified death. Turkey has responded with exponential force to every PKK attack, and any Kurdish resistance is vilified both by the Turkish government and society. Interestingly enough, Erdogan does not oppose all armed resistance on principle. His opinions on Palestinian resistance to the Israeli occupation are quite different:

“I do not think that Hamas is a terrorist organization…They are Palestinians in resistance, fighting for their own land.”

This is not meant to cast judgement either way on Hamas, or the PKK. But since Erdogan made his position so clear on the acceptability of an oppressed people fighting for their own land, the vilification of the PKK can’t make sense. The way Erdogan manipulates struggles for justice to suit his own foreign policy agenda are a blatant exploitation of these struggles. Human rights aren’t selective to certain favorable humans. Freedom isn’t a privilege that only special groups are allowed to strive for. But Erdogan continues to look keenly out for the human rights and freedom of others, and keep the biggest, darkest set of blinders on his eyes when it comes to those struggles in his own country.

For an imagination exercise that truly reveals Erdogan’s double standards, imagine for a moment, if every one of Erdogan’s quotes listed above, all direct quotes, were spoken on behalf of the Kurdish people. What would that sound like?

“Regardless of which culture we come from or where we live, I am confident that our common heritage as human beings will motivate us to ease the suffering of Kurdistan. The legitimate demands of the people cannot be repressed with force and in blood.  The Kurdish cause is the cause of human dignity. They are Kurds in resistance, fighting for their own land.”

Suddenly, using his own words, the primary oppressor of the Kurdish people sounds like their hero. If it sounds absurd coming from Erdogan when it comes to the Kurds, then is it really that legitimate when it comes to the Somalis, Syrians, Palestinians?

Oh honey, please.