Think Globally, Repress Locally

Turkey has received a tremendous amount of credit for its role in the “Arab Spring” and has widely been viewed as a natural leader in a more democratic Middle East.

Amnesty and others, however, have highlighted the important limitations on basic human rights in Turkey. Ayça Çubukçu, for example, wrote in December 2011:

At this historical moment, when daring political energies and creative imaginations are at work worldwide – from Tahrir to Taksim Square, from Damascus to Diyarbakir – we can demand much more than the example officially offered by Turkey. To do otherwise would risk betraying not only the future of democratic politics in Turkey and beyond, but all those who have already paid dearly for that future through the imprisonments, deaths, wounds and disappearances they have endured, even welcomed, during long periods of military rule and parliamentary politics alike.

Writing only this last month, David Rohde underlines that this fundamental gap between Turkey’s role as democratic model for the Middle East and its own troubled record on human rights remains:

More than 10,000 members of Turkey’s Kurdish minority —who account for 18 percent of the country’s population — languish in the country’s jails on various terrorism charges. And Turkey now has more journalists in jail — 49 — than any other nation, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. That is more than Iran, which has jailed 45, or China, which has imprisoned 32.

The question is whether Turkey’s allies and neighbors see the tremendous gap between Turkey’s promise and its reality.  Egyptian and Tunisian politicians have both cited Turkey as a possible model.  Meanwhile, Rohde notes that Washington too seems to have blinders on when it comes to Turkey’s human rights record:

“I was in Washington last week and no one gives a damn about whether or not the quality of Turkish democracy has declined,” Soli Ozel, a professor of international affairs at Kadir Has University in Istanbul, said in a telephone interview. “So long as it does not hurt essential American interests — and I don’t think it will — nobody is going to talk about it.”

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