Abdullah Bozkurt, writing fellow at the Middle East Forum and director of the Stockholm Center for Freedom, spoke to participants in a February 19 Middle East Forum webinar (video) about the transformation taking place in Turkey under the Islamist regime of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and its efforts to silence dissent at home and abroad.
Erdoğan's stranglehold on power in Turkey is changing the country beyond all recognition, with economic, educational, and social policies increasingly driven by an Islamist agenda. The regime has "marginalized" factions within the ruling Justice and Development Party not answerable to Erdoğan and "overpowered institutions ... from the military to intelligence to the judiciary," turning them into "political tools" for suppressing any voices "not aligned with the ... ideology of the Erdoğan regime."
"Tens of thousands of people ... human rights defenders, researchers, academics, diplomats, generals, police chiefs, judges and ... prosecutors" opposing Erdogan have been purged and jailed. Bozkurt estimated that 30% of all diplomats "were purged without ... judicial investigation," along with 80% of Turkey's pro-Western military officers, many having served in positions with NATO. These officers were replaced by Islamists.
"The free and independent and critical media is pretty much decimated," said Bozkurt. Print and broadcast media alike now act as "mouthpieces for the regime," disseminating a "xenophobic narrative ... anti-Western ... anti-Semitic [and] anti-Christian." Turkey has become "number one ... in the world as a jailer of journalists," convicted by a partisan judiciary of defamation or trumped-up charges of terrorism.
The "intimidation campaign of the Erdogan government" reaches beyond Turkey by tracking down "counter narrative" journalists who fled the country and continue to write and speak out. Employees of Turkish embassies and consulates around the world are obliged to spy upon Erdoğan's critics, passing information to Turkey's intelligence service to build cases against critics and opponents of the regime. The Erdoğan regime continues a relentless effort to "[undermine] the integrity and the credibility of the journalists living in exile" with defamatory articles published in the Turkish press.
"They learned from the Iranian regime [how] to intimidate and even kill critics living outside of Turkey."
Bozkurt compared the Erdoğan regime's tactics to the Iranian regime's campaign against its population. It is not a coincidence that "key people" in senior roles in the Turkish government are the same ones who were enamored with the Iranian revolution. "They learned from the Iranian regime [how] to intimidate and even kill critics living outside of Turkey."
While living in Stockholm, Bozkurt has faced constant threats for his writing and was recently subjected to a televised threat by an Erdoğan advisor "asking Turkish intelligence to assassinate me in Sweden." Tactics meant to silence Bozkurt and journalists like him include Turkey's use of non-Turkish Islamist networks such as the Muslim Brotherhood, Jama'a Islamiya, and even Al-Qaeda to intimidate those who expose the regime's connection to "radical jihadist organizations ... in Syria, in Libya ... [and] around the world." Friends of Bozkurt who remained in Turkey are harassed by the police, and family members face prison time on "fabricated charges" in retribution for Bozkurt's outspokenness.
Bozkurt expressed appreciation for the statement of support the Middle East Forum issued in response to the Turkish regime's assassination threat, as he remains adamant in his refusal to be silenced. "Many journalists actually need this kind of support around the world, so they can continue doing their job, knowing that there are some people out there who care about Turkey, who care about journalists."
Marilyn Stern is communications coordinator at the Middle East Forum.