By now we’ve all heard of the most recent bout of witch hunts in Turkey, this time rooting out “supporters” of the July 16 coup attempt. Campaigns in the past have almost always targeted extreme liberals and Gulenists (former supporters of President Erdogan tossed out of favor in a power struggle/split within the AKP a few years back). But this time it’s different.
Up until yesterday I was working part time editing news and articles for a politically-neutral internationally-oriented think tank based in Ankara. I was going to pick up payment for editing (and visit everyone with the baby) after her one month checkup at the nearby Gazi University hospital on July 19. But after hearing fighter jets screeching overhead all right and moving our plane tickets forward two weeks I decided to bring her to the local family clinic instead of Gazi (Dikmen doesn’t have anything interesting enough for anyone to bomb and certainly I wasn’t going to run into any government-orchestrated street protests on my way past chatty grandmothers sitting on their stoops while walking to the clinic) and asked them to transfer the money to my husband’s bank account.
The last piece I edited was a brief condemnation of the coup intended for the website. I didn’t receive anything last week, but I was too busy running around (and catching up on sleep) to really take much notice. I assumed the head editor assumed I was busy with crossing continents, or the organization had become very busy with something following the coup attempt. But payment was pretty late, so yesterday I e-mailed asking what was happening and saying that I was settled in and ready to start editing again.
But apparently USAK was shut down by the government last week: their bank accounts seized, the USAK house seized by the police. A ten-year organization headed by a former ambassador, staffed by experts who also act as advisors to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, focused on international/Turkey-external affairs, and committed to taking a pragmatic neutral stance working for the interests of Turkey and giving Turkey a greater stake in international dialogues. This was not a partisan organization: regardless of the views of individuals working within the organization or howevermuch anyone might have wanted to criticize (or praise) the reigning government, they took great pains to remain objective and neutral. This also wasn’t an organization examining Turkey’s inner politics (or really Turkish politics at all); while some research concerned Turkey’s involvement in international affairs or relation to external actors, and certainly some dialogue pushed to create a space for Turkey at the international table (such as hosting panel discussions on the roles of Turkey and the EU in relation to the Syrian refugee crisis), the people working at USAK never strayed into internal politics. So an organization unrelated to the Gulenist movement holding a neutral-party stance and not even focusing on internal issues or Turkish politics in any form was shut down by the government in an anti-terrorist supporter sweep.
This is what actually scares me. More than fighter jets flying overhead, more than protesters being tear-gassed on the streets, more than Gulenist schools being closed and graduates of Gulenist schools being fired from their jobs, more than closure of news outlets taking a stance critical of the government or having police armed with assault weapons and bulletproof vests sipping tea and giving directions with a smile on every downtown corner. Because if the government will go after an organization that has not been but might, possibly, be slightly critical of it by being neutral – if taking a neutral stance in and of itself is viewed as criticism – then I have very, very little hope for the political recovery of the country.