The price of truth in Erdogan’s Empire

It was February four years ago. Mr. G showed his neighborhood. The baklava room smelling of sugar, dough and pistachios, the hairdresser, the baker and the mosque, which reminded him of the time to pray five times a day. The whole little universe of a calmly flowing average life. But in one of the shops it turned out that Mr. G was no ordinary neighbor. That it didn’t fit into the mundane everyday idyll of Izmit, a Turkish industrial city in the haze of eternal fine dust around an hour’s drive east of Istanbul. A photographer wanted to portray Mr. G on the tour of his neighborhood. One shopkeeper, however, got nervous when he saw the camera. He asked for understanding, but he did not want a photo of or even being seen with Mr. G in his shop, said the man. He himself wouldn’t mind, but his son works for the public prosecutor’s office and he mustn’t endanger him, one has to understand.

The man was not afraid of Mr. G, but of the people who fear him. They say he’s a terrorist. In reality, they are afraid that he will call what they are doing by name. Because G – born 1965, pulmonologist, father of three children – dares time and again to call the crooked crooked, as he puts it. What happens to him as a result can affect anyone in Turkey who does not submit to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his camarilla.

In the first phase, the regime systematically destroys the bourgeois existence of the unruly: destroys careers, devastates the social infrastructure, sows distrust and fear in their surroundings, including families. Phase two is then often no longer necessary, as many people cannot withstand this pressure and quietly withdraw into their private lives. But some do not fall silent. As the Turkish lira falls and the price of truth rises, they remain intrepid. You are ready to pay the price of the truth. Mr. Gergerlioglu is one of them. For cases like him, the Turkish state has other methods ready. Some people “disappear”, never to be seen again, others go to jail. Like Mr. G, who was sentenced to two and a half years in prison for “terrorist propaganda”. The verdict was recently upheld in the last instance.

According to the representation of the judiciary, the citizen G’s path to terrorism began on October 9th, 2016. Then he discovered a picture on the net showing two coffins, one covered with a Turkish flag, the other with the colors of the Kurdish terrorist organization PKK . A mother is crying next to every coffin. Mr. G spread the picture and wrote: “It would be better if the two would not lie next to each other as corpses, but live shoulder to shoulder as equals.” This sentence was the beginning of the end of his bourgeois life.

Two days later, Erdogan’s judiciary opened an investigation into terrorist propaganda against him. After four days, he was told that he had been suspended from duty. His passport was declared invalid and he was dismissed from civil service by an emergency decree. The health insurance, which he urgently relied on to secure treatment for his seriously ill wife, also expired. Even his articles for local medical journals, although long accepted for publication, were no longer printed. He was retouched from life. For a long time he tried in vain to find employment in private hospitals. They were afraid of hiring an enemy of the state. Only after a long search did he find a job again in the Kurdish province of Batman in the south-east of Turkey.

Perhaps G could have pulled his head out of the noose there, near the border with Syria. Could have been silent and hoped that the judiciary and the powerful in distant Ankara would forget him. But he decided against the silence. In the parliamentary elections in June 2018, G successfully ran for the HDP party, which was mainly elected by Kurds, but also by part of the Turkish left. He used his new stage in Ankara to draw attention to the human rights violations of the Erdogan regime. He introduced critical motions, observed political processes, investigated the fate of “disappearances” allegedly kidnapped by the secret service, publicly branded cases of torture in Turkish prisons, and raised his voice against the interference of those in power in academic freedom. That was a brave way – but it was certainly the wrong one to be forgotten by Erdogan’s justice for revenge.

In February, the Court of Cassation, the final court of appeal, upheld the sentence. Last Wednesday, Erdogan’s “Justice and Development Party” and the “Party of the Nationalist Movement” allied with it used their majority to lift – we can now mention G’s full name – Gergerlioglu’s parliamentary immunity. At the same time, the judiciary initiated a ban against the HDP. The fact that the president also decreed that Turkey should withdraw from the Council of Europe agreement to combat violence against women, the so-called Istanbul Convention, was almost forgotten, but it did fit into the picture: Erdogan used to uphold democratic forms, at least in appearance. But now his rule is more honest. It is no longer pretended to be about democracy. Therefore Ömer Gergerlioglu has to go to prison.

The amazing thing about this path of life is that Mr. Gergerlioglu was once a supporter of the man whose judiciary is now imprisoning him. What has become of Gergerlioglu therefore also shows what has become of Erdogan and his party. Two decades ago, many human rights activists in Turkey still had hopes for Erdogan. Also Mr. Gergerlioglu. He fought for the right of Turkish women to study at universities with a headscarf or to pursue a career in the civil service. They now have this right, mainly thanks to Erdogan. But many other rights were lost. Even at our meeting in 2017, Mr. Gergerlioglu was resigned to the fact that whoever was for Erdogan could not be for human rights at the same time and vice versa. At that time, when the state was already gnawing at its existence, Gergerlioglu had long been critical of his own past in the milieu of “Islamic human rights activists”. Islam is also in a deep crisis because it lacks a critical view of itself, he said: “If we Muslims do not practice self-criticism, we will not get very far.” This applies, for example, to the claim that Islamist terror has nothing to do with Islam. When it was said after the attack on the French newspaper “Charlie Hebdo” in Turkey that a Muslim could not be a terrorist, that was wrong. If Islamism appears in the name of Islam, that at least raises questions, said Gergerlioglu.

He criticized that “a significant group” within the Islamic community rejects human rights as something alien: “These people see the concept of human rights as something that has been defined by the West and therefore contradict Islam.” But human rights and Islam are incompatible to look at it arises from the mistaken belief that democracy is only for Christians. This erroneous belief is also due to the fact that Islamic thought has lagged behind. Islam emerged in Mecca as a revolution of the oppressed, the weak and the poor. But then the Arabs would have turned it into a religion of conquest and wars of aggression. This is how the original Islam was destroyed. The prophet rejected all forms of racism. That is why a devout Muslim like him could not adopt the phrase “I am proud to be a Turk”, said Mr. Gergerlioglu.

He spoke slowly, deliberately. It was noticeable to him that many months or years of painful thinking and cutting the cord from former beliefs were stuck in his mind. This was particularly noticeable during a conversation about the question of whether he would also be willing to stand up for the rights of homosexuals if they asked him for help. It became clear how hard Mr. Gergerlioglu was struggling with such questions, and had apparently been wrestling for a long time. Homosexuality, he said, was, according to his religious understanding, a deviation from creation, which is why it was wrong to legitimize it by law. But it is also wrong to punish people with such tendencies or to exclude them from society. If someone commits the sin of homosexuality, be it for God to judge, not for humans. Therefore, of course, he will stand up for homosexuals if they are badly treated by the police or in court – even though their inclination is a wrong path.

Such sentences require double courage. Standing up for homosexual rights in Erdogan’s Turkey is about as brave as claiming in the international human rights movement that homosexuality is a sin or a wrong path. Such views are no more foreseen in the gospel of Western European activists than in Erdogan’s world, the idea that homosexuals can have the same rights as other people. But Gergerlioglu is now used to sitting between the chairs. His belief gives him strength that real life begins in the afterlife, he said in 2017. In this world he now faces a life as a prisoner.

Shortly before the arrest in a few days, Mr. Gergerlioglu answered a few questions on the phone. Fear didn’t speak from his answers, but worry. “There will certainly be people in prison who want to take revenge on me because I have been criticizing the conditions of detention in a state of emergency under this government for more than two and a half years,” said Mr. Gergerlioglu. But he does not expect the state to “make him disappear” – he is now too well known for that. Party friends told him that whenever his name was mentioned at the recent celebrations of the Kurdish New Year celebrations, there were violent public protests against the judiciary.

After all, he no longer has to worry about not being able to pay for the medication for his wife: “I’m now a pensioner, my insurance covers my pension, so my wife will be able to get her medication even when I’m in prison The youngest son, who previously attended a state-run Imam Hatip grammar school specializing in teaching Islam, now goes to a private school. His father hopes it will be easier there. Nevertheless, his son has psychological difficulties. In general, it is difficult for children in Turkey when their fathers are in the opposition: “Many are marginalized and cut.” Four years ago, Mr Gergerlioglu said: “A bloody time has begun. Anyone who continues to work for peace is called a terrorist. ”This is more true than ever in the Turkey of Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

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