Human lives as political instrument

In many ways, these words were a summation of the philosophy that nourished the Ottomans and kept them powerful for 600 years. During the years when the Justice and Development Party (AKP) was a rising star and appeared to put people before the state, placing value on things like democracy and freedom, these words were referred to often. Then a political figure on the ascent, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, made Sheik Edibali’s words into a kind of slogan for himself, symbolizing his views on democratic politics and freedoms.

But when 2011 rolled around, the AKP apparently believed it had attained sufficient political and bureaucratic power. Suddenly, the content of its political rhetoric shifted; the state seemed to be the main focus of this rhetoric, rather than the people, freedoms and the rule of law that it had glorified earlier.

Perhaps one of the most striking examples of this shift was revealed in words written by one of Prime Minister Erdogan’s main consultants, Hamdi Kılıc. Known in the past as being a political Islamist with an oppositionist style, Kılıc suddenly seemed enamored with the very same state he had earlier viewed as a false prophet of sorts. On his Twitter account, he shared this chilling comment: “Despite all its wounds, we do still have a state tradition in this country. Maybe people need to study history a bit to understand what this means. Let me remind you, some of the reflexes our state has developed over the years in order to protect itself are a little gory.”

Maybe this tweet, clearly a threat to the Turkish opposition, would not be worthy of our attention if it were an isolated view. But around the same period, then-Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu revealed similar sentiments: “We have a state tradition here. Under the Ottomans it was the same. Some people were willing to give up their offspring in the name of the state.” With this, Davutoglu seemed to be openly admitting to his view that what matters most is not human life but the state.

A state can, of course, be crucial for supporting the life of a nation and its people; as long as it helps its people, a state ought to be supported. But when the perpetuity of the state becomes the raison d’etre itself, and the state begins to crush anyone it sees as opposition in the name of becoming more powerful, things need to stop there. When people’s lives become an instrument for day to day politics and political interests, then everything changes. Actions and rhetoric aimed at perpetuating the state have lost their morality and their legitimacy to the extent that they have strayed beyond the law and have turned into political weapons.

The incidents we have witnessed most recently cannot even be characterized as attempts to perpetuate the state, but rather as attempts to support the interests of a political mob. We watch as this political mob recklessly tosses peoples’ lives to the wind in the name of maximizing their own political interests. The violence and terror-filled atmosphere that took hold of Turkey right after the June 7 election, when the AKP lost grip on its single-handed control, is a concrete example of this. In the maelstrom of violence and terror that was triggered to show people exactly how vital having a single party in power in Ankara was, some 600 people lost their lives. These deaths continue even today.

Worse still is that these political calculations achieved results. Masterfully choreographed, the violence and chaos injected into daily life and public order in Turkey after June 7 wound up convincing an apparent majority that stability was only attainable through single-party power. The plan worked; this is what we saw on Nov. 1. Of course, reclaiming power in Ankara was one thing, putting a stop to the wellspring of violence and terror that had been encouraged to burst forth has proved to be a bit more difficult.

In the meantime, it has become clear that the AKP’s careless disregard for human life extends beyond domestic affairs and into the foreign arena as well. Increasingly isolated internationally because of its policies in the region, not to mention their despotism at home, the AKP leadership has now turned again to using human lives to rescue itself from a tight squeeze. Syrian refugees in Turkey, who until just five or six months ago did not pose a problem to Europe, have been transformed with cruel mastery into the greatest human problem Europe has faced in years. Tens of thousands of refugees, including babies and children, have been sent in waves of humanity into Europe from this direction.

By exporting these people to Europe and threatening to send many more, the Erdogan regime has succeeded in reminding Europe of how important it is. This policy — which of course ignores the sanctity of the lives of men, women, children, the elderly and so on — got immediate results. We are talking about a lethal set of policies, which opened the door to images of dead infants like Aylan and Sena washing up on our shorelines, or to thousands of refugees perishing on boats in the Aegean. But on Nov. 29, Ankara attained the most concrete result to date from these policies. Thanks to a political stance that completely discounts the value of human life, Turkey managed to attain a summit with EU leaders for the first time in its history.

EU leaders, who have lowered themselves to engaging in de facto blackmail with Erdogan in the name of rescuing themselves from the growing number of refugees at their doors, have managed to attain promises from Turkey that it will act as doorman for Europe by dangling 3 billion euros in front of Ankara. What has been guaranteed is that Turkey will be turned into one vast refugee camp. And to keep this entire diplomatic affair from appearing solely to be an ugly round of desperate bargaining, Brussels has rewarded Ankara’s skillful use of human lives as material for politicking by promising to re-enliven the EU accession talks.

During this period, when things like rights and freedoms gasp for air in Turkey, there is no doubt that re-enlivening the EU accession talks would offer some crucial benefits for this country. After all, even a basic slowdown in the trampling of laws and the anti-democratic direction we are taking would be marked as a victory for us at this point. At the same time though, the fact that this victory will come at the expense of the wretched Syrian refugees, and that these human lives formed the basis for the bargaining in Brussels is an ethical problem that will not soon be forgotten.

Perhaps at the essence of Turkey’s rapid decline into despotism and single man regime rule is the abandonment of the “let people live so the state can live on” approach, in favor of a stance which could aptly be summed up as, “scatter lives to the wind so the state can grow.”