On a warm sunny Saturday in Ankara, one week after the deadliest terrorist attack in the history of modern Turkey, several dozen workers, writers, artists, students and opposition politicians turned out at the site of the bombing to commemorate the dead and issue a warning.
A few metres from a street pock-marked by the blast, they laid flowers and placed small placards filled with quotes of peace from the likes of Carl Jung, Victor Hugo, and Aeschylus. But during a minute of silence to honour the victims, attendees raised more fists overhead than peace signs.
Investigators have traced the attack to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), but many Turks blame their government, or more specifically the Justice and Development Party (AKP). Chants by the Ankara attendees denounced the state, and particularly President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, as murderers and thieves, and called for their ouster.
I asked Fatma Ceylan, an Ankara housewife and grandmother, how this anger might play out in parliamentary elections scheduled for November 1. “If the truth was shared properly and the information reached the people as it’s supposed to, what would happen automatically is that the people would put the AKP down,” she said, shaking her finger. “They’re closing all the channels that we can speak through, television, newspaper, internet.”
|Turkish media on tenterhooks|
The media muzzling has reached a high-water mark of late. In decades past, Turkey’s military would seize media outlets after overthrowing the civilian government. Today an interim government led by the AKP is shuttering critical media outlets and bullying opponents – terrorists all, in the eyes of the state – in the lead-up to what’s expected to be another close vote.
This week an Ankara court handed a trustee panel control of Koza Ipek media, home to a handful of news outlets critical of the government, some linked to US-based Turkish imam Fethullah Gulen. Two days later, in a surreal, slow-motion chronicle of a muzzling foretold, viewers watched a news channel broadcast its own silencing, live.
Riot police smashed their way into the Koza Ipek offices and marched the trustees inside. Hours later – during which reporters were able to interview a leading opposition politician about the media attack, as it continued – police cut the joint broadcast of Kanalturk and Bugun TV. Journalists were bloodied, and several arrested, in clashes with police outside the building.
The list goes on. Two British journalists and an Iraqi fixer-translator for Vice News were detained (police are still holding the Iraqi, Mohammed Rasool, some 50 days later), a leading columnist and television host was beaten in the street – allegedly by AKP members, and an independent Dutch journalist covering the mostly Kurdish southeast was detained and later deported.
Citizens under pressure
Citizens, too, face the government’s wrath: dozens of students, activists, and celebrities face charges of attacking the government or lawsuits for insulting Erdogan, mostly for criticising the AKP on social media.
AKP supporters see their party as the only one that can save Turkey. Its opponents see it destroying the country, with themselves in the crosshairs.
“Now, the only way we can express ourselves is to go out into the street – even though there are these bombings,” added Ceylan, who was there when the bombs went off on October 10 and is terrorised by the images. “I haven’t slept for a week, but I am still here, and will keep coming. I will never give up to create a better future for my children and my grandchildren.”
Despite the attack just a week before, the government sent minimal security to the site. A dozen police officers milled about, watching the action from some 70m away. Meanwhile, a couple of dozen orange-clad volunteers from the rights group Halkevleri established a perimeter around the event and were doing a passable job of frisking new arrivals.
“We see there’s a problem with security and we try to alleviate that,” said Nebia, a 25-year-old Turkish literature grad and one of the volunteers. She said the group started doing self-security at major public events after the Diyarbakir bombing in early June.
A dim future?
AKP supporters see their party as the only one that can save Turkey. Its opponents see it destroying the country, with them in the crosshairs. “We lost trust in our government a long time ago, especially since the Gezi Park protests, when the government chose to be on the opposite side of the people,” added Nebia. “Since then, the country has been divided in two – those who support the AKP, and those who do not. For the latter, your death is seen as legitimate.”
Technically, the current government is not an AKP government, but an interim government made up of members from all the parliamentary parties. Yet AKP officials dominate the top positions, and the party hopes to reclaim its parliamentary position in the vote this Sunday. Most polls predict an outcome similar to the June vote, with no majority party and the AKP “winning” with just over 40 percent.
Coalition talks would again ensue. If they were to fail a second time, Turks would likely face more months of campaigning and violence and crackdowns on free speech in the lead-up to a third vote. The alternative is a coalition government, with the AKP in the lead role.
Because the party’s share of the vote has declined, AKP opponents generally hold out some hope for the longer-term. But with Erdogan’s party still holding fast to its sizable base, many attendees at the Ankara gathering saw the party maintaining a position of strength, if not dominance, for years to come.
“We will have to take care of ourselves,” said Nebia. “That is why we are here.”
David Lepeska, is a freelance journalist based in Istanbul. His work focuses on Turkey and the Middle East.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.