President Erdogan of Turkey presents a terrible dilemma for the West

29 Dec 2015 at 10:30

If August is the silly season for journalists desperate to fill pages with surfing squirrels and singing dogs, the Christmas to New Year dead space, where hung over journalists attempt to titivate a comatose nation with quizzes and stories that would normally never see the light of day, must be the the dopey season. A few days ago the normally well informed and sharp as a tack Fraser Nelson came up with a story so bonkers that I had to check that it wasn’t April the first, namely that Cameron was considering making Boris Johnson Foreign Secretary. The Downing Street flunky who ever came up with this one must have won a bet about who could get the most un-airworthy of kites off the ground. And then in the Times this morning there are some quotes from a Tory donor called Alexander Temerko (I know, never heard of him either) who will give squillions to ensure that Boris becomes the next Tory leader as Osborne’s living wage policy will be a green light for immigrants. Mr. Temerko was born in Ukraine. The age of irony is not dead.

But apart from the terrible plight of those poor devils flooded out of their homes, the most worrying news story, which sends a shiver down the spine of an old Turkophile like me, is a piece written by Can Dundar in the Guardian. I can see your interest is waning. But be patient. He is the editor in chief of Cumhuriyet Daily, a well respected Turkish newspaper. He wrote it in solitary confinement where he awaits a trial for espionage. You may want to know what his ‘crime’ is. Sometime in 2014 a truck sent by the Turkish government carrying humanitarian aid was intercepted on its way to Syria. Turkish authorities searched the vehicle to find ammunition hidden beneath the chests of medicine. Then the security service intervened and allowed the truck safe passage. The officials, including the prosecutor, who stopped the truck were detained. Yet there was film of what had happened and Dundar and his Ankara bureau chief published the story. President Erdogan was furious. “The person who wrote this story will pay a heavy price for it. I won’t let it go unpunished.”

I accept that Turkey has some very bad neighbours. I appreciate that the border with Syria is a nightmare. I understand the long running war with the terrorist PKK. But Turkey is a democracy. It has come a long way from the terrible days of the seventies and military dictatorships. But Turkey under Erdogan masquerades under a rule of law that doesn’t exist. It’s journalists are put before kangaroo courts to be tried on trumped up charges before a suborned judiciary. Just for publishing the truth. Dundar is no Assange nor a Snowden. He is respected and responsible.

Erdogan is a very dangerous man. He has broken the fundamental principle of Attaturk that religion should be in the heart of the individual and not at the heart of the state. He is turning the presidency from that of something purely ceremonial to one of executive power. He crushes dissent. His power base is not in the relaxed and liberal towns but in the hardline Muslim villages. And the laid back, decent, Turks are worried.

But it goes further than this. Erdogan had a peace deal with the PKK which he has broken. He is using the war against ISIS as an excuse to destroy the Kurds who are fighting them. Rumours abound ( I have not seen any hard evidence) that he is buying oil from ISIS. There is great anger in the army that young Turkish conscripts are being slaughtered because of this misguided policy. Turkey is in turmoil because Erdogan, who has built himself an enormous palace, has convinced himself that he is the new father of the nation.

All this is a terrible dilemma for the West. Turkey is a valued ally and a key member of NATO. They are the gatekeepers of the flow of Syrian refugees. We want them as part of the EU. In these dark days our priority must be to defeat the death cult of ISIS. Sometimes in war principles have to be compromised. But we ignore the plight of good and decent journalists like Can Dundar at our peril. The values that our civilisation are built upon and which ISIS want to destroy are personal freedom protected by the rule of law. President Erdogan is making a half decent fist of doing their job for them