How Erdogan Became a Dictator
I'm just a journalist, but I stand up for democratic values and human rights. I defend journalism and try to protect the rights of all sections of society - LGBT, Turks, non-Muslims. But in 2011, I realized that Erdogan, then prime minister, had returned to his “factory settings”—his original focus on radical Islam.
He refused to strengthen democracy, tried to undermine the rule of law in Turkey and questioned its possible EU membership. Turkey has assumed the role of mediator between Israel and Syria, India and Pakistan, Azerbaijan and Armenia, and between Georgia and Russia. He wanted to become a strong leader not only in Turkey, but also in Islamic countries. The creation of a caliphate would help him in this. However, Turkey is a secular democratic country that does not have the tools to make Erdogan a dictator at home and abroad. Erdogan had to invent a new tool, vile and dirty: to use radical Islamists and jihadist groups to achieve political goals.
Erdogan uses radical Islamists to achieve personal political goals
He used this tactic in Syria, Libya and Egypt. He needed money to cooperate with them, but he could not use public funds to finance illegal jihadist organizations, so he created financial assets for shadow financing and support for these criminal activities. He is mired in corruption and money laundering. In early 2012, the Iranian regime laundered its money through Turkey - billions of dollars. At the same time, Iran was under UN, EU and US sanctions due to the implementation of its nuclear program. As a journalist and supporter of democracy, I believed and believe that Erdogan abandoned all positive reforms in Turkey, and instead offered his own path. The more he moved away from democracy and human rights, the more severely I criticized him. My position directly influenced the editorial work in the newspaper. At the end of 2011, the supporters of the Erdogan regime gave me continuous harassment in social networks and the media. After the corruption scandals of 2013, which shed light on the dark dealings of the Erdogan family and members of the cabinet of ministers, he, with the help of prosecutors, established a new instance, positioned as a court.
Having taken control of the judiciary, Erdogan and his entourage began to prosecute our newspaper, especially me and my editor. I was detained, arrested and imprisoned five times, but thanks to international pressure and the efforts of human rights activists, I was forced to release. Many of my colleagues, who also made big names, were much less fortunate: they are still behind bars because of their journalistic work, because they exposed Erdogan's disgusting connections with jihadists, his corruption and money laundering. Every journalist must act in the interests of society, no matter who the corrupt official is - the prime minister or the president.
The facts are that the authorities supported radical Islamist and terrorist groups by sending thousands of truckloads of ammunition, supplies and weapons - not just to random rebels, but to the organizations that would later form ISIS. When Erdogan first started supporting jihadists in Iraq and Syria, there was no ISIS. Groups aided by Erdogan joined forces and formed ISIS in 2014. Thus, the Erdogan regime partly supports ISIS. Of course, this is a somewhat simplified explanation.
Taking control of the judiciary, Erdogan and his entourage began legal prosecution of our newspaper, me and my editor
Erdogan and Putin
Many often compare Erdogan with Putin. There are both similarities and differences between them. They are both autocrats and dictators on the verge of totalitarianism. I rate both regimes as authoritarian. Under them there is no freedom of speech and free press, no civil society organizations, no independent and impartial courts, no democratic institutions, no fair competition between interest groups. So the difference isn't that big. The only real difference between the two is that Erdogan does not have the power, the domestic resources, to impose his tyranny as Putin does.
Putin is much more powerful than Erdogan. However, in a sense, Erdogan is more evil than Putin, because, although Putin is a tyrant, he, unlike Erdogan, does not have a specific ideology that justifies any inhumane activity. Erdogan does not hesitate to resort to terror for political purposes, as we saw a few weeks ago. He skillfully manipulates terrorist groups to influence domestic politics, as he did in June 2015.
Erdogan is more evil than Putin, because although Putin is a tyrant, he, unlike Erdogan, does not have a specific ideology
I am not only a journalist, but also a political scientist. The definition of terrorism is unequivocal: the purpose of terror is to intimidate people, instill fear in order to manipulate them to advance a certain political agenda. There are many internationally recognized terrorist organizations in Turkey, such as Hezbollah, but if you ask passers-by: "Who is the most feared in Turkey?", They will not call Hezbollah, but will say: "Erdogan." The regime keeps the entire people in fear, using the means of terror and the tools of oppression, suppression and intimidation, using the so-called legal tools to fight critical social groups in society. The police and gendarmerie are used as the regime's partisan militia. Who terrorizes Turkish society the most? Erdogan's regime, which is terrorist.
We had to flee the country, many of my friends ended up in prison without any legal reason, and now the regime is using their children in their political game. About 700 children and adolescents under 16 are in prison with their mothers. Even pregnant women are imprisoned. They are taken to the hospital to give birth, where they get from the back door. Most of these women are simple housewives who have nothing to do with politics, violence, or a coup. Their only crime is to be married to a teacher or an engineer whom Erdogan labeled a “terrorist.”
Many of my friends ended up in prison without legal grounds, and now the regime is using their children in their political game.
The struggle from emigration
On paper, neither the laws nor the Constitution have changed, but Erdogan has actually violated both Turkish and international law that protects freedom of speech and fundamental human rights and freedoms. His regime accused me of belonging to a terrorist organization. I was also accused of trying to undermine the work of the Turkish parliament. Another "crime" is an attempt to overthrow the government. According to them, I was preparing a coup against the Turkish government and democracy. So, I'm a member of a terrorist organization, I'm planning a coup, and besides, I'm a separatist. And how did I manage to do all this, given my workload as a journalist?
I serve the Turkish and international community. In Washington, New York, Paris and even Moscow, my newspaper was read by scientists and intellectuals who were interested in Turkey and wanted to keep abreast of events. Of course, the accusations leveled against me are baseless. The investigation did not provide evidence of my guilt. Who are considered terrorists in Turkey? Just look at the statistics: there are more than two million people under investigation for terrorism in Turkey, and I am one of them. The entire population of Turkey is 83 million people, and if you add their relatives and friends to these two million, you can imagine how many millions of people were under investigation. This is madness. Anyone who does not like Erdogan is considered a terrorist. Anyone who criticizes Erdogan is labeled a terrorist. But people are not stupid: no one believes in the guilt of these "terrorists".
More than two million people are under investigation for terrorism in Turkey, and I am one of them
I lost everything in Turkey, despite my high social status and good standard of living. The Erdogan regime confiscated all my media and companies. I had to illegally cross the Turkish-Greek border because in 2015 the Erdogan regime confiscated my passport, despite the fact that I was the head of the Daily and International Daily. Usually I received invitations from all over the world and visited several countries a month: I gave lectures, spoke at conferences and other events. And in 2015, the Erdogan regime put me in jail and took away my passport. In 2016, my newspaper was confiscated and the media holding, which we were part of, was destroyed. After 2016, he put 47 well-known journalists on the wanted list, my name was the second on the list. I am even proud that I was put on a par with these outstanding and reputable professionals.
After the failed coup on July 15, 2016, I said that Erdogan is using this situation as an excuse to tighten the screws even more. I had to change my address in Istanbul, and together with my friends, I turned to smugglers of migrants to get to Greece. I had to apologize to them for several of my articles where they were portrayed as inhuman monsters. I told them then: "Now I see that you are very necessary people." “Yes, we are working for the good of mankind,” they replied.
I didn't have high expectations from the host country. Having lost everything in Turkey, I just wanted to survive in a new place. If we talk about Maslow's pyramid of needs, I was only interested in the first step.
However, despite the defeat, when I arrived in Sweden, I realized that I must continue to fight: not just to establish a new life, but to become a voice for those who are oppressed in Turkey. And I didn't start looking for a job. Together with colleagues, we created the Freedom Center, an advocacy organization to highlight human rights violations in Turkey affecting various groups, including the Gülen movement. Not everyone remembers the Kurds, who in 2015-2016 spent several months under siege, their thousand-year-old cities were destroyed by shelling, and the curfew for the population lasted three to four months. Hundreds of civilians were killed, the rights of liberal organizations in Turkey were violated.
When my newspaper was confiscated in March 2016, we teamed up and tried to create a human rights organization in Istanbul. But because of the coup attempt, it was not possible to complete the matter, and I moved this initiative to Stockholm. At some point, we ran out of money, so I started learning Swedish, and then I started looking for a job in science. All my contacts with suitable organizations started very positively, but did not bear fruit. The Erdogan regime has long arms, they are able to intimidate people in Sweden too. All these think tanks are connected to Turkey, and they don't need problems because of cooperation with me. I think they were afraid that by supporting me they would harm their relations with any Turkish institutions. All my 50-60 attempts to join academia in Sweden failed, so I decided to start my own think tank to discuss and bring together all the people with whom I have developed relationships. This is how the European Center for the Study of Populism (ECPS) was born, based in Brussels. It can be assumed that if I had found a normal job in academia, NGOs or the private sector, ECPS would never have come about.
The Erdogan regime has long arms and is able to intimidate people in Sweden too
Since it is about creating a new organization from scratch, it takes a lot of time. We will launch our platform as soon as we receive confirmation from the Belgian authorities, which we have been waiting for for a year. We set up the release of content, created a website, but could not open bank accounts for it. Erdogan has been targeting journalists and entrepreneurs in exile with legal and political tools – in particular, he tried to involve Interpol in this case.
A few days after the coup, he sent a list of almost 18,000 "terrorists" to Interpol. Interpol was surprised that so many people became terrorists overnight and refused to cooperate. Then Erdogan demanded that European leaders deport the "criminals", but the majority categorically rejected this demand, without even assigning him a legal status.
However, Erdogan does not give up: now financial instruments have come into play. Cases of financial crimes are fabricated against political refugees. In December 2021, the government newspaper published a list of suspects and my name was on it. There are companies that collect data from open sources and transfer this information to European banks. And if your name was mentioned in connection with terrorist financing or money laundering, you will not open an account and will be denied service. This means that you will not be able to open a bank account for a legal entity. Once a case is trumped up against you, the banks are not eager to listen to your excuses, but simply refuse to work with you. We lost almost a year because of this and were forced to change the administrative architecture - I stopped being a member of the executive council only because of the Erdogan regime.
As soon as a case is fabricated against you in your homeland, banks simply refuse to work with you.
What is the purpose of the European Center for the Study of Populism? As a political scientist, I understand who plunged Turkey into authoritarianism. If Erdogan had not turned the state apparatus towards despotism, I would not have had to flee the country. At the same time, despite the horrors taking place in Turkey, the experience of Iran, as well as a number of Western and Eastern countries, shows that even the most democratic countries of the West cannot be considered invulnerable to this threat. There are far-right and populist political parties - there is one in Belgium, and in France there is Marine Le Pen. She is going to cede the post to her supporter - maybe he will become the next president of France. In Italy today, a far-right, populist coalition of Meloni, Berlusconi and others is in power. Today, Lech Kaczynski's brother Yaroslav opposes Putin's aggression with dignity, but democracy in Poland is also losing ground.
It is our duty to expose these terrible things in order to raise awareness, or at least support the line of resistance. On the positive side, academia, the commercial media, the intelligentsia, and some politicians are showing some resistance to the monstrous trends reminiscent of the events of 1930-1945 in Germany, Italy, and the Soviet Union. If the whole world falls into a crisis, it will be like a tsunami. First there was covid, now Russian aggression against Ukraine, and all this can threaten peace and stability around the world and lead to complete collapse. In particular, I am concerned about the situation in India, where the regime is similar to that of Erdogan. Just as Erdogan uses Islam and nationalism, Modi uses Hinduism both in an ethnic and religious sense, he is also a populist. The mixture of ultranationalism and religion is dangerous for the whole world. All populists seem to work according to the same methodology. Even here in Sweden, the government is influenced by a far-right party whose founders were neo-Nazists. And this is Sweden!
To my knowledge, there are simply no think tanks focused on these critical issues. And we created one and are now looking for funding for the implementation of projects. Dozens of scientists around the world cooperate with us - from Australia to Pakistan, universities in the USA and the EU. We try to maintain these lines of resistance. But in order to work more efficiently, we need even more support - financial, administrative and academic.
Strengthening the positions of the extreme right encourages certain sections of society. I always separate politicians and the electorate. Voters have logical and reasonable reasons to vote for this or that government. Sometimes these considerations are unpleasant, but mostly there is logic behind them. Voters do not always understand what the power of the extreme right leads to. I do not want far-right extremist organizations to come to power, because the authorities will untie their hands to implement their agenda. But even if they remain in opposition, they will still have a huge poisonous effect on politics. At the same time, today's social democrats, centrists and liberals have also changed significantly over the past ten years. They moved to the right, and right-wing parties became even more radical. The Social Democrats became to the right of the former liberals. This toxic effect is sometimes subtle, but I think it is extremely dangerous because it brings extremist politics into the mainstream.
I have a funny story about this. When I tried to establish ECPS in Belgium, I said, "Yes, this time there is a good chance that we will lose." But even if we lose and the world slides into populism and tyranny, at least we can proudly say that we have done everything possible to stop it.
At the negotiating table that changes the course of events, I was not on my own. Швеция на протяжении двух веков оставалась нейтральной страной, и, когда Путин напал на Украину, она была вынуждена отказаться от нейтралитета из соображений безопасности. Я журналист и не имею никакого отношения к политике высшего уровня. К сожалению, режим Эрдогана и во внутренней политике, и за международным столом переговоров использует мое имя как разменную монету. Это выглядит глупо и нелепо — приплетать вопрос о моей выдаче к обсуждению членства в НАТО.
Режим Эрдогана и во внутренней политике, и за международным столом переговоров использует мое имя как разменную монету
С точки зрения Швеции сложилась асимметричная ситуация, но я верю в шведскую правовую систему и верховенство закона. Мой уровень доверия к политикам, к сожалению, ниже. Может быть, в нормальные времена было бы легче так говорить. Я сохраняю доверие к Швеции в разумных пределах, и сегодня они готовы обсуждать мое дело. Может быть, через две недели или месяц объявят решение. Не думаю, что шведский суд примет решение о моей депортации, потому что у меня есть документ из прокуратуры, которая на моей стороне. Думаю, что у Эрдогана нет шансов. Если все пройдет гладко, у них не будет шансов забрать меня, но мы находимся в чрезвычайных обстоятельствах, и это может привести к неожиданному решению.
Некоторые из представителей нового правительства симпатизируют Путину, но никто из них не симпатизирует Эрдогану. Около месяца назад председатель партии посетил Турцию. Эрдоган в тот момент шантажировал Европу, направляя туда автобусы беженцев, которые были бы огромным бременем для европейской экономики. Во время этого пограничного кризиса лидер шведских ультраправых Джимми Окессон поехал в Турцию, но его задержали и депортировали. Он пытался привлечь внимание общественности к шантажу режима Эрдогана, но так и не смог. Так что я не думаю, что им симпатичен Эрдоган или Турция, — куда симпатичнее им членство в НАТО, и за ценой они не постоят.
Записали Софья Адамова и Андрей Смоляков