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Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was elected as the leader of Turkey’s ruling party, the Justice and Development Party, or AK Party, on May 21, 2017. This vote comes just weeks after the controversial Turkish referendum that gave Erdogan sweeping new powers and eliminated a constitutional amendment that required presidents to be neutral and unaffiliated with any party, hence his near-unanimous re-election to the leadership of the AK Party, which he co-founded in 2001. In his speech during the AK Party congress, Erdogan declared that “the upcoming months will be a period of soaring in all areas, including combating terror, the economy, expanding rights and freedoms and investments.” He also added that the state of emergency, which was declared after this summer’s failed coup attempt and left 237 people dead, would stay in place “until the situation reaches peace and welfare.” While the situation in Turkey is far from peaceful and well, this state of emergency has only exacerbated the problem rather than assuaged it. President Erdogan’s election to AK Party leadership signals another consolidation of power that further threatens the safety and prosperity of the Turkish people.
Since its implementation in July 2016, the state of emergency that Erdogan declared has allowed the government to jail over 40,000 people in suspected relation to the coup, and fire or suspend another 140,000 civil servants including judges, teachers, and policemen. Under a state of emergency, Erdogan is given the right to pass decrees without going through parliament or dealing with the constitutional court. These virtually-unchecked decrees have ranged from allowing confiscation of property without judicial review to the reinstatement of incommunicado detention, in which detainees can be denied access to a lawyer for up to five days, thereby increasing the possibility of mistreatment and abuse. An Amnesty International report found that “holding detainees in stress positions and keeping them handcuffed behind their backs, and denying them adequate food and water or toilet breaks” has become a common practice, even with women and children. There have also been numerous allegations of abuse and ill-treatment in official and unofficial detainment sights since the coup, including “severe beatings, sexual assault, threats of rape and cases of rape.” Additionally, almost 120 journalists have been arrested and 184 news outlets, as well as over 375 NGOs, have been arbitrarily shut down. Civilian access to information as well as humanitarian aid has been widely restricted, adding to the deteriorating living situation in Erdogan’s Turkey, especially in the predominately Kurdish southeast.
Southeastern Turkey has been a hotspot for violence since the end of the Turkish government’s ceasefire with the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK). After the failed coup attempt, Erdogan’s government has increased their targeting of this militant group, shutting down media outlets and detaining countless leaders of southern Kurdish cities. Thousands of people, including innocent civilians, have died and 500,000 people have been internally displaced due to this conflict, forced to flee with few possessions and little to no hope of compensation for lost livelihoods. As Erdogan steadily consolidates power in Istanbul, the possibility of accountability for violence and human rights violations in the southeast decreases, the long tradition of impunity in Turkey is further cemented. While much of the violence has occurred predominately in the southeast, there have been terrorist attacks all over the country in many big cities, giving Turkish citizens everywhere little safety and security. With the added influx of over 3 million external refugees, most without access to education, employment or even humane living conditions, Turkey faces a volatile future that endangers the lives and well-being of millions of people—their president, however, does not seem to care. Though his speech at the AK Party congress promised a bright future for his country, with goals of decreased terrorism and increased peace, his centralized control over the country will likely lead to just the opposite.