By Rene Wadlow
“Whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad” Attributed to Prometheus, the bringer of fire to humanity
The Greek gods have been working overtime since 15 July 2016 and the failed military coup in Turkey. It must be admitted that the gods of Olympus have never fully admitted that areas once part of Greek civilization have been overrun by Turks. Thus the Greek gods are not fully objective evaluators of Turkish politics. Nevertheless, the Turkish government led by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has made the task easy for the Greek gods by opening the door to irrational actions even before the gods stopped thinking of sexual pleasures and looked down on what mortals were doing in Turkey.
Since the days following the coup, the Turkish government has been arresting people, closing down newspapers and university faculties suspected in some way of being related to Fethullh Gulen, an Islamic leader who wants a return to some form of Islamic culture in Turkey. Gulen was once a supporter of Erdogan, but the two men fell out. Gulen has been living in exile in the USA. For Erdogan, it does not take much to be considered as a “supporter” of Gulen – having lived in one of the student centers that Gulen built around Turkish universities is enough.
Now, in these first days of November, the most recent expression of the revenge of the Greek gods has been to urge Erdogan to arrest elected officials of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) both municipal and members of the national parliament. The ability of persons elected to a parliament to exercise their responsibility by speaking out without fear of arrest is considered as a cornerstone of parliamentary government. One can have a vision of a broader definition of participatory democracy, but the ability of elected members of a parliament to defend their views is the strict minimum of parliamentary (even presidential) government.
The HDP is considered as a pro-Kurdish party. The party advocates a pluralistic Turkey, taking into consideration the different ethnic and religious groups in the country. The party has no known relation to the Gulen brotherhood. However, as the Kurds are the largest minority and there have been armed conflicts with the Kurds, the Turkish government claims that the HDP is related to the Kurdish militia – the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK). The HDP maintains that it is not a PKK “front” and it works for non-violence and negotiation in good faith to deal with Kurdish social and political aspirations.
At a time when the armed conflicts in Syria and Iraq become ever more complicated – conflicts in which Syrian and Iraqi Kurds are playing important role – the last thing that is needed is an increased repression on the Kurds within Turkey, especially not on elected leaders who stress the rule of law and dialogue. Officials of the European Union have expressed on 4 November their concern with the arrests of the HDP parliamentarians. However, given the geopolitical importance of Turkey, verbal expressions of concern are likely to be all that the official European Union will do. Non-governmental organizations concerned with human rights, such as the Association of World Citizens, have been calling attention in the United Nations to the oppressive currents in Turkey but without any notable change in Turkish government policy and without great response from “Great Power” diplomats who need Turkish government support on a wide range of issues.
It is likely that the Greek gods have returned to their banquet table and the lovely maids who pour the wine. Madness has taken hold in Turkey. The gods have only to glance down from time to time to see what is happening. Thus, it is up to us mortals to act. Prometheus is said to have brought fire to mortals, much to the anger of the gods. Fire is also a symbol of intelligence and insight. We will have to watch closely as to how we mortals use it now.
Rene Wadlow is President, Association of World Citizens ( NGO United Nations )