A Truth and Reconciliation Commission for Turkey After Erdogan

By Michael Rubin, The American Enterprise Institute, 10 February 2024

Turkish intellectuals tell a joke about a political prisoner who at the start of his sentence seeks to borrow books from the prison library. The librarian looks over the list and apologizes profusely. “I’m sorry,” he says. “We don’t have any of these books. We only have their authors.”

Turks are no strangers to repression. Mustafa Kemal Atatürk was a dictator who waged cultural genocide against Turkey’s Kurds. Turks suffered military coups in 1960 and 1971, and in  1980 and 1997; the threat of military intervention was enough to topple governments. General Kenan Evren, who led the 1980 coup, was brutal. His government executed 50, imprisoned more than 200,000, and purged a million more. Erdogan and his allies never forgot. They demanded justice and, in 2014, a Turkish court sentenced Evren, then 96-years-old, to life in prison.

Erdogan’s prosecution of past abuses set a precedent. The purges and abuse of civil society that characterize Erdogan’s rule, especially in the wake of the 2016 “Reichstag Fire” coup, now exceed that of Evren. Erdogan celebrates repression. He called the alleged coup attempt “a gift from God” because it gave him reason to round up, torture, and imprison opponents.

Democratic leaders arise each morning knowing when their terms end. Dictators awake understanding that every day could be their last. So it is with Erdogan. He keeps an iron grip on Turkey because he knows his rule is illegitimate. Change will come soon, though. Erdogan could die in office or be pushed aside. Repression creates enemies, and his party fractures as he promotes family over functionaries.

Against this backdrop, Europeans must begin doing what Turks today cannot. They must plan for the day after Erdogan dies. Just as South Africa had a truth and reconciliation commission and Rwanda had a grassroots process to try those complicit in genocide, so too should Turks have a commission to examine, explore, and expose the crimes of Erdogan and his followers and restore the billions of dollars embezzled. The absence of any such commission could lead to societal upheaval as Turks and Kurds seek revenge on their tormentors. Peace requires justice. Both require truth.

Europeans should not treat Erdogan as a permanent fixture. Now is the time to assemble jurists to begin work the day Erdogan falls and allow Turks to rejoin the community of peaceful, democratic nations.

The above was translated into Greek and originally published at Ta Nea.

1 comment
  1. Loved the entire piece, beginning with the wonderful joke by Turkish intellectuals about a political prisoner. Many of the reflections in this piece could easily be extended to the USA, currently one of the dumbest nations in the so-called Western world, with roughly a half of its population constituting a cult for Trump who, were that country a true democracy with a real belief in its own constitution, would rightly be imprisoned for the rest of his sick life.

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