Being a reporter of any kind has been something of a dangerous career in Turkey since the coming to power of President Erdogan in 2003. Since then, he has switched between the role of Prime Minister and President, but one consistent aspect of his time in power has been his crackdown on the freedom of the press. According to the Committee for the Protection of Journalists (CPJ), President Erdogan and the AKP party of which he is a member have one of the worst records worldwide for the imprisonment of journalists. Reporters who speak out against the government or report on terrorism have often found themselves accused of breaking the law, and swiftly thrown into jail.
Sadly, since the election last week, President Erdogan has very much stuck to his guns. On the 4th, national television broadcasts were stopped at one media station, with the crowd who gathered outside being targeted by police water cannons and the threat of further force if they did not disperse. Matters were certainly not improved by actions taken the day before to arrest two magazine editors for allowing their front page to bear the words “the start of a civil war”. Whilst the latter was certainly an antagonistic comment on the part of the editors, it is also a truthful accusation that is being levelled, since particularly in the east and south-east of Turkey, tensions between the Kurdish population and the AKP are at breaking point.
To make matters worse, in response to the AKP victory and the crackdown that accompanied it, the Kurdish Workers Party, better known as the PKK, have declared their truce with the government to be null and void. Depending on who you ask, the PKK are freedom fighters or terrorists. Whilst there has been sporadic fighting in Kurdish areas since early September when the Turkish government began launching airstrikes on Kurdish positions in Turkey and Syria, there were still vague hopes that the truce could be resurrected. That is most definitely no longer the case.
The Kurdish population do have good reason to fear the wrath of Erdogan; as a minority group within the country, who have very openly been pressing for their right to self-governance, the Turkish Kurds have had a giant target painted on their backs. Worse still, with the success of the Syrian and Iraqi Kurdish forces in the fight against the self-styled Islamic State (IS), Erdogan has been feeling under serious political threat from the Kurds.
Whilst a cynical view, there is definite credibility in Kurdish claims that Erdogan began his campaign of airstrikes against the Kurds in Syria purely as a means of provoking the PKK into an attack within Turkey. In launching their campaign of retaliation, the PKK damaged the electoral chances of the pro-Kurdish Turkish People’s Democrat Party (HDP). Since the HDP played a large role in the removal of the AKP majority in the election this summer, Erdogan appears to have been holding something of a grudge, and was just looking for an opportunity to provoke the PKK into breaking the truce.
All in all, the situation in Turkey looks bleak, with civil war once again bubbling up through the cracks. With the West and NATO keen not to alienate the Turks any further, it seems very unlikely that Erdogan will ever face the international scrutiny that he deserves.