President creates crises, manipulates refugees and is about to install his own No. 2 yes-man
At noon, just before the call to prayer, the speakers at mosques across Turkey belted out a message that Sharderdik Kulic knew he couldn’t ignore: go out to the streets and support the president.
Kulic came with his wife to Istanbul’s main gathering point, Taksim Square, to lend his voice to a rally to celebrate Turkish democracy, barely two days after a failed coup attempt by a faction of Turkey’s military.
“They wore the Turkish army uniform, but they do not represent our military. No, they are terrorists,” Kulic, with a red Turkish flag draped around him like a cape, told CBC News.
All across Turkey on Sunday, backers of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party waved flags, sang slogans and honked horns, heeding the call by Erdogan to continue their public show of support for the government.
While Turkish authorities said they have put down the attempt to overthrow the government, a larger operation is underway across the country to find all those the government says are involved in the failed coup.
About 6,000 people have been arrested — mainly soldiers and officers believed to have carried out the coup attempt, and judges who the authorities say sympathized with the plotters.
The international crisis that centres on Turkey is that of refugees, principally Syrians. There are more than three million refugees in Turkey, 2.75 million of them Syrians, fleeing from the bloody dismemberment of their country.
The strain is enormous, first on the almost 90 per cent of refugees not living in camps.
For years they were legally barred from working. But they must live, which means many, including children, work illegally, or at jobs that barely pay.
We met Firaz in the street. He lost a forearm and three fingers on his other hand in industrial accidents as a boy. Then war and bombs flattened his house in Aleppo and he and his family fled to Turkey and Izmir.
Now this disabled man, sometimes helped by his seven-year-old son, drags a trolley through the streets collecting cartons, plastic and aluminum cans. By the end of the day his load may weigh 100 kilograms as he drags it to the collection centre.
There’s another potent legal weapon – a law making it a criminal offence to insult the president. More than 1,800 people have been charged under it.
His divisive approach, accompanied by the drumbeat of accusation and angry rhetoric, has left many fearful that he wishes to tear up the foundations of the non-religious republic created in 1923 by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. Erdogan’s view, often stated, is that women should be modest and veiled.
Educated women, in particular, are angry. “I fear him and hate him. He acts like a sultan,” several said to me.
He also acts like a warrior, unleashing his armed forces against not only ISIS in Syria but also the minority Kurds in Turkey and in Iraq and Syria. There have been murderous bomb attacks in retaliation in several Turkish cities.