You might think that compared to his campaign to crush his political opponents and the practice of real democracy in Turkey, that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s campaign against smoking was inconsequential.
Not for respected columnist Kadri Gursel of Cumhuriyet, one of Turkey’s oldest and best liberal newspapers. Gursel, in what he had designed as a gentle tweaking of Erdogan and his crackdown on his critics in the media, the Kurdish community and the country at large, advised his readers to keep smoking their cigarettes right down to the butt.
The consequences for Gursel included having his butt tossed in jail on arrest on terrorism charges.. Among those he’s joining in Turkish prison are his paper’s editor and publisher and more than 120 other journalists, all of them locked up as part of President Erdogan’s purge of society following a still- mysterious and completely unsuccessful attempted military coup July 15.
In a little over 4 months, President Erdogan’s government has left China in the dust as the world’s #1 jailer of journalists.
This assault on free speech has not only locked-down most public discussion of the radical political and social changes being imposed by the Erdogan government, it is having a sharp chilling effect as well on private speech.
None of this seems to trouble President-elect Donald Trump’s choice for National Security Adviser Lt Gen Michael Flynn, who not only supports Erdogan, but his demand for the extradition of Erdogan’s former political partner, now enemy Islamic Imam Fethullah Gulen, who has lived in Pennsylvania for more than a decade. Erdogan says Gulen was the man behind the failed July coup, and Flynn apparently believes him.
Of course, when the coup was underway, Gen. Flynn said it was something “worth clapping for,” because of Erdogan’s Islamicizing of Turkey’s secular institutions, including public schools.
Now, though, Flynn has changed his mind. “We need to see the world from Turkey’s perspective,” Flynn says, adding, “We must begin with understanding that Turkey is vital to U.S. interests. Turkey is really our strongest ally against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), as well as a source of stability in the region.”
What makes Flynn’s new opinion suspect is that between his original celebration of the coup and today’s embrace of President Erdogan, money changed hands. A businessman friend of the Turkish leader hired Flynn as an advisor, and presto-chango, the friend of his client becomes his friend, and, worse, America’s “strongest ally against the Islamic State.”
This is potentially true, but for most of the past 3 years, President Erdogan has been a most reluctant and ambivalent ally. Among the journalists in jail are those who revealed Erdogan’s secret weapons supply line to radical jihadist militias in Syria.
Elliot Ackerman is a journalist who reports for The New Yorker, The Atlantic and the NY Times Sunday Magazine, and a novelist, whose books Green on Blue and Dark at the Crossing have gotten very strong reviews. Elliot served 5 tours of duty with US Forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, winning the Silver Star, the Bronze Star for Valor and the Purple Heart.