On Feb. 5, 2020 President Tayyip Erdoğan inaugurated the Ammunition Sorting and Separation Plant of the Turkish Armed Forces, in Yahşihan district of Kırıkkale province, some 50 km East of Ankara. Afterwards, he paid a visit to the nearby town of Delice to address the people. He wanted to thank the voters in Delice, a town with around 9000 residents, for supporting his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) in the 2019 local elections by %85.5, the highest in Turkey, when the Republican People’s Party (CHP) had won the municipalities of Istanbul, Ankara, Izmir and many other metropolitan cities.
In the meantime, more news of disaster came from the Van province by the Iranian border: during the rescue work following an avalanche that hit the vehicles on the road to Bahçesaray district a day prior, yet another avalanche hit the same point — the death toll rose to 33, including members of the rescue teams. While many people remain buried under the snow, waiting to be rescued, all TV channels broadcasted this incident — the standard procedure across the world. But some of the media outlets that continue to call themselves “mainstream”, have yet another job: that is to stream the President’s speeches, regardless of where it takes place, what it’s about and how long he speaks for — their job is to broadcast it from beginning to the end. This is the explanation to the strange-looking screen image you see above in this article (and let’s not put the blame solely on NTV; CNN Türk and ATV did the same). On one half of the screen, a tragedy is happening and people are waiting to be rescued from under the snow; on the other half, President Erdoğan is addressing the cheering people of Delice for their support during the local elections of Summer 2019.
But what was Erdoğan’s speech like this time? Did he refrain from employing his usual “how far we’ve come” format? Did he show compassion for victims, or leave giving favourable statistics about the Housing Development Administration’s (TOKİ) building performance for other speeches? Did he promise to investigate the possible wrongdoings of the administration, such as letting the civilians who have no training of keeping absolute silence in such a disaster area in order to avoid a second avalanche?
What the avalanche has to do with Syria?
What Erdoğan said in his speech, as he heard of the death toll rising to 33, and I’m quoting from the website of Turkish Presidency’s Directorate of Communication (DoC), was the following: “May Allah rest their souls. Our condolences to the families, and may those who are wounded get well with the help of Allah. My brothers and sisters, in this mortal world, no one has to right to rule over another; it is to no avail. We come and we go. Aren’t we passengers in this old world, after all? In one door and out the next, as we know it. Starting from our own citizens and our neighbours, we tend the wounds of the oppressed and the aggrieved. From Arakan to Syria, from Crimea to the Turkistan region, wherever a brother is hurt on purpose, we are there for him.”
From when Turkish President received the news of the deaths of 33 people to February 6, the death toll, unfortunately, had risen to 41; it was under these circumstances that the president spoke in a way that advised the citizens to trust in Allah for “things like that happen, it’s destiny”, and it was in this very context that, no later than in his third sentence, he brought up Arakan, Syria and Crimea. Once that, too, was done, he went on to talk about AKP’s accomplishments and even found the occasion to thank his ally, leader of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) Devlet Bahçeli, as well. And all of this was broadcasted in its entirety, alongside footages from a current tragedy, by the channels that still have the nerve to call themselves “mainstream media”. President had declared the Elazığ earthquake on Jan. 24 with a toll of 41 as “a great test of faith” and preached “devotion”.
The anixety of accountability: like dominoes
You may ask what the relation between the Van disaster and Arakan, Syria or Crimea may be. But in today’s Turkey, even questioning that could be a problem. The Habertürk channel’s Bülent Aydemir had questioned whether the noise that emerged upon the arrival of Gülşen Orhan, former AKP Van MP and a current Advisor to the President, may have triggered the second avalanche; Aydemir was publicly insulted by the AKP people, and had to issue an apology for not having done enough research before bringing up such an allegation. CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu was accused of almost treason when, following the earthquake, he asked where the earthquake tax money had gone to.
This is the same attitude as when Elazığ governor Çetin Oktay Kaldırım was heard saying (into press microphones by accident) that “the public perception is very good right now” to Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu, just as the people in the city he’s responsible for were still waiting to be rescued from the wrecks. This is the frame of mind that, under no circumstances, will allow speaking ill of the current Party-Government. This is the frame of mind that tried to fend off questions on why AKP’s Elazığ mayor Şahin Şerifoğulları was nowhere to be seen after the disaster, declaring them an “indecency”.
In an unforeseen endeavour to keep up a righteous front, this frame of mind sees the acceptance of its own fault and the usage of a democratic accountability system on even the smallest issue as a serious threat, believing that it could trigger a domino effect into other areas of the government.
The crash landing: yet another example
On the evening of Feb. 5, I was at Istanbul’s Sabiha Gökçen Airport, waiting for my plane to Ankara, right when the crash landing took place. As we were watching together with other passengers the news on the avalanche in Van, the ground crew in the lounge started to panic; right after, breaking news of the plane crash was all over TV. What everyone wondered first was whether any people were dead or wounded. Then it was announced that the airport was temporarily closed; that was natural. Then we were informed that the ATC tower was advising pilots not to land, as it could be dangerous…
But why wasn’t the Pegasus plane directed to another airport, such as Atatürk Airport, which is open to cargo flights and private planes since the opening of the new Istanbul Airport? Nissan’s former CEO Carlos Ghosn had very well been able to use that airport, which is still open to cargo flights, on Jan. 2, when he was escaping to Lebanon from Japan. Russian Head of State Vladimir Putin was well able to use the Atatürk Airport on Jan. 8 when he found it dangerous to land on Istanbul Airport on a windy day. Why wasn’t this commercial Izmir-Istanbul flight not directed towards Atatürk Airport when its landing was deemed dangerous due to the storm?
Will asking this be considered indecency or treason?
According to Erdoğan’s government and the media that is constantly trying to prove its allegiance to him, reminding the general public of the “transparency” and “accountability” principles that are at the core of pluralist democracies where the essence is the rule of law, is being seen as a cause for an accusation. This outlook manifests itself in the economy and the country’s foreign policy as well but let’s not change the subject now and leave it at this: the approach will do no good to Erdoğan or to the country.