Charlotte teacher: Hope and despair for the Turkey ‘I grew to love’

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (C-R) and former Turkish president Abdullah Gul (C-R) attend the funeral of a victim of the coup attempt in Istanbul on July 17, 2016.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (C-R) and former Turkish president Abdullah Gul (C-R) attend the funeral of a victim of the coup attempt in Istanbul on July 17, 2016. AFP/Getty Images

Last week’s brazen attempt at a military coup by a group of soldiers in Turkey was spawned by the corrupt, heavy-handed rule of President Tayyip Erdogan. But the way forward for Turkey must be at the ballot box.

I grew to love Turkey as an English teacher in Istanbul in the late 1990s. My wife hails from the Black Sea coast, and we go back to spend summers with her family on a regular basis. Over the past decade and a half of Erdogan’s leadership I have watched first-hand as the country turned into a repressive quasi-dictatorship.

Press freedoms have been curtailed, with newspapers and television stations taken over by the state to become mouthpieces for the regime. Freedom of religion has suffered, with beatings of those who do not fast during Ramadan popping up regularly on social media. Corruption by the ruling party has reached almost comical proportions. Erdogan was caught on widely-circulated wiretaps asking his son to hide large sums of money at home ahead of a graft investigation. The prosecutors were relieved of duty and the investigation fizzled. Things have gotten so bad that “insulting the president” (for example, by publicly referring to corruption allegations) is punishable with jail time.

For a while it seemed like things would change. Last summer as my family arrived in Turkey for a long vacation there as a feeling of hope in the air. A Kurdish political party (HDP) running on a platform of tolerance for Turkey’s diversity had surprised everyone by winning enough votes to gain seats in parliament.

But by the end of the summer the reprisals had begun. Erdogan launched a new war primarily conducted against Kurdish civilians, branded HDP members of parliament as terrorists, and vowed to shut the party down. As has happened so many times around the world throughout history, he deftly used the resulting fear to swing support to the strongman. The glimmer of hope was extinguished.

News of a coup attempt yesterday came as no surprise to me. That feeling of hopelessness that things will ever be any different leads to desperation. And desperation causes people to make bad decisions.

But the truth is that the way forward for Turkey has to be through the will of the people – not at the hands of a segment of the military. Despite his many shortcomings, Erdogan enjoys the support of a considerable portion of the Turkish population. And they have the right to be a part of determining their own future.

There will no doubt be vicious retaliation for the events that played out this past week. They will affect those responsible for the coup attempt as well as many who are innocent of wrongdoing. Erdogan’s brutal, anti democratic rule will continue – perhaps even stronger than ever.

I firmly believe that one day my friends and family in Turkey will have leaders that respect that country’s amazing diversity, that believe in freedom of the press and freedom of expression. However, that day will not be ushered in by tanks.

Parmenter is a 7th grade language arts teacher at Waddell Language Academy. He was the 2015-16 CMS Teacher of the Year for the South Learning Community.