How to understand the ‘New Turkey’

I can’t remember the first time I heard the term “New Turkey”. After 2010 the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) began to use it often. During the presidential campaign of 2014, the then-prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, said he would be the president of a New Turkey.

At its 2015 party congress, the AKP announced its New Turkey Protocol:

“With its cultural richness, free democracy, powerful economy, human based political understanding, powerful social structure, dynamic human resources and effective foreign policy, the New Turkey is an honourable member of humanity and a rising power in the global world,” it said.

Let us look at what it means to be an honourable member of humanity and a rising power in the global world.

I really do not want to give the number of people who are in prison because of their beliefs, the number of people who were fired from their jobs, the numbers of NGOs closed, the number of media outlets closed, the number of people killed and displaced in the Kurdish region, and the number of dead bodies without a proper burial.

I will give you though some examples of what makes up the fabric of New Turkey.

Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu, said in January at a meeting on drugs: “It is the police’s duty to break a drug dealer’s legs when he or she sees a dealer near a school. They can blame me.”

The chief of police in the southeastern province of Adıyaman said breaking legs was not enough, if necessary they would also break heads.

Anchorman Ahmet Keser said on the pro-government channel Akit TV last week that:

“There are claims that the army of the Republic of Turkey is killing civilians in Afrin… Why would it? Why would the army of Turkey be there if there were civilians there? Why would the army of Turkey go there to kill civilians? If we had the intention to kill civilians, we would have started doing it in Cihangir, Nişantaşı, Etiler, right? I mean there are a lot of traitors in these districts of Istanbul,” he said, referring to wealthy districts of Istanbul where there is little support for the Islamist government.

Keser is not the only one who openly talks about killing others in Turkey. Thousands of trolls on social media – dubbed AK trolls, with some thought to be financed by the AKP – openly issue death threats to people opposed to the government. Every day I receive threats from these trolls explaining how they would like to kill, rape and torture me. Everyone who openly criticises AKP policies is in danger in the New Turkey.

There has been an alarming increase in such rhetoric. In the constitution – part of the old Turkey – there are laws preventing hate speech and hate crimes. Unfortunately, the government is doing nothing about these trolls, their hate crimes and threats. The inaction even encourages members of the public to threaten their neighbours.

Another characteristic of the New Turkey is informing on others. A few weeks ago, a woman on a bus in Istanbul was detained and jailed after another passenger read the messages on her phone and reported her to the police. This is not the only case. Many people in Turkey are afraid of talking in taxis for fear of being reported. Criticising Erdoğan or the government in a taxi can cause you big problems.

A very important pillar of the New Turkey is women’s bodies. Every day, on television, politicians, imams, religious leaders and government supporters give advice on how women should live. Last month, the Directorate of Religious Affairs said nine-year-old girls could marry. Last week, a pro-government Islamic group leader, Müslim Gündüz, advocated what he said was the “old” custom of burying female infants alive and said the naked arms of mothers seduce their sons.

A teacher said girls who wear trainers are sultry or breaking the religious law. Last week, Nurettin Yıldız, a theologian, said people of different sexes should not share an elevator. Again last week, a Turkish theology professor criticised keeping men and women patients in the same intensive care wards.

This is just a small picture of the New Turkey. With its militaristic, male, nationalist, Islamic, totalitarian characteristics, some things still remain from old Turkey. But while looking out my window, across the ruins of my city, which has been under military curfew in part since 2015, I understand the most common characteristic of the old and new Turkey: they hate the Kurds!