Turkish President Erdoğan cites "Hitler’s Germany" as model as he ramps up violent repression of Kurds, journalists

Erdoğan later claimed his statement was misunderstood, but critics say his rule is increasingly authoritarian

By Ben Norton
Published January 3, 2016 1:00PM (EST)
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan   (AP)
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan (AP)

Right-wing Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan cited "Hitler's Germany" as an example after which he hopes to model his government.

Erdoğan hopes to replace the parliamentary system of government of Turkey, a NATO member and close western ally, with a less democratic presidential system -- like that of the U.S. or Russia -- that will give him more power and less oversight from other branches.

Asked at a press conference in Turkey whether such a system could maintain the unitary structure of the Turkish state, Erdoğan replied "Yes. There is nothing to say that you can't have a presidential system in a unitary state."

"There are already some examples in the world today, and also some from the past," he added. "You see it when you look at Hitler's Germany. Later you see the example again in various other counties."

Later, Erdoğan's administration rolled back on his statement, claiming it was misunderstood. "Erdogan's 'Hitler's Germany' metaphor has been distorted by some news sources and has been used in the opposite sense," it said. "If the system is abused it may lead to bad management resulting in disasters as in Hitler's Germany ... The important thing is to pursue fair management that serves the nation," the statement added, insisting Erdoğan did not mean to speak positively of Hitler.

Critics of the Turkish government, however, have characterized Erdoğan as increasingly authoritarian. His government has clamped down on journalists, the Kurdish minority, and activists, especially from left-wing and pro-Kurdish groups.

Although Erdoğan has claimed Turkey has the world's freest press, the New York Times reported in 2013 that, for two years in a row, Turkey imprisoned more journalists than any other country, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

Reporters Without Borders dubbed Turkey the 149th-worst country for press freedoms, out of 180. And, under Erdoğan, Turkey has made more requests for content removal from social media than any other country in the world.

In December 2014, a 16-year-old Turkish student was arrested at school and thrown in jail for "insulting" Erdoğan, whom he called the "thieving owner of the illegal palace."

Before Turkey's election in October, police violently shut down the offices of critical media outlets. The offices of Turkish newspapers that have criticized the government or fairly portrayed the Kurds have also been attacked by ultra-nationalists sympathetic to the extreme-right Nationalist Movement Party or Erdoğan's ruling Justice and Development Party. Erdoğan's government did virtually nothing to punish these acts of political terror.

Turkey's Kurdish minority has born the brunt of the repression of Erdoğan's government. Far-right Turkish groups attacked scores of offices of the leftist, pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) in late 2015, setting some on fire in what Kurdish activists described as state-sanctioned "pogroms."

In October, ISIS claimed responsibility for bombing a peaceful rally of the leftist, pro-Kurdish political party in the Turkish capital Ankara. Around 100 people were killed and roughly 250 more were wounded. Activists said police "blocked" ambulances and prevented the wounded from getting treatment. In the wake of the bombings, activists said the Turkish government did very little to go after pro-ISIS groups or individuals in Turkey and made no substantive effort to prevent similar attacks from happening in the future.

In the past few weeks, the Turkish government has escalated its violence against the Kurds. It has displaced hundreds of thousands of civilians and killed and wounded hundreds of civilians in its attacks on Kurdish-majority villages. The Turkish government claims it is defending itself from Kurdish militant groups. Kurdish activists say it is clamping down on all forms of dissent from the Kurdish minority.

Throughout NATO's military campaign against ISIS, coalition member Turkey has devoted much more attention to fighting Kurdish militants than it has to fighting the self-proclaimed Islamic State.

Many of the Kurdish groups Turkey is attacking are fighting ISIS. Leftist, feminist, secular rebel groups like the PKK and the YPG/YPJ have proven to be some of the most effective forces in the anti-ISIS resistance, but have been relentlessly targeted by Erdoğan's government.

Under Erdoğan, Turkey has supported extremist Islamist groups in Syria like al-Nusra, the Syrian al-Qaeda affiliate, and has been accused of helping radical groups kill and capture U.S.-trained rebels. Turkey has also been accused of supporting ISIS in a variety of ways, primarily in order to fight Kurdish rebels. A former militant who defected from the so-called Islamic State says "ISIS sees Turkey as its ally."

Ben Norton

Ben Norton is a politics reporter and staff writer at AlterNet. You can find him on Twitter at @BenjaminNorton.

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