The violence of Erdoans bodyguards in Washington DC is Turkey’s new normal | Ahmet A Sabanc

The violent scenes in the US capital were typical of Turkey, where anyone who criticizes the government is labeled a terrorist and treated with brutality

On 17 May, a slice of Erdoans Turkey found its way to Washington DC. That day, a group of Kurdish Americans gathered outside the Turkish ambassadors residence to protest against the Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoan. There, they were beaten, threatened and attacked by the Turkish leaders bodyguards. A total of 11 people were injured. Instead of the attackers, two protesters were arrested.

This is what the world saw that day, and this is the story that videos of the incident tell. But, according to Turkish pro-government media, which includes all mainstream newspapers and TV channels in Turkey, the world got the story wrong.

In their version, terrorist sympathizers and Kurdistan Workers party (PKK) supporters had started to create trouble. Erdoans bodyguards decided to intervene, they say, because US police were not able to adequately handle that situation.

Everyone who is fed up with the Turkish medias unapologetic propaganda was expecting this distortion of facts. And all the media outlets used similar phrasing to make sure everyone put out the same story.

In Turkey, when police or Erdoan supporters beat or attack protesters, whenever dissidents or activists are exposed to state violence, or whenever they arrest someone just for raising their voice in opposition, we see and hear the same story.

Lets take Yusuf Yerkel, for example. He was one of the advisers of then prime minister Erdoan when the 2014 Soma mine disaster, which killed 301 miners, happened. When Erdoan visited Soma with him, protesters, many of whom were family members of the miners, gathered to meet them. Police decided to attack the protesters and held Erdal Kocabyk, a protesting miner, on the ground. Thats when Yerkel was caught on camera kicking him.

Earlier in the day, Kocabyk had kicked one of the cars owned by the government. Kocabyk first was fined 500 Turkish liras for vandalizing government property and then received a 10-month jail sentence. All Yerkel received was seven days off work with a medical report, because he hurt his leg. In 2016, a court even ruled in Yerkels favor, saying that the famous photograph that captured what he did should be taken down for defamation reasons. That is censorship.

Erdoans party, the AKP, has built a strong narrative to make sure that things will never change. Since 2002, they have taken every step to make their ideology and themselves synonymous with the state. Because of this, all opposition against them can be presented as an attack on the Turkish state.

Criticizing the government or any AKP politician is viewed by them as a crime against the state itself. Demanding change is understood as demanding the destruction of the state. This became crystal clear around the Gezi Park protests. And since then, theyve only become more aggressive and brutal.

Thats the way autocratic narratives work. All a leader has to do is make sure that anyone opposing them is seen as a threat and a terrorist. That signals to thugs that attacking so-called terrorists is a good thing and wont be punished.

Thats exactly whats been happening in Turkey for a long time. Anyone criticizing Erdoan, the AKP or their politics is labeled a terrorist or foreign spy and becomes a target. People around Erdoan his supporters, the police, and the media just wait for a chance to teach them a lesson.

Today in Turkey, there are hotlines for citizens to inform officials about potential terrorists. Recently they have also decided to bring back neighbourhood watchmen to keep people safe. The government denies that it jails people for the crime of reporting. Rather, Erdoan insists that all detained journalists in Turkey are terrorists, criminals and child molesters.

Since the 15 July 2016 coup attempt, the government has removed thousands of peoples jobs, legal rights, passports and more by means of statutory decrees as a part of the ongoing state of emergency, turning them into legal zombies.

And if you go on a hunger strike just to get your rights back, as Nuriye Glmen and Semih zaka did, not a single government official will care about you, police will attack your supporters and one day theyll raid your house at night to arrest you as happened to Glmen and zaka on Sunday. Even though you were protesting at the same spot for weeks, every single day.

What happened in Washington DC was business as usual in Erdoans Turkey. It was a glimpse into a place where being critical of the government renders you subhuman, deserving of everything that comes your way: kicks, choking and death threats. What the world saw was just a small scene from Turkeys new normal.

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