The protest took place outside the Turkish embassy in Washington, D.C., on May 17.
The message that got out was one we knew already: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is an anti-democratic thug.
Videos of the incident show Erdogan’s bodyguards assaulting the dozen protesters who had been loudly, but peacefully, protesting outside the Turkish embassy. Like better dressed, better armed soccer hooligans, the bodyguards pushed past the local police and beat and bloodied the protestors.
Video shows Erdogan watching the assault approvingly.
This wasn’t the first time Erdogan’s goons have assaulted protesters on foreign soil. In 2016, they roughly tossed several women from a convention hall in Ecuador.
But however bad some citizens of Turkey may behave as guests in another country, life is worse for the people in Turkey.
Erdogan, the highest elected official in Turkey, is on record saying he despises democracy and the elections that brought him to power. Over the years, he has worked to eliminate opposition to his power by cratering the country’s judiciary and jailing political adversaries. The controversial referendum earlier this year will cede more constitutional powers to the Turkish presidency, giving Erdogan a bigger hammer with which to abuse his citizens.
The man is a disgrace to democracy. He used the failed 2016 coup as cover to fire more 90,000 civil servants who don’t hold firm enough loyalties to him. (Getting accurate numbers out of Turkey is difficult. Amnesty International places the number at 100,000.)
Free thought was the main casualty of Erdogan’s purges. The government suspended 20,000 educators, fired 30,000 more, terminated 1,500 university deans and ended the careers of 12,000 mostly Kurdish high school teachers. Non-governmental organizations were silenced. The government shuttered more than 150 media outlets and jailed 2,500 journalists. And to keep his people dumb, Erdogan recently blocked Turks from accessing Wikipedia.
And in case the chill on Turkish democracy isn’t sufficiently icy, Erdogan has said he wants to reinstate the death penalty.
One hopes western governments respond with the appropriate spine. European nations can begin by honouring democratic principles and placing Turkey’s bid to enter the European Union on hold until the country lets journalists and academics speak freely.
Canada, too, should lend support to strengthening Turkey’s democratic institutions and stating publicly – to Turkey and any other belligerent houseguests – the consequences of anti-liberal behaviour on Canadian soil.
In solidarity with their Turkish colleagues, academics in Canada should hold vigil for Turkey until that country’s illness passes. This means doing in Canada what Turkish academics cannot – letting people speak their minds, however empty their minds may be. At a time when mob justice is unjustly damaging the intellectual enterprise at schools across North America, Canadian universities should be a model of open inquiry and democratic discourse.
And for themselves, for their students and for the rest of the world, Canadian academics should reaffirm their allegiance to the values that have given western universities control over so much knowledge. Namely, that true knowledge is built on evidence, not whim or identity. And that the university exists to bring humanity towards a common understanding of what is demonstrably true about our world. It is not a vanity project.
Court jesters, too, have a role to play in correcting this Turkish fright.
Comedians should, as soon as possible, mock Turkey’s hypersensitive president. Like an ipecac, ridicule may help eject foul Erdogan from the body politic.
(Fair warning, jokesters, especially clowns of the Germanic variety: Turkey has passed, and used, laws forbidding people from insulting Turkey, and it has pursued the prosecution of a German national for writing a dirty poem about Erdogan – that appeared in Germany. To its shame, Germany proceeded with the prosecution. What a joke.)
Turkey’s erratic behaviour is not a joke. Turkey’s actions, and our reaction to those actions, have consequence for all of us.
Robert Price is a communications and professional writing instructor at the University of Toronto.
The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.