CCWA Presents: Spotlight on Turkey Featuring Dr. Sinan Ciddi
On Monday night we went to the Union Club on Euclid Avenue for a foreign policy forum put on by the Cleveland Council on World Affairs (CCWA) titled "Spotlight on Turkey" which featured a speech by Dr. Sinan Ciddi, Executive Director and Visiting Assistant Professor of the Institute for Turkish Studies at Georgetown University. Dr. Ciddi was born in Turkey and educated in the United Kingdom. He is recognized as an expert on Turkish domestic politics and foreign policy.
Dr. Ciddi started his presentation by saying that he wasn't so sure that he had anything that good to impart about conditions in Turkey at this time. On the contrary, our next U.S. President is going to have very difficult time dealing with Turkey which is about the size of Texas and is occupies one of "the most strategic pieces of real estate on the entire globe" because what we are now witnessing is "the rapid decline and possible disememberment of a democracy" due to the increasingly, repressive policies of President Erdogan. In fact, the Constitutional Court of the Republic of Turkey recently issued a ruling saying that the rule of law is no longer functioning there.
Dr. Ciddi went on to trace the reasons for this which go back many years to when President Erdogan (who became the president back in 2014) was Turkey's Prime Minister in 2003 to 2014. He initially created some fragile alliances with religious and civil factions which held together for a while and produced excellent results for the Turkey via infrastructure improvements and enhancement of the standard of living. But these alliances eventually fell apart and there was corruption in the Erdogan administration that, according to Dr. Ciddi, made Watergate seem like "child's play" in comparison. President Erdogan began to fight back against his opponents by employing such measures as property seizure and placing restrictions on newspapers.
Finally, in July of 2016 there was a coup attempt by the Turkish military (who never liked Erdogan to begin with) that almost succeeded in taking the President down but instead became the first coup attempt in the history of Turkey to fail because not enough troops were involved to make it a success and the President was able to make use of social media and other means of communication (which he had previously scorned) to rally enough people to his side in order to hang on.
President Erdogan then went on to use the failed coup attempt as an excuse to brutally crack down on all of his critics like never before. Dr. Ciddi said that the President became "a very vengeful, paranoid person" who "obliterated" Turkey's rule of law by declaring a state of emergency that enabled him to do whatever he wanted. What was particularly chilling was that academic freedom in universities is being severely curtailed because university presidents must now answer to the President who can now appoint them and/or dismiss them whenever he wants.
Dr. Ciddi indicated that when the Trump administration assumes office next year, it will face a difficult balancing act because it is imperative that the U.S. be able to work with Turkey to control the turmoil in surrounding Middle Eastern countries yet we may have to call President Erdogan on some of these human rights abuses. In an unprecedented move, the European Union is considering taking action against him too. What's more, President Erdogan is already quite angry with the U.S. for not warning him of the coup attempt that he is certain U.S. intelligence forces knew about.
Dr. Ciddi admitted that he didn't know exactly what the U.S. could do under these circumstances although he believed that isolation is not the answer. He said that he would work with a program called "Scholars at Risk" to help the academics in Turkey who are now at risk and might have to leave. We looked up its website and learned that this program "protects scholars suffering grave threats to their lives, liberty, and well-being by arranging temporary research and teaching positions at institutions in our network as well as by providing advisory and referral services."
Quite a few people we knew turned out for this program including Ms. Handan Yagan who we last saw at the 93rd Republic Day of Turkey celebration at Cibreo Cleveland. We learned that she had just returned from Turkey that very day but was still determined to attend that celebration even though she was quite tired from her long flight; in short, she is quite a trooper and we respect her for it.
Others who came to hear Dr. Ciddi were Ms. Zoya Trofimova who immigrated to the U.S. from Russia in 1991 and really liked the CCWA programs that she had attended thus far; Catherine McCutcheon who we knew from "Ohio Norsemen"; Mr. Mehmet and Ms. Christine Gencer from TASNO, the Turkish Cultural Garden, and ICC-WIN; Mr. Murat Gurer and his wife, Ms. Selma Saritoprak from the Turkish Cultural Center in Lakewood; Mr. Asim Datta; Mr. Fareed Siddiq; Mr. Richard Pogue, and several members of Cleveland's Turkish community.
Most of the people that we talked to agreed that it was one of the most sobering programs that we had attended in a long time.
Margaret W. Wong & Assoc. Co., LLC