The Church of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople (a city today is known as Istanbul) has served as a symbol for the Byzantine Empire, for Christianity and for Western Civilization in general. Built under the rule of Justinian in 537, the Church was converted into a Mosque in 1453 (the year of the fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Empire) and to a museum in 1935 under Turkish President Kemal Atatürk. However, in July 2020, Hagia Sophia was turned into a Mosque again, a decision put forward by the Council of Ministers and predominantly directed by Turkey’s current president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. This decision received strong opposition from the United States and the European Union but was praised by Islamist groups such as Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood.
Erdoğan came to power in 2003 when he served as Prime Minister of Turkey and served in that role until 2014 when he became president of Turkey. Even though Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) initially promised to continue the liberalization which had begun to occur in Turkey, the party eventually decided to take a different turn and take Turkey back to the past.
The Freedom House index for Turkey in 2019 was 32/100, with the country labelled as “not free.” The first rule for a healthy democracy is conducting free and fair elections.
Elections in Turkey do take place; however, political opponents are often arrested and imprisoned—especially candidates from the Kurdish parties. In the election for Istanbul mayor in 2019, the candidate from Erdoğan’s party was defeated by his liberal opponent, however, this did not prevent Erdoğan from calling for another election citing votes cast by people who he claims were “ineligible” to vote. Yet this did not prevent the liberal Ekrem Imamoglu from winning a second time.
Another essential component of democracy is the existence of pluralism and of a robust civil society. The principle of pluralism states that despite their differences, people should be given a chance to live together, something which also includes political differences. However, as mentioned above, political dissidents and journalists, in Turkey, are arrested and imprisoned. A classic example is the family of Turkish NBA star Enes Kanter who was critical of Erdoğan and his regime. Civil society in Turkey is also limited, with events such as gay pride being banned or targeted with tear gas by police officers.
When it comes to the treatment of its neighbors, Turkey has not been much better.
Turkey continues to launch attacks against Kurdish militias in Iraq and in Northern Syria, with Kurds being essential allies of the West against ISIS. Ever since 1974, Turkey continues to occupy the north half of the island of Cyprus, establishing the “nation” of North Cyprus recognized only by Turkey. Even though talks for a solution to the issue started in 2015, Turkey walked back. Finally, at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic in Europe, in early March 2020, Turkey not only threatened to send a large number of migrants to the border with Greece, but also to intentionally send migrants infected with COVID-19. Furthermore, Turkish military planes continue to fly above Greek airspace with Erdoğan’s government, noting that Greek islands away from the mainland do not have claimed sovereign waters.
Unfortunately, Turkey is not the Western-Muslim country it was aspiring to be 20 years ago. This recent backsliding in democracy should be a warning the West, particularly to the U.S., that Turkey is no longer a democracy, but rather an autocracy that disputes the sovereignty of its Western, democratic neighbors—while also oppressing those who have helped the U.S. and its allies to virtually annihilate ISIS.
The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Lone Conservative staff.