/ 28 March 2019

Turkey is a democracy — that’s a fact

Human Rights Day should be about celebrating those who fought against injustice
Human Rights Day should be about celebrating those who fought against injustice, discrimination and inequality in South Africa, Turkey and beyond. (Yasin Akgula/AFP)


I am writing in response to the op-ed by Sello Ivan Phahle, titled “South Africa needs to take a position on the plight of the Turks under Erdoğan”, published on the Mail & Guardian website on March 24.

The first thing that needs immediate clarification is the extent of the article’s delusion about the coup attempt of July 15 2016 and its perpetrators. Sadly, the author is not aware of the true nature of the coup attempt, which was neither a democratic uprising nor a lawful protest against the government of Turkey.

It was the absolute opposite, when a rogue faction within Turkey’s military attempted to suspend the Constitution, impose martial law and enforce a nationwide curfew. As troops and tanks blocked the traffic crossing from Asia to Europe over the Bosphorus Bridge in Istanbul, a number of government buildings, including the Parliament, the presidential palace and the intelligence headquarters, were heavily assaulted.

The toll of this so-called “Hizmet” movement, led by Fethullah Gülen, which cunningly poses as a moderate, tolerant, nonviolent, pro-dialogue social movement, was the death of 250 people and 2 195 people were injured.

Over the years, this shadowy cult, the Fethullahist Terror Organisation (Feto), had infiltrated government structures. Its modus operandi specifically targeted the strategic institutions of Turkey, including law enforcement, the judiciary and eventually the military, in order to manipulate the highest echelons of decision-making.

On the night of July 15 2016, these so-called “moderate Muslims” showed their true colours as a terrorist organisation, which ran over people with tanks and opened fire on innocent civilians from helicopters. Do any of these crimes strike you as an issue of human rights?

Against this backdrop, the image of “innocent Turkish citizens” suffering under an “unjust regime” is dangerously fictional, because Feto members are neither innocent nor tried without reason.

Trying the perpetrators of a coup attempt is hardly a “crime against humanity”. Beyond that, claiming that “the Turkish citizens are living under severe apartheid conditions” is not only detached from reality but also inherently belittles the hardships suffered by South Africans during the apartheid era.

The grave fallacy is to use human rights as an excuse to cover up the unlawful acts by the members of Feto, which can only serve to implicitly condone their acts.

Despite the author’s misguided encouragement to get South Africa to be more vocal about the “injustices” regarding this matter, as a friend of this wonderful country, it is my duty to advise against it. South Africa should never go down the road of becoming a safe haven for people who have committed a crime against their own country by the most nondemocratic and unlawful means imaginable.

The same goes for the tendency in some spheres in South Africa to support the PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party), which is designated as a terrorist organisation by the European Union and many Nato allies. In a country like South Africa, which is the land of genuine freedom fighters, giving credit to PKK or Feto is not only misguided and unfair but also disrespectful to the people of South Africa and the legacy of peace and respect for human rights in this country.

Human Rights Day should be about celebrating those who fought against injustice, discrimination and inequality in South Africa, Turkey and beyond, and the propaganda of groups with heinous agendas should not be allowed to overshadow their righteous struggle.

One thing that the article seems to have got right is that the relationship between South Africa and Turkey is solid. There are areas with great potential in which we can co-operate to further enhance our bilateral ties.

I would like to take this opportunity to request that your readers are provided with not just the opinion of a biased outsider but also given the chance to understand the official standpoint of Turkey. Therefore, and within the scope of ethics and objectivity of the press, it is my hope that you spare room for my thoughts.

Elif Çomoğlu Ülgen is the ambassador of the Republic of Turkey in South Africa.