The state of your State of Emergency

Turkey is now officially in a state of emergency as it attempts to come out on the other side of last week’s attempted coup:

Turkey’s parliament has approved a bill declaring a state of emergency in the wake of last weekend’s coup attempt and informed the Council of Europe of a partial withdrawal from the European convention on human rights.

Turkey will be required to provide regular updates to the secretary general of the Council of Europe on the measures taken under the state of emergency, according to the terms of the treaty.

Turkey initially said it had informed the Council of Europe that it would suspend the convention entirely, a more wide-ranging measure likely to have drawn criticism from allies.

The ECHR is a wide-ranging document (as its name suggests) and it’s not clear, or at least I haven’t seen it explained anywhere, what this “partial withdrawal” entails, specifically. But the convention does things like prohibiting torture, protecting due process, maintaining freedom of movement and preventing the expulsion of citizens/nationals, and prohibiting “unlawful killing,” this is a development that should be watched carefully. It seems likely that one of the casualties of the ECHR suspension will be Turkey’s ban on capital punishment., though it’s not clear that Turkey can actually get away with briefly reinstating the death penalty and then try to readopt the ECHR (which completely bans the practice) again later.

The Turkish government has been assuring people, mainly the international community, that most Turks won’t even know the emergency measures are in place:

Mehmet Simsek, the deputy prime minister, tried to dispel fears on Thursday that the country would return to the deep repression seen the last time it was under similar measures.

“The state of emergency in Turkey won’t include restrictions on movement, gatherings and free press, etc. It isn’t martial law of 1990s,” he said. “I’m confident Turkey will come out of this with much stronger democracy, better functioning market economy and enhanced investment climate.”

Of course, this state of emergency actually does include at least one restriction on movement (academics are being barred from leaving the country for work), and Turkey didn’t have a free press even before this all happened. But I think Şimşek ought to get points for trying. Tayyip Erdoğan gave it a shot too, in an interview with Al Jazeera:

“We will remain inside a democratic parliamentary system, we will never step back from it,” he told Al Jazeera’s Jamal Elshayyal, speaking through a translator, from inside the presidential palace in Ankara.

Erdoğan is, of course, obsessed with “stepping back” from Turkey’s parliamentary system and transitioning to a presidential system. But anyway, this seems encouragi-

“However, whatever is necessary for the nation’s peace and stability will be done,” Erdogan said, expressing doubts, however, that the coup attempt was entirely over.

Oh. OK then.

Meanwhile, in the latest round of updates, the number of people purged (arrested, detained, fired, and/or suspended from their jobs) in the aftermath of the failed coup has climbed over 50,000. The Middle East Institute’s Gönül Tol argues that we’re seeing a “civilian coup” in response to the attempted military coup:

Only a few days after the coup failed, the grim reality has already set in. The fact that the coup has been averted does not mean that democracy will prevail. The government’s efforts to “protect democracy” are laying the foundations for an even more authoritarian Turkey. The president’s decision to “cleanse all state institutions of state enemies” carries the risk of rendering the country even more vulnerable to attacks from its internal and external foes.

The number of people being sacked and arrested has sparked concerns that this is not a purge of plotters, but a purge of opposition supporters. This will increase social tension and polarization, and radicalize those segments of society who have been victimized by the government’s purge. As the pro-Erdogan camp grows stronger and more intent on marginalizing the rest of society, the anti-Erdogan camp will become more vengeful and less trustful of democracy. This does not bode well for a country where democratic culture has already had difficulty taking root.

Also in the potentially bad news column, power remains cut off at Incirlik Air Base, the key hub for US airstrikes against ISIS in Syria and a place where America stores some of its tactical nuclear weapons although we try not to talk about that out in the open. The power was cut off on Friday because, well, the Turkish commander of the base was apparently working with the coup plotters, so that makes sense. But it’s been five days now, and it’s starting to look a little bit like Ankara is keeping the power off as a show of strength to Washington. That’s not great for the already-frayed US-Turkey relationship.

Now, if I may, a bit of a rant.

I have a moral objection to countries suspending human rights protections in times of crisis–it’s easy to protect human rights when everything’s going well, you know?–but I realize that this is a loser of an argument, because literally every country, even the ones that really have exemplary human rights records, would suspend some basic rights in the face of an immediate threat. And Turkey has an especially dicey history with imposing martial law-type conditions in times of crisis. The state of emergency following Turkey’s extra-violent 1980 coup saw hundreds of thousands detained and over 500 people sentenced to execution, and then was manipulated by the junta to manage Turkey’s return to what was initially a far more restricted kind of “democracy” than the country had been practicing before the coup. So I get why this has people concerned.

But, of all the countries that might want to express their concern over this state of emergency, I would think France would be the one that would want to keep its objections more or less to itself, and yet they’re not doing that. See, it’s been about 8 months by my count since the Paris terrorist attack, and France is still in a state of emergency. In fact, the French parliament just extended that state of emergency another six months in the wake of last week’s attack in Nice–an attack, mind you, that the existing state of emergency did absolutely nothing to prevent despite the fact that emerging evidence, contradicting the initial narrative about the Nice attacker, suggests that he and his pals may have been planning that attack for a year or more. Don’t get me wrong; there may still have been no threat upon which French authorities could have pulled to prevent the Nice attack, but the question still remains: what good is the ongoing state of emergency? And while France might not have Turkey’s checkered past with martial law, University of Houston historian Robert Zaretsky sees some reasons to be quite concerned about what’s happening in France anyway:

It’s fair to wonder if the French government has become addicted to its emergency powers. What’s clear is that the warrantless searches permitted by the legislation have proved both invasive and ineffective: Of the nearly 4,000 administrative searches that have been undertaken since November, only 7 percent have led to court proceedings. No less alarming have been the government’s efforts to use its enhanced powers not only against suspected terrorist cells, but also against individuals and groups protesting various environmental and political measures. (The most recent example was the ill-fated effort last month to force the cancellation of a protest against proposed legislation to give employers greater freedom to fire and hire workers.) As the prominent Socialist politician Dominique Raimbourg said in May during the previous parliamentary debate about extending the legislation, France has been “evolving from a state of emergency aimed at fighting terrorism to a state of emergency aimed at maintaining public order.”

This might be a good time to remember the proverb about people who live in glass houses.



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