How Metin Feyzioglu Mindset Hijacked Turkish State

Metin Feyzioglu, the head of Turkey’s Bar Association, contends that the Turkish government does not have to protect (Kurdish) civilians if they are used as human shields by SDF. His mindset is the embodiment of state policy.

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Photo Credit (EPA)

Only a few weeks after the state-run Anadolu news agency unabashedly released video and photo footage of tortured military officials, who were imprisoned after a bungled and ill-fated coup attempt in 2016 summer, Metin Feyzioglu, the head of Turkey’s Bar Association, was busy in Washington, D.C., with denying the obvious fact known by the whole world — the existence of torture in police custody and prison across the country in the aftermath of the coup.

Invited by his colleagues to speak about the political affairs in the hazy and tumultuous days of the post-coup Turkey, Feyzioglu baffled the audience at Carnegie Endowment when, answering a question from a participant, he rebuffed the claims of torture: “There is no torture in Turkey, none.”

His dogged denialism was in stark contrast with reality. This was all the more so given that fact that anyone curious about what was going on in Turkey’s prisons would easily watch the video on Youtube to make a judgment on his/her own. The defeated generals, some of whom never took part in the botched putsch, were standing in line, their faces bruised and their eyes red, bearing all the hallmarks of torture. In other several pictures, soldiers, handcuffed behind, were forced to kneel down at a horse barn, all naked except underwear. In one memorable moment at Gendarmerie General Command in Ankara, military officers were humiliated in front of people after police ordered them to get undressed, allowing only their underwear on. A sports hall in Ankara was full of officers in a similar disgracing position and shape.

All those pictures and footage made it impossible to deny the obvious reality out there. Yet, Feyzioglu chose to lie both to his colleagues, the audience and the press. That president, who was supposed to defend the rule of law and represent the battered notion of justice in Turkey, gave his full endorsement for the indiscriminate purge, the arbitrary invocation of the letter of the law, and widespread rights abuses that became a defining feature of the post-coup era. He did not speak a word for thousands of judges and prosecutors, for hundreds of lawyers who were locked behind bars in a sweeping crackdown.

Feyzioglu’s list of grave sins would shock an outside observer. But it shouldn’t. When families of cadets sought justice for their unjustly convicted sons over coup involvement, the bar association head warned mothers over making too much noise.

In a televised interview about the ongoing military offensive in Syria on Saturday, Feyzioglu blurted out a new remark, no less controversial and scandalous than the previous ones.

“If civilians are used as human shields [against the Turkish military], then Turkey is not obliged to protect them,” Feyzioglu said. Instead of issuing an apology for his statement, he accused his critics of being pawns and spokesmen of the PKK [Kurdistan Workers’ Party] and FETO, a derogatory term used by authorities to refer to Gulen Movement.

Nothing could be more indicative of his mindset than this latest statement. Not a word for lawyers who were brutally persecuted and jailed, not a word for more than 100 judges and prosecutors who languish in solitary confinement for more than three years.

He even rejoiced at the internal coup at Cumhuriyet daily last year, registering approval for the change that eventually culminated in the imprisonment of a dozen staff members.

At every turn, Feyzioglu aligns himself with regressive and authoritarian politics, siding with those who demolish the remnants of Turkey’s never-perfect democracy and judicial independence.

Three years after a fateful coup, the judiciary is in disarray and the bureaucracy in a tailspin. The man, who normally should give a fight for justice for his colleagues, rather sells them and sides with the oppressor. It is no surprise then to see that he even does not feign to show a semblance of care for civilians in Syria during the Turkish military offensive. His recent remarks can even count as an endorsement for indiscriminate targeting of civilian areas home to militants linked with Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). This moral blindness is unfortunately not limited to him.

Kurdish Conflict, Syria Offensive and Moral Fallout

The Kurdish conflict exposes the existence of a toxic but entrenched ultra-nationalism, which substitutes every other human value for the sacred identity of the Turkish state and nation. This trade-off opens itself on the public level, with dire moral consequences.

The political agenda and goals of the state, this thinking holds, subordinates every other consideration. Look at the shape of Turkey’s opposition. The moment the Turkish forces set foot in Kurdish-held areas in northern Syria, even the ardent discontents of President Erdogan obediently and immediately toed the line. Istanbul Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu, main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu, figures like Ahmet Davutoglu and other breakaway politicians from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) suspended their criticism of the government in order to avoid the wrath of the president and the public.

Every other matter of importance is sidelined as the war began to dictate its own agenda, silencing opposition of all sorts and sweeping the landscape of the national conversation in every aspect. The long-anticipated judicial reform bill gets a cursory treatment in Parliament as media attention is mostly reserved for the military offensive against the Kurdish militia. The moral dilemma inherently attached to any ground operation in a combusted battlefield did not spare Turkey.

As more and more footage comes from the ground in northern Syria, attesting to widespread violations of international regulations and norms that protect unarmed civilians, Turkey is bound to face growing international criticism. Feyzioglu’s remarks not just vindicate the dominant thinking among the current leadership who rules Turkey, but also reflect an actual policy on the ground with ominous ramifications. Turkey-backed Syrian groups indiscriminately and extra-judicially execute whoever crosses their path, accentuating well-founded concerns. The grisly killing of a female a Kurdish politician, Havrin Khalaf, the secretary-general of the Future Syria Party, is more than a public relations disaster for Ankara. It is an indisputable war crime that would put Turkey’s entire argument, not to speak of its operation, in jeopardy. Granting an unwarranted and broad license to its proxies to indulge in unlawful acts for the sake of using their manpower is an inescapable invitation to such horrors. And pro-government media’s depiction of the murder of the politician is certainly no less disturbing.

Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu unapologetically shrugged off the international community’s ever-growing criticism as mere noise.

“Why should Turkey be afraid of isolation? We are combatting terrorism, it is our common foe,” he said in his comment after Iranian Parliamentary Leader Ali Laricani canceled his official trip to Istanbul.

A growing number of countries, France, Germany, Norway, Finland and many others call for sanctions of different sorts against Turkey, building up a concerted pressure that Ankara has no longer the luxury to ignore. No war of words would belittle the importance of the threat hovers out there: the prospect of diplomatic isolation in international politics. The threat may momentarily be on suspension after the U.S. and Russia’s veto of the condemnation of Turkey at the United Nations Security Council, but signs of a collective stance against Ankara would no longer be written off by the Turkish leadership as trivial matters devoid of substance.

As Feyzioglu mindset is now in the charge of the state of affairs in every layer of governance in Ankara, as war crimes and atrocities are committed by allied rebel forces against civilians on the ground, the moral front of the war seems to have been irrevocably lost. To ask the government to purge this mindset is no different than to ask them to reinvent themselves. It equals asking the Erdogan administration to reverse all the things done in the name of state following the coup, to restore democracy and rule of law, and to return to a peace process with Kurds that collapsed in 2015. All other options portend a doomed future for Turkey, and even for the region.

Written by

Virginia-based journalist and writer. Politics, culture, art, and technology. American political affairs, Turkey, the MidEast, and beyond. Twitter: @abyasun

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