On the return of a 36-hour-long visit to Saudi Arabia that was reminiscent of a marathon, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan held a press meeting at the airport at midnight. While answering a question on the presidential system in unitary states, he said "There is nothing to say that you cannot have a presidential system in a unitary state. There are already some examples. You see it when you look at Hitler's Germany. You also see the example again in various other countries." Then he added, "The important thing is to avoid any characteristic that might disturb the public in the implementation of the presidential system. If you behave justly during implementation, this is what people seek and expect: justice. A problem will not arise as long as justice is secured." After that, he used the United States and various other developed countries as positive examples of the presidential system.
A Turkish news website that is strongly critical of Erdoğan published his remarks by asserting, "Erdoğan cited Hitler's Germany as an example of effective government," although Hitler's Germany was not praised or described as an effective government in any part of his speech. Contrarily, he wanted to emphasize the importance of justice by showing a country with unjust practices as an example. By sinking into anti-Erdoğan sentiment rather than balanced discussions, Reuters reporters also borrowed the news report from this website as it is and spread it to the world just like other foreign journalists did.
The most explicit example displaying the irony of the situation is the top story published with the caption "taboo-breaking 2015" in Şalom, the best-selling weekly newspaper from Turkey's Jewish community. The story reviewed initiatives and events in 2015 and stated that four great taboos were broken with regard to Turkish Jews during 2015. The developments covered in the story are as follows:
1. On Jan. 27 last year, an official ceremony was held in Ankara for the first time as part of the international Holocaust Remembrance Day, with then Parliamentary Speaker Cemil Çiçek in attendance. Also, Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu attended a ceremony in Poland marking the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.
2. The restoration of historic Grand Edirne Synagogue, which is the biggest synagogue in Europe, was completed after spending TL 750,000 ($250,000) over five years. Then Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç attended the opening.
3. The victims of the Struma tragedy were also officially commemorated for the first time in 2015. Then Culture Minister Ömer Çelik, attended the commemoration and said, "This is not only the sorrow of the Jewish community, but also a mutual sorrow shared by all of us."
4. Turkish Jews celebrated Hanukkah in Istanbul's Ortaköy Square, which was the first time the community was able to celebrate their religious festival in public. The representatives of three religions lit candles together at the event.
All the official names attending those ceremonies are high-ranking officials of the Justice and Development Party (AK Party), which foreign press cannot mention without adding the "pro-Islamist" title. While the foreign press portrays Erdoğan almost as a "Turkish Hitler," some other developments also took place in Erdoğan's Turkey during 2015.
For instance, on Nov. 7, 2015, the Mardin Protestant Church was reopened after 60 years with Turkish, Kurdish, Arabic and Syriac prayers.
On Sept. 28, 2015, Gökçeada Greek middle and high school was reopened to education after a 40-year interval.
On Jan. 4, 2015, Turkey approved the construction of a new church for the first time in the Republican history, Yeşilköy Syriac Church.
Other examples portraying pluralism also include Erdoğan becoming the first prime minister of Turkey to refer to the 1915 incidents as "inhumane" and the Sept. 6-7, 1955 pogrom against Turkey's non-Muslim population as "fascistic." Also, during his term in office, the number of Alevi worship houses increased by 800 percent, and LGBT organizations could be freely formed and could organize their annual Pride Parades in the center of Istanbul, even in the month of Ramadan, only in his term.
Erdoğan is certainly not the "Turkish Hitler," but some correspondents in Turkey are closer to being "Turkey's Goebbels."
About the author
Hilal Kaplan is a journalist and columnist. Kaplan is also board member of TRT, the national public broadcaster of Turkey.