After a failed coup attempt in Turkey on July 15-16, the government of President Recep Erdogan began tightening control and stifling freedom of expression in the nation – actions that have alarming historical parallels.
The government has issued warrants to detain journalists and discharge academic faculty. These totalitarian actions not only affect freedom of expression, but also put the safety and livelihoods of professors, teachers and human rights activists in peril.
Since July 16, Turkey’s Council of Higher Education has called for the resignation of all university faculty deans. Turkish academics have been banned from traveling abroad, 15,000 education ministry officials were suspended and 21,000 school teachers have had their licenses revoked.
The government has also ordered dozens of media organization closed down, including 45 newspapers, 15 television stations and 23 radio stations.
As an institute committed to preventing genocide by understanding its causes and consequences, USC Shoah Foundation sees these edicts as grave warning signs. These actions must be stopped before they progress deeper into the dark hole that we must all be ever vigilant to guard against.
Despots will look for any excuse to further their nefarious ends. We know from history that Hitler used emergency powers after the 1933 Reichstag Fire as an excuse to halt democratic rights and begin his rise to total tyranny. There are countless other examples of demagogues who took the opportunity to restrict the rights of citizens in times of confusion and fear.
Turkey has long denied the genocide of the Armenians and not confronted its own brutal past. The draconian measures are redolent of events 100 years ago when the Ottoman Turkish government began rounding up Armenian intellectuals and community leaders – events that led directly to the murder of 1.5 million people in the Armenian Genocide. For Armenians, what is playing out is particularly worrisome, but it concerns the entire global community if we truly care about human rights.
Let us not fool ourselves into thinking that it can’t happen again. That is why we denounce the actions to clamp down basic human freedoms and strip citizens of their dignity and rights.