Historically, Prime Minister Erdogan has consolidated much of his power by raising fears about the threat of domestic terrorism and the so-called “deep state,” a covert network of military and civilian elites who for decades have stifled any perceived threat to a secular Turkey. It’s a kind of cabal of unseen hands, often violent, that smacks of conspiracy theory. Except, as TheNew Yorker staff writer Dexter Filkins tells Bob, it actually exists.
BOB GARFIELD: Historically Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan has consolidated much of his power by raising fears about the threat of domestic terrorism and the so-called “deep state,” a shadowy network of military and civilian elites who, for decades, have stifled any perceived threat to a secular Turkey. It’s a kind of cabal of unseen hands, often violent, that smacks of conspiracy theory, except, as New Yorker staff writer Dexter Filkins found out, it actually exists.
DEXTER FILKINS:It is absolutely extraordinary. I didn't believe it when I started. I thought the deep state was a myth that they had created so they could arrest all these people. And the deep state is a totally real phenomenon - death squads, secret detention centers, everything. That’s what makes it so hard. The truth is so fantastic that you can't dismiss it as a conspiracy theory. I mean, the conspiracy theories are sort of cut in both ways, you know. Like there is a deep state, like absolutely. It’s crazy, but Erdoğan is also exaggerating the threat of the deep state so that he can like arrest people. So it’s, it's nuts.
BOB GARFIELD:And part of that roundup included the press. How did that play out?
DEXTER FILKINS:When Erdoğan came into power he basically decided - not publicly - but he basically decided he was gonna crush the remnants of the deep state. And what he has done over the past – particularly over the past five or six years, but it's happening right now, is he's arrested hundreds of people, not just military officers, not just police officers, but university presidents, the heads of television stations, newspaper editors, reporters, NGO activists. The net is just widened and widened and widened.
BOB GARFIELD:It’s become a kind of “get into jail free” card for him.
DEXTER FILKINS:If you start to criticize the government, you’d better run for cover. And there’s a
growing sense in the West that Erdoğan, you know, may have started with good intentions about sort of
going after the remnants of this kind of - you know, this weird organization, but that he's gone way
too far, and that basically he's kind of reaching for authoritarianism. And I think that's a pretty
fair criticism. Turkey imprisons more journalists than any other country in the world. And that
includes Iran. It includes China. It includes Russia. Turkey, if you measure by journalists put in
prison, is the most repressive country in the world.
It's something that you don't hear a lot about in the United States because I think Turkey is a pretty modern country, and its economy has been booming for the last ten years. And they’re in a really crummy part of the world. They’re in a part of the world, which is always in upheaval and been very violent and where, frankly, the United States doesn’t have a lot of friends.And so, we’ve been kind of very happy with Erdoğan and to have him as an ally and somebody that we can talk to and somebody who appears to share most of our values. So you don’t hear a lot about the repressive things that he’s doing.
BOB GARFIELD:Is he Mubarak, is he Hugo Chavez? Is he Putin? Who is this guy?
DEXTER FILKINS:I think Erdoğan is Erdoğan, I mean, he’s very much a product of, of Turkey’s pretty unique political history and religious tradition. I mean, there’s elements of him which, you know, the kind of the populist tough guy. So, you know, is that Chavez or Putin or whoever?I do think that if he doesn't stop, if he keeps going, he’s going down a pretty dangerous road. And there’s a lot of indications today – and again, you know, we
don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow – but Erdoğan, who’s been Prime Minister since 2002, wants to be President, and he wants to rewrite the Constitution, put it before the people, but essentially expanding the powers of the presidency and then run for President himself. So, you know, if he has his way he’s gonna have a lot of power, and he’s gonna be in power for probably another decade,at least.So all those things, again, I mean, those are very suggestive of authoritarian anti-democratic impulses on his part.
BOB GARFIELD:The CEO of one of the largest media groups, which happens to be part of a conglomerate with even more to lose, apologized to his own staff at his
biggest TV channel for, in his words, betraying the audience by not doing a more credible job covering the protests and the police overreaction. If he’s willing to go out
on a limb, do you think it's plausible that the rest of the Turkish media will begin to feel its oats, as well?
DEXTER FILKINS:I think so. I mean, that's a remarkable development. You hear these stories, you know, they’re true. I, I think of how intimidating Erdoğan’s government has been with the press, to the point where Erdoğan would just call in the editors of the big newspapers and television stations in Turkey and he’d say, okay, this is what's gonna happen and I don’t want to hear any criticism about it from you guys, okay, end of meeting. Is that ice starting to crack? Maybe.
We’ve all seen this a hundred times in other countries. When people begin to get angry and the pent-up frustrations start to come out, you know, events can move very, very quickly. And that's happening here. And so, while Erdoğan, three weeks ago, may have been one of the most popular leaders in the world, three weeks from now he may not be. And so, I think the Turkish press has been intimidated, cowed, beaten up, imprisoned, all that, and maybe we’re starting to see that change.
BOB GARFIELD:Dexter, thank you very much.
DEXTER FILKINS:Thank you, sir.
BOB GARFIELD:Dexter Filkins is a staff writer at The New Yorker.
MALE CORRESPONDENT:Turkey has been convulsed by political protests for seven days. Now the Prime Minister is back, with a rousing message for his followers.
[PRIME MINISTER SPEAKING/TURKISH
INTERPRETER:Whatever we do, we do it within democracy. Whatever we do, we do it with the law. We, 76 million people, will all see your illegitimate ways and stand
[PRIME MINISTER SPEAKING/CROWD RESPONSE][MUSIC UP AND UNDER]