The Cato Institute’s Doug Bandow deftly explains the long, complicated history of freedom in Turkey and why Turkey is different.
There should be no nostalgia for the “good old days.” The military jailed and tortured opponents. The generals even executed ousted civilian leaders in 1961. Ethnic minorities like the Kurds faced brutal military oppression; tens of thousands of people died and thousands of Kurdish villages were destroyed as the Kurds fought for autonomy. (In the view of Turkish officials there was no such thing as Kurds, only “mountain Turks.”)
The military decided security policy, such as the 1974 invasion of Cyprus, with a majority Greek population. Religious minorities, such as the Armenian and Greek Orthodox, found little space for views considered contrary to the Turkish identity. The public square was stripped of any form of the dominant Islamic faith; even the wearing of head scarfs at university was banned.
The Kemalist establishment ruthlessly suppressed freedom of expression, both political and religious. Mild doubts about repression in the name of Ataturk resulted in prosecutions, trials, and imprisonment of academics, journalists, and others. Talk to Turkish liberals — most anyone who believes in a generally free society — and you will find people who were prosecuted, fired, and threatened for their views. One prominent journalist told me he remembered his father being imprisoned for the crime of opposing military rule.
Most of this is gone, courtesy of Prime Minister Erdogan. Who, not coincidentally, himself was jailed and barred from office at one time.