Norsk PEN event in Oslo focuses on restoring democracy in Turkey 

All stakeholders must join forces in restoring democracy, the rule of law and democratic principles in Turkey, participants said at a panel discussion held in Oslo by Norsk PEN, the Norwegian division of PEN International, a leading organization for writers and freedom of expression. 

Among the speakers were Abdullah Bozkurt, president of the Stockholm Center for Freedom (SCF), an advocacy group that monitors rights violations in Turkey; Seher Aydar, board member of Solidaritet med Kurdistan and deputy representative for Rødt in Parliament; and Joakim Parslow, associate professor of Middle East studies in the Department of Culture Studies and Oriental Languages at the University of Oslo. 

The panel discussion, titled “The persecuted and the situation in Turkey,” was moderated by PEN International Vice President Eugene Schoulgin, who is also a member of Norwegian PEN’s Turkey group. The event was held on Thursday at Literaturhuset in Oslo. 

Lamenting the fissures, divisions and fragmentation among persecuted opposition groups in Turkey,  Bozkurt said: “The story in Turkey is not just about members of the Gulen movement, Kurds, Alevis, liberals and leftists. They were collectively oppressed, yet the [Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan regime masterfully exploits divisions and deepens the fragmentation to pit them against each other. These groups, collectively or individually, at one time or another, were made scapegoats for shortcomings in governance instead of accountability.”  

Then main challenge is that Erdoğan has been creating a new country in his own image that is based on ultranationalist and political Islamist values. “We all have to challenge that transformation,” Bozkurt underlined. 

“Turkey does not care about international law and acts as a non-rational, non-state actor that could be described as a rogue state that engages in abductions abroad, which is quite unprecedented,” he said.

Mentioning that purges have taken a huge toll on civil servants in Turkey, where more than 150,000 civil servants and thousands of military officers have been dismissed so far, Bozkurt said, “The Erdoğan government is firing pro-NATO officers in the army and pro-EU bureaucrats in the state apparatus and replacing them with those who are anti-Western, pro-Iran and pro-Russia.”

Aydar stressed the clampdown on leading figures in the Kurdish political movement and the important role of women in democracy.

Claiming that Erdoğan had transformed Turkey from a semi-parliamentary system to a super-presidential system, Professor Parslow said, “We have no other choice than continuing to insist on freedom of speech.” He also suggested being realistic about forward-looking expectations of Turkey and added: “We have the knowledge that there are legitimate grievances on every side of Turkish society, including Islamists, Kemalists and Kurds. Revenge is not the solution to these grievances.”

Norsk PEN has long been monitoring Turkey. Its Turkey group, including veteran authors and journalists, has been visiting Turkey regularly in order to support defendants in freedom of the press and freedom of speech trials. Norsk PEN has been publishing Turkey reports in recent years.

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