Erdogan's Enhanced Powers 'Terrible News' for Turkish Christians

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Photo, Wikileaks

By weakening Turkey's democracy, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has ensured the continued erosion of conditions for Christians, Jews and other religious minorities in the Muslim majority nation.

If the referendum, narrowly approved by voters stands, Erdogan will gain executive, legislative and judicial powers. Serious allegations of voter fraud have been launched by international monitors and his political opponents have already vowed to appeal the vote. 

"There are hundreds of cases of ballot box stuffing. What's even more scandalous is the Supreme Council of Election changed the rules of counting over an hour into the counting which is always an embarrassing smoking gun for the government," Dr. Aykan Erdemir tells Beltway Buzz.

Erdemir is a Muslim Turk who served in Turkish Parliament from 2011 to 2015. He's dedicated his career to defending minority rights and religious freedom in Turkey. He's now a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies in Washington, D.C.

"If he manages to steal this referendum and go forward with the changes I think we'll see more of this reckless one man rule. We will see a further erosion of checks and balances, rule of law, due process. It's terrible news for the academics and journalists and civil servants and faith leaders who are already in prison or who have been purged," Erdemir says.

Faith leaders like American Pastor Andrew Brunson. He's been jailed since October, swept up in a terrorism investigation, but never formally charged.

"Unfortunately Pastor Andrew Brunson is now a pawn, kind of a trump card in Erdogan's hand There's absolutely no rule of law, no due process in that case, it's a completely bogus case and I think Erdogan has no reason to respect rule of law and due process," Erdemir says.

During his victory speech, Erdogan accused the West of a "crusade" which alluded to the ancient battle between Christianity and Islam.

"So he's again using this kind of belligerent clash of Islam versus Christianity. It's the battle of the cross versus the crescent rhetoric and you can imagine if you are a member of Turkey's Jewish or Christian communities you will feel very threatened because you are a citizen and technically on paper you have the same rights as Turkey's majority Muslim population, but you have a president who continues to single you out and portrays you as kind of the fifth column, the traitors in Turkey and this is basically paving the way, not only through crack downs in courts, but for hate crimes," Erdemir says.

The referendum is being challenged by Erdogan's political opponents. Regardless it wasn't the clear mandate he wanted and now he's set his sights on another proposition for Turkish voters: whether or not to bring back the death penalty. Capital punishment was abolished in Turkey in 2004.

"He [Erdogan] knows firsthand that the magic formula in a majority Muslim country is incitement, religious incitement, and I'm really concerned in the days to come if Turkey goes forward with Erdogan's proposal for a second referendum on death penalty we could see further reprisals against Turkey's minority faith leaders," says Erdemir.

Turkey is a strategic American ally. Although European countries have held off congratulating Erdogan on his referendum win citing grave concerns over election fraud, President Donald Trump bucked the western trend. Monday he called Erdogan to "congratulate him on his recent referendum victory".

Other congratulatory calls to Erdogan include non- state actors with ties to terrorism, Qatar and Azerbaijan.

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