“For a state to endure, it needs more than commerce and security.
It needs civic fraternity.”
Turks and Kurds have begun comparing current Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan with former Chilean military dictator Augusto Pinochet.
The rest of the world is also taking note, raising this ominous question:
Who is the worst despot?
The Washington Post noted on March 12 that a Chilean movie, No, had been removed from online rentals in Turkey.
Digiturk, the Turkish satellite television provider, won’t say why, but reporters rightly smell a rat and point their censorious fingers at Mr. Erdogan for the venomous deed.
No, a fictional film based on actual events, is about the 1988 referendum in Chile in which 7 million voters were asked to vote on President Pinochet.
Mr. Pinochet, who rose to power through a bloody coup in 1973, was trying to cloak his suffocating reign with a democratic mandate for eight more years.
As is the habit of men who surround themselves with bootlickers, he thought highly of himself and was never tired of bragging like a broken record, “Did you know that on average Chilean children are taller and heavier?”
The offensive comparison was against President Salvador Allende, his predecessor, who upon hearing the news of the impending coup took to the airwaves urging Chileans to resist, “but not sacrifice.”
He did the sacrificing himself—committing suicide with an AK 47, a gift of Fidel Castro.
As to the claim that Chileans were taller and heavier since he took over, the country had indeed made great strides in economics, but remained ostracized as Chilean Maximo Pacheco confided to a Washington Post reporter:
“We may be more modern and efficient, but we are still a stain on the world as long as we are ruled by a dictator.”
Unlike Fidel Castro, dictator Pinochet believed in his statistics, the overall prosperity of Chileans, and with a bit of nudging from President Reagan agreed to let ordinary Chileans pass judgment on his stewardship.
Chileans voted no.
In the movie, you hear them singing,
The old man has taken over the word democracy
I get sick of seeing him every day
I am bothered by his cold smile
I am uncomfortable with his literature
I am depressed by his mini-culture.
And: “Peace is achieved in democracy.”
Replace the words, “The old man” with the word, Erdogan, and pretend you are in Turkey for a split second—you can be forgiven for thinking that this is really a cool song and it captures the mood of a lot of Turks and Kurds alike!
Mr. Pinochet, to his credit, accepted the verdict of his compatriots and agreed to step down the year after.
Next month, Turks and Kurds will vote in a referendum just as consequential as the Chilean one, and the lovers of democracy all over the world are waiting to see if the miracle of Chile will repeat itself in Turkey.
The big question is this: If the vote goes against Erdogan, will he step down as Pinochet did—or thumb his nose at voters and go for another “repeat” plebiscite as he did when his party lost its majority in the June elections of 2015?
In the Turkish referendum, President Erdogan is not even on the ballot, but he is crisscrossing the country and asking for a yes vote as if his life depended on it.
A yes vote would turn him into an absolute ruler, much like a sultan, perhaps Sultan Abdul Hamid II, whose life is conveniently glamorized these days as a weekly series on state television.
The anti-Semitic Red Sultan glides gloriously across the screen as a statesman of incomparable wisdom and foresight—and audiences have no trouble linking him to Mr. Erdogan.
Unmentioned, so far, are the Sultan’s decisions to suspend the fledgling Ottoman constitution, to dismiss its pristine parliament, and to commit massacres against Bulgarians and Armenians, alas, with the help of, in the case of the latter group, deliberately armed Kurds.
Just like in Chile, the “Yes” and “No” campaigns are blaring their songs from their strongholds.
Here are a few lines from the Yes camp:
Help one another and move faster of course,
What is left to us is to give it a push,
Yes, we are saying yes!
Turks and Kurds who cherish democracy and some who can’t even stand each other have closed ranks in the No camp and here is a resounding Kurdish stanza:
For the hope of children, say no
Say no to those who want to dismember us
For a homeland that is democratic, say no
Woman, man, grandmas and grandpas, say no
The refrain is especially moving:
No to one flag
No to one homeland
No to one language!
The revolution in Syria started with the simple words, “It is your turn, doctor,” a reference to the strongman of Damascus, Dr. Bashar al-Assad.
The one in Chile started with “It is going to fall!”
Although the first is still standing, no one is betting on its longevity and like the one in Santiago, it, too, will fall one day.
The same fate is awaiting President Erdogan in Ankara.
Goethe said it perfectly:
“The master triumphs by holding back, or Genius consists of knowing when to stop.”
Erdogan, sadly for the limping democracy in Turkey, just hasn’t found a stop that he likes! If the beguiled Turks and Kurds decide to reward him with a dictatorship, the democratic ones may want to read up on the Red Sultan, his idol. A group known as Young Turks booted him out of office and restored the empire to its atrophied constitution and parliament. Their grandchildren, I am afraid, will be harsher and may choose to hang Erdogan from the nearest tree and do so from his legs (after his death) for dramatic effect!
Kani Xulam on Twitter @AKINinfo