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Over the past year and a half, we’ve seen the emergence of an increasingly totalitarian regime centered around one individual who aims to radically shape and transform Turkish society, says Baris Karaagac

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SHARMINI PERIES: It’s The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries, coming to you from Baltimore. Last week, the Greek Supreme Court turned down a Turkish demand to extradite eight military officers, who fled Turkey the day after the failed coup attempt. The Court cited international law, and the question of the safety of the soldiers, and fair trial in Turkey, as the reasons for their decision. This is likely to worsen existing tensions between Turkey and Greece. Back in July 2016, just one day after the failed coup attempt, eight Turkish soldiers landed in a military helicopter in Alexandroupolis Airport in Greece, and claimed asylum. Turkey immediately demanded their extradition. But a Greek courthouse ordered that the eight be released from custody, and blocked the extradition. The soldiers have not yet received asylum status, and the soldiers report that their family members in Turkey had lost their jobs, and had their passports confiscated. Now joining us to discuss this is Baris Karaagac. He’s a professor in International Development Studies at Trent University, in Ontario. He’s also the editor of the book, “Accumulations, Crisis and Struggles: Capital and Labour in Contemporary Capitalism”. Good to have you with us, Baris. BARIS KARAAGAC: Hello, Sharmini. SHARMINI PERIES: So, Baris, give us a sense of what this case is all about, and the tensions that are heightening, when it comes to Greece and Turkey as a result. BARIS KARAAGAC: Well, as you mentioned, these are eight low-ranking military officers who sought asylum hours after the failed coup attempt, on July 15th, 2016. First of all, we have no evidence as to whether or not these people actually participated in the coup attempt. The single evidence provided by the Turkish State, so-called evidence, provided by the Turkish State, with the Greek authorities, is a fax sent by these people to their superiors asking what to do in those turbulent times. And this is the only supposedly evidence. So, we do not know if they actually participated in it. So, these people have been in Greece since then, and the Turkish State demanded their extradition. But last week the Greek Supreme Court made a ruling, which cannot be appealed, saying that they cannot be extradited back to Turkey — which doesn’t mean that they will be allowed to stay in Greece. And the ruling is based on the concern by the Judges that these people will not be able to get a fair trial in Turkey. And as you know, particularly in the last few years, the judiciary in Turkey has been significantly, or its autonomy, its independence, has been significantly damaged. Even the majority of Turks living in Turkey today do not trust the courts that are supposed to be independent, in a country which is supposed to be ruled by the rule of law. SHARMINI PERIES: Does this decision by the Greek Court put into question the migration deal signed by the European politicians and the Turkish government? BARIS KARAAGAC: If you do not extradite these people back to Turkey, then we’ll reconsider the deal that we struck with the EU back in March in 2016 regarding refugees. According to this deal, Turkey is to receive about six billion Euros that will go towards the more than 2.5 million Syrian refugees that are in Turkey today, and in return; Turkey will receive back the refugees who crossed the border over to Greece from Turkey. Now Erdogan is threatening, and the AKP, the government, is threatening Greece with getting rid of this treaty. Which puts Greek Prime Minister Tsipras, in a very difficult situation, given the economic difficulties Greece has been dealing with recently. SHARMINI PERIES: So, Baris, we haven’t done Turkey in a while, in terms of what’s developing domestically, while the Trump Administration was being sworn in around the 20th, 21st of January. Erdogan managed to have parliament pass a series of measures strengthening his presidency, and moving from a parliamentary to a presidential system in Turkey. Give us a sense of what actually happened. BARIS KARAAGAC: Well, there has been a very significant development last month actually, and that concerns, actually, regime change. So, about ten days ago, within the last ten days, parliament passed a Bill concerning bringing 18 amendments to the existing constitution, that was drafted by the military in the early 1980’s. The core of these amendments is the changing of the existing system from a parliamentary, into an executive, presidential one. So, if these changes are approved by the majority of Turks during a referendum, then the President who is currently Recep Tayyip Erdogan, will gain significant extra powers. Many people, many critics, including myself, are quite worried, because this will strengthen the authoritarian tendencies of the president, and of the existing regime today. I use the word authoritarian, but I need underline one important point. What we have been witnessing in the past year in particular, one year and a half, is actually the emergence of an increasingly totalitarian regime centered around one individual that aims to shape and transform Turkish society radically. And if this referendum is successful, successful from the perspective of the AKP and Erdogan, then this process will… even deteriorate. Both the authoritarian and totalitarian tendencies of the existing regime around Erdogan, will get worse. SHARMINI PERIES: Now, I understand that these 18 measures, that were passed in order to strengthen Erdogan’s role in Turkey, didn’t go easily in Parliament. In fact, some heated debate occurred, particularly among some of the parliamentarians, the female lawmakers. And one of them had actually handcuffed herself to her seat. Give us a sense of what actually took place in parliament while these measures were being passed. BARIS KARAAGAC: Well, of course, it was met with significant resistance, and criticism, within Parliament as well. These amendments are supported by two main parties. One of them is the ruling AKP, and the other one is the neo-fascist MHP. And Erdogan and the government need the support of the MHP, and needed the support of the MHP to pass this Bill, which was successful, which passed in the end. During the discussions, debates, though, there was one interesting incident, in which an independent MP, a woman, handcuffed herself to the microphone, the speaker’s podium. And the Chair of the Parliament, said, “Okay, well we’ll have a recess.” And during that recess, a number of MPs from the AKP, these were women, attacked this MP. And other women MPs, from both the Republican People’s Party, and the HTP, who were trying to defend her. At the end, a couple of MPs were hospitalized, actually. SHARMINI PERIES: All right, interesting times in Turkey. I thank you so much for joining us today, Baris. BARIS KARAAGAC: It was my pleasure. SHARMINI PERIES: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network. ————————- END

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Baris Karaagac is a lecturer in International Development Studies at Trent University, in Ontario. He is also the editor of the book Accumulations, Crises and Struggles: Capital and Labour in Contemporary Capitalism.