The World Today for July 21, 2016

Need to know

The More Things Change

Turkish officials have launched a purge on a scale that evokes a communist dictatorship cracking down on dissidents in the early 20th century rather than a NATO member in the 21st.

Turkish leaders estimate that 100,000 people were involved with the failed coup d’état that started last Friday and lasted less than 24 hours.

They have arrested, fired or suspended tens of thousands of judges, prosecutors, bureaucrats, military officers, police and, on Tuesday, 15,000 teachers, while conducting root-and-branch investigations of their judiciary, armed forces, law enforcement and education system.

The government announced the closure of 626 Gulenist schools on Wednesday.

Also on Wednesday, Turkey announced sweeping investigations in the military courts and banned academics from traveling professionally.

The targets were alleged followers of Fethullah Gulen, a moderate Muslim cleric who has lived in exile in Pennsylvania since 1999. Gulen’s organization runs schools, charities and other institutions in Turkey. It also allegedly has infiltrated the upper echelons of the government and the business community.

The Huffington Post said what was on the minds of many who have watched President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s rise to power since he was mayor of Istanbul in the mid-1990s.

“Erdogan is now working to change Turkey’s parliamentary system (which grants greater powers to the prime minister) to a presidential one,” the Huff Post wrote. “In the wake of Friday’s coup attempt, Erdogan is now poised to exploit the crisis and finish what he started. The emergency powers he grants himself will make the job that much easier.”

Their suspicions seemed to be confirmed Wednesday night, when Erdogan declared a three-month state of emergency. That allows the president and cabinet to bypass parliament when drafting new laws and to curtail or suspend rights and freedoms.

The Turkish government claims that justice is simply being done.

“It is only natural that we apply the rule of law to arrest these people on charges of treason and trying to change the constitutional order of the country illegally,” an Erdogan spokesman told the New York Times.

And Erdogan’s government has also applied the letter of the law to suppressing journalists who reported things the president would rather not publicize, to social media and the Internet when people have used that technology to criticize his government or organize assemblies against it, and to Kurdish communities that want greater autonomy within Turkey.

The way the law always seems to strengthen Erdogan’s hand has many questioning if there is a rule of law in Turkey.

Last year, a Turkish court overturned a government mandate to shutter Gulenist schools. Now Erdogan’s officials might have better luck in one of the courts still functioning since Turkey fired more than 2,700 judges.

Want to Know

A Slippery Slope

The Israeli Parliament, the Knesset, passed a law enabling it to impeach a lawmaker who “incites racism or supports armed struggle” against the Israeli state.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed the law, which he said ends an “absurd situation” that allows someone who “supports terror” to serve in the Jerusalem-based parliament.

Critics have called the law anti-democratic, however, and warn that it predominantly targets Israeli-Arab members of parliament.

The Association of Civil Rights in Israel said the law “harms the very building blocks of democracy.” And while Arab lawmakers will likely be the first harmed by the bill, “it is a slippery slope and the bill has the potential to affect all,” said the association.

The impeachment law follows another controversial bill passed earlier this month requiring NGOs who receive funding from abroad to declare so publicly. The European Union warned last week that the law risks undermining democracy and freedom of speech.

Supporting Hostage-Takers

Clashes broke out in the Armenian capital of Yerevan Wednesday between police and demonstrators supporting a group of gunmen who have taken several people hostage.

The gunmen seized a police station Sunday, demanding the release of an ex-military commander and leading opposition figure, Jirair Sefilian, who was arrested in June for illegal weapons possession.

Their attack resulted in the death of one police colonel, while five more policemen continue to be held hostage.

Protesters began gathering outside of the police station Wednesday to show support for the hostage-takers, and clashes erupted after security forces prevented protesters from entering the building, and tried to clear the protest camp. Dozens of protesters have since been arrested.

Sefilian, at the center of the protests, has long been a critic of Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian, whom he accuses of mishandling the conflict with Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh.

Sefilian also heads the opposition group, Founding Parliament, which has long called on Armenians to take to the streets and force the government to resign.

Dubious Explosion

Leading investigative journalist and radio talk show host Pavel Sheremet was assassinated in Kiev Wednesday by a car bomb that detonated as he was driving to work.

An outspoken critic of Russian, Ukrainian and Belarusian leaders, Sheremet was originally from Belarus and wrote for the investigative website Ukrainska Pravda.

He is the highest-profile journalist killed in Ukraine in 16 years.

Journalists in former Soviet countries are frequently the targets of violence and threats. The abduction and beheading of another reporter for Ukrainska Pravda in 2000 continues to haunt Ukrainian journalists, said the New York Times.

And another Ukrainian journalist was attacked by a knife-wielding man earlier this week in a park before fleeing, although it remains unclear if the two incidents are connected.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko called the killing a “terrible crime” and hinted that Russia was behind Seremet’s assassination, saying that he was “not excluding the possibility of some foreign involvement here.”


Neighborly Graffiti

In the 12th Century, Spanish conquistadors and indigenous people scribbled on the wall of a limestone cave on tiny Mona Island in the Caribbean.

Archeologists who discovered the cave recently said the religious symbols both sides carved into the cave wall is one of the earlier examples of two civilizations encountering one another for the first time, according to a study published in the journal Antiquity.

National Geographic reported that Caribbean natives had been living on the islands for thousands of years when Christopher Columbus dropped by in 1494 for the first time. Spanish and other European travelers entered the cave in the mid-16th century, including one by the name of Francisco Alegre, a local grandee who oversaw Mona Island on behalf of Spain.

The cave doesn’t show conflict. Its hidden location suggests natives would have had to guide their European counterparts to the spot. The researchers suggest it’s an example of the two sides communicating and sharing, a far cry from the European exploitation that later transformed the New World forever.

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