Opinion

Turkey’s Gollum

KAVITHA RAO | Updated on March 09, 2018 Published on December 16, 2015

When Erdogan’s insult threshold plummets

Turkey is on red alert these days. As I write this, Turkish police have been warned of possible suicide bomb attacks by ISIL in Istanbul and Ankara. The US embassy in Ankara is offering only limit services, after rumblings of a possible attack. There have also been warnings that ISIL may attack Russian, or indeed the interests of any Western nation, in Istanbul.

You might think that in these troubled times, President Erdogan might be occupied with beefing up national security. But no. In the midst of chaos, he is pushing the prosecution of a Turkish journalist for claiming he looks like Gollum, the alternately servile and evil villain in the film of the Tolkien classic Lord of the Rings. Surrealism, thy name is Turkey. Istanbul society has been talking about nothing else this month but the Gollum case, which is drawing both outrage and horrified laughter from Turks. Even for Erdogan, this is shocking.

Reel and real

Ciftci, a doctor, is facing two years in jail for the offence of “insulting the president” a convenient catch-all offense that Erdogan has been using lavishly to prosecute just about everybody. Ciftci compared the president’s facial expressions to Gollum in a meme, for which he was already fired from his job. Now a Turkish court has asked a group of experts, including psychologists and a film authority, to determine if the comparison was an insult. 

Things have reached such a ludicrous pass that film director Peter Jackson has waded into the debate, along with his screenwriters. Jackson issued a hilarious statement saying the character in the meme was not the “small, slimy” Gollum as described by Tolkien, but actually the “joyful, sweet” Smeagol, Gollum’s good alter ego.

Ridiculous as this case may be, it is just an indicator of the manner in which Erdogan has been persecuting journalists, bloggers and indeed anyone who is considered to have insulted him. This columnist has written before about how nearly 250 people, including young teenagers, are currently being prosecuted. Among the more prominent: two of Turkey's most well-known journalists — Can Dundar, the editor-in-chief of popular daily Cumhariyet, and his Ankara bureau chief Erdem Gul. Former Miss Turkey Merve Buyuksarac is also on trial for on charges of insulting the president.

Erdogan may think his thumping win in the recent elections-what he thinks is a vote for a dictatorial government- gives him the freedom to do what he pleases. But the election after glow may not last for long.

Nero in action

Unemployment is growing at 10.5 per cent, and nearly 18 per cent of young people are out of work. Meanwhile, there is unrest at home. Following the Paris attacks in November, Turkish police claimed to have foiled a similar attack in Istanbul on the same day, by an ISIL terrorist with links to British terrorist Jihadi John. In the same month, TV reporters unearthed an ISIL camp in Istanbul, where children as young as 10 were being trained to wage war.

In the southeast, Kurdish unrest is bubbling. In early December, one person was injured in a bomb attack on a popular metro station, later found to be the work of Kurdish separatists.

In short, Turkey is wobbling, as Erdogan plays Nero. Erdogan would do well to look at the state of the nation rather than find reasons to be offended.

The writer is a journalist based in Bengaluru and Istanbul

Published on December 16, 2015
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