Turkey’s 250-Mile Protest – The New York Times

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The March for Justice opposing President Recep Tayyip Erdogan near Izmit, Turkey, this month.

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Umit Bektas/Reuters

The trouble with the authoritarian course President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey has chosen is that once you start trying to suppress opposition, you cannot stop. Since a failed coup a year ago, Mr. Erdogan has used emergency powers to purge and arrest tens of thousands of leftists, liberals, Kurds and others. Now thousands of protesters, their numbers steadily swelling, are trudging through the heat on blistered feet from Ankara to Istanbul on a March for Justice.

The march is expected to reach Istanbul on Sunday. How Mr. Erdogan will respond is not known; so far he has not tried to block the marchers, but he has accused the main opposition party, the Republican People’s Party, better known as the C.H.P. and the prime organizer of the march, of abusing the concept of justice and serving as the mouthpiece of traitors.

Demonizing any opposition as directly or indirectly in cahoots with the plotters of the coup has been Mr. Erdogan’s preferred method of eradicating or intimidating critics and mobilizing his conservative base. A narrow victory in a constitutional referendum on April 16 granted him sweeping new powers, effectively replacing the parliamentary system with an all-powerful presidency.

All that, however, has only served to galvanize the urban, liberal, secular Turks who see the religiously conservative Mr. Erdogan as deliberately eroding Turkey’s democracy. The watershed moment for the opposition was the sentencing last month of a C.H.P. legislator and former newspaper editor, Enis Berberoglu, to 25 years in prison for espionage, purportedly for being the source of a video showing trucks of the Turkish intelligence agency taking weapons to rebels in Syria. While dozens of Kurdish legislators have been jailed, Mr. Berberoglu was the first one from the C.H.P., the secular party created by the founder of the Turkish republic, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

For the head of the C.H.P., Kemal Kilicdaroglu, that was the signal to call for the 250-mile, 23-day march, the first act of mass defiance against the ongoing purge. Erdogan opponents had been frustrated by Mr. Kilicdaroglu’s failure to unite a disparate opposition. Now he has made clear that while Mr. Berberoglu’s jailing is the catalyst, the march is not about one party, but about forging a broad coalition for justice.

The marchers expect that many thousands more will join them for the entry into Istanbul. That is not likely to stop Mr. Erdogan, but it is certain to unite ever more Turks in the fight to save their democracy.

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