Turkey: Erdogan Rebels Against Figures and Persecutes Those Who Question Government Figures | International

Forest engineers Salih Usta and Ahmet Demirtas were recently sentenced to two years in prison. His crime was to contradict the official account of a tree: a yew from the Turkish province of Zonguldak which the local government – from the party led by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan – had presented as the oldest in the world, at 4,112 years old . . Usta and Demirtas, members of the Association for Research on Forestry and Rural Problems, deemed the statement suspicious and took a sample from the tree (as they had done hundreds of times in their careers ) which was analyzed by the Botany Department of Istanbul University. . The result was that the age of the aforementioned yew is actually around 2,000 years old.

Shortly after making their investigation public, legal proceedings were opened against them, formally for having taken a sample without authorization, whereas they had done so before the tree was declared under official protection. The engineers won’t go to jail as their sentence was reduced to 20 months for good behavior at trial, but it will be a sentence that will stay on their record forever.

“When the procedure was opened to us, we were sure that it would end in an acquittal, because the gendarmerie clearly indicated in their report that we had not damaged the tree,” Usta explained in statements to the media. digital. Diken“But the current political power is used to telling lies and to having these lies supported by others. And when someone proves they’re lying, they try to punish them.”

They are not the only ones. In recent years, in Turkey, a scientist was arrested and prosecuted for revealing the real quantities of carcinogenic substances dumped in an industrial area in the northwest of the country – although he was finally acquitted after three years of proceedings -; an investigation was opened against a group of academics who questioned the official data on inflation; several journalists, analysts and a former central bank governor face criminal charges for questioning the government’s economic forecasts, and the president and his far-right allies have accused of terrorism and threatened to shut down the main medical association in the country for criticizing the lack of transparency in the clinical trial data of Turkey’s new covid-19 vaccine.

Y, cuando se le preguntó por los números de sus medidas económicas, el nuevo ministro de Finanzas, Nurettin Nebati ―un politólogo doctorado con una tesis sobre las bondsades del partido de Erdogan―, respondió que no daría cifras porque “la economía no son únicamente numbers […] but the brightness of the eyes. One could argue that Turkey has a problem with numbers and statistics, or at least with those that contradict the watered down version of reality promoted by the Erdogan government.

manipulated statistics

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Computer engineer Güçlu Yaman did not agree with the data on the pandemic provided by the Ministry of Health and that is why he started to investigate. “In August 2020, doctors complained of being overwhelmed, on the contrary, the number of covid cases and deaths reported by the ministry was very low. There was a very significant manipulation to attract tourists, ”explains Yaman: While in most European countries there are public or academic institutions dedicated to monitoring excess mortality, in Turkey the most comprehensive study on the issue depends on this person who started it on his own: downloading data from different municipal and cemetery web pages managed to prove that mortality in Turkey increased by 32% during the pandemic.

Meanwhile, the Official Statistical Institute (TÜIK, for its acronym in Turkish) has postponed indefinitely the publication of its annual mortality statistics and other demographic scales which would have made it possible to calculate the real cost in lives of the pandemic. Even so, Health Minister Fahrettin Koca himself finally acknowledged that the true number of covid deaths is “probably twice or even three times higher” than the official figure of 84,000 deaths, which Yaman considers as a justification for his calculations: “The management of the pandemic has been a disaster and Turkey is today one of the countries with the highest excess mortality in the world. So that the reality is not known, the authorities hide the data and constantly repeat that we are one of the countries that has managed it best”.

The Turkish Statistical Institute became the least trustworthy public body, and in early December opposition leader Social Democrat Kemal Kiliçdaroglu showed up at its headquarters, but the police blocked him the passage. Kiliçdaroglu wanted to ask for explanations on the calculation which caused the most controversy last year: the rise in prices. “Until five years ago, no one questioned TÜIK’s data, but since then there have been serious doubts about their veracity,” says Veysel Ulusoy, professor of econometrics and director of the group. inflation study (ENAG). It also doesn’t help that the national and regional leaders of the statistical agency have been fired and replaced by people close to the executive.

Thus, Ulusoy and other researchers established an alternative system for calculating inflation. Use of a computer program scraping (a technique used to extract information from the Internet) which daily collects 250,000 price data from various supermarket websites and online stores of the same 400 products that TÜIK uses to calculate inflation and following the calculation methods used by similar studies at Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, ENAG members have been publishing their inflation data for a year and a half. Thus, they showed that prices have more than doubled as recognized by the government. “When the economy is bad, you have two options: either you fix what is not working, or you manipulate the data to make it look like everything is fine. But this has effects on people’s well-being because , for example, inflation data from TÜIK is used to calculate the new minimum wage,” explains Ulusoy.

ENAG’s calculations have attracted so much attention that, finally, its director was called to testify in a judicial inquiry opened at the request of the Ministry of the Economy and TÜIK, which denounce that the calculations of this group independent “damage the reputation” of the statistical agency. Ulusoy shrugs: “The accusations are so irrational that I don’t think they will end up in court.”

Erdogan’s reality

Erdogan said on Wednesday 12 that indeed the data on inflation and the exchange rate “do not correspond to reality”: in this case, because according to the president, the reality is much better than what the figures. More and more people denounce that Erdogan lives in a parallel reality that he himself has built, but above all that his circle of courtiers and the chorus of related media have built. The Turkish leader is angry that they are contradicting him, he thinks he knows the situation on the streets better than anyone – that for years he hasn’t walked as often as before – and that’s why, at the final, the image that his advisers have is just the one they hope to please their boss.

So when reality hits with the force of facts, Erdogan gets angry. According to government sources quoted by the journalist Erdal Saglam, the president is now angry with his new economy minister because the measures decreed to solve the currency crisis in the country – measures that many experts had said would not work – are not working as foreseen. Nor did the Turks rush to convert their savings into liras, nor did the Turkish currency appreciate as much as their advisers had told them.

It is likely that Erdogan really thought that it was his speech on the night of December 20 that saved the lira from the abyss it was about to plunge into and made it recover 50% less of its value. 24 hours. No matter what data you have known a posteriori show that the reason for this momentary rally was because the Central Bank intervened behind the scenes of the markets and bought billions of lira to increase its value at the cost of depleting its reserves. For Erdogan, these are his words. After all, that is how the media and official deputies portrayed him: a brave Don Quixote fighting and defeating the treacherous giants of the market. Therefore, now he gets angry when reality is against him.

There are obvious dangers in this situation, as economist Timothy Garton Ash points out: “Turkey risks becoming something of a cult, where economic logic, theory and rationality are ignored in favor of nonsense spouted by the Supreme Leader. » .

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