A series of trials dealing with charges relating to treason are beginning in Turkey this week. They have nothing to do with enemy combatants or military leaders gone rogue, however. The “suspects” in these cases are the editors and opinion columnists from Turkish newspapers which were shuttered by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan for publishing information not approved by the state. After expressing thoughts and ideas contrary to government dogma, these journalists are accused of being in league with Cleric Fethullah Gulen (currently living in exile in Pennsylvania), who Erdogan blames for last summer’s failed coup. (Associated Press)

Former managers and columnists of a newspaper in Turkey linked to a U.S.-based cleric have gone on trial, accused of supporting last year’s failed coup.

The 31 ex-employees of the Zaman newspaper are charged with “membership in an armed terror organization” and “attempting to overthrow” the government, parliament and the constitutional order for links to cleric Fethullah Gulen. Gulen denies any involvement in masterminding the coup attempt.

The trial opened in Istanbul on Monday. The defendants, who deny the charges, face life terms in prison.

Turkey holds military drill on Iraqi border before Kurdish vote: army

Assuming they are found guilty (which is nearly a foregone conclusion) the journalists will be facing life in jail. Among the accused is a 73 year old columnist named Sahin Alpay. The author and political scientist was featured in the Boston Globe this year and his “crime” was writing about the distressing erosion of a once prospering democracy in his homeland. It’s rather ironic that a person expressing such concerns should be one of the first victims of the phenomenon he was covering.

Keep in mind that his is all taking place under the watchful eye of the Tyrant of Turkey, someone who is supposed to be an ally of the United States. And when Erdogan isn’t going after journalists, he’s pursuing the Kurds. You may have heard that they’ve scheduled a referendum to consider independence from Iraq. This has Erdogan none too pleased, and in a not very subtle show of force, Turkey began holding military exercises on the Iraq border, directly across from the Kurds’ territory. (Reuters)

Turkish armed forces carried out military exercises at the Iraqi border on Monday, the army said, a week ahead of a referendum on Kurdish independence in northern Iraq which Turkey wants canceled.

Around 100 military vehicles, mostly tanks, took part in the drill near the Habur border gate, a crossing point into Iraq, the private Dogan news agency said. Vehicles carrying missiles and howitzers also participated.

Prime Minister Binali Yildirim has said the planned Sept. 25 referendum is an issue of national security, and warned that Turkey will take any necessary steps in response.

Turkey has the most powerful military in the region and Kurdish independence would no doubt give Erdogan precisely the excuse he seeks to come pouring over the border in a full military assault on the Kurds. Since Iraq is extremely friendly with both the current Turkish Regime, Syria and Iran these days (while still supposedly fighting against ISIS) the Kurds would probably have a slim list of allies to help them.

The impending elimination of the ISIS caliphate is certainly something to be celebrated, but we’ll also need to consider who and what will be filling the vacuum after the dust settles. If these recent moves are any indication, prospects for the expansion of democracy and peace in the region are slim at best. Unfortunately, our options for doing anything about seem equally limited.