Turkey’s crisis will be long-lasting, because Erdogan’s opponents will not let go quietly.
The Arab Weekly
More than a year after a patchy military uprising, Turkey is entangled in its deepest systemic crisis ever. The coup attempt that began about 10pm on July 15, 2016, was an amateurish move to topple the elected government but seemingly an act of collective suicide. The institution that secular Turks had for long seen as the guarantor of its safety — the army — joined the fray.
The state and the rule of law were vulnerable to undemocratic interventions and the coup attempt exposed how divided, fragile and inefficient the disarrayed opposition was. No wonder that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the day after, called it “God’s gift” and set out on an unchallengeable effort to transform Turkey into a republic whose course and fate are tied to his words and moods.
It was really a freak uprising about which all the key questions have been repeatedly asked without any convincing answers or proof provided. Almost everything about the build-up, background and choreography of the coup attempt remains a mystery.
The information available is limited. It helps understand that the attempt was reported by an officer in the national intelligence service (MIT) at 2.30pm July 15, 2016, but the rest is blurred. The chief of staff was alarmed but the top general, Hulusi Akar, did not react properly. Neither he nor the director of MIT, Hakan Fidan, seemed to reach Erdogan, Prime Minister Binali Yildirim or members of the cabinet.
They were acting as everything was normal that night. Contacted at the weddings they were attending they were told no one had any idea about what was happening, though Akar was aware of what was going on.
The uprising was disorganised and doomed to fail. It was, as it were, designed to end so. Official data stated that only 1.5% of the army took part in the attempt. The reaction of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) also seemed suspicious. It took a very short time to organise people on the streets, to alert AKP municipalities to set in motion trucks to block the tanks and the mosques to broadcast prayers to call for resistance.
While the shackled media had only the official version to report, unable to investigate shady corners of the story, the only hope was that a parliamentary commission would scrutinise the questions that remained unanswered. It turned out to be a farce. Its chairman had fooled the opposition, it was revealed later, by failing to call four key witnesses of the night for testimony. Neither Erdogan, nor Yildirim, nor Fidan, nor Akar appeared.
After a bumpy start, it took only days to disband the commission after Erdogan unlawfully declared it had done its job and the report it was expected to produce was declared null and void by the two opposition parties, the Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the People’s Democratic Party (HDP), which published dissenting reports. Both called the uprising a move to seize control because it would be crucial for Erdogan to launch his counter-coup.
Several fiercely pro-Erdogan pundits called it a “hybrid coup,” involving pro-NATO officers, those loyal to the secular ideals of the founder of the Republic of Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, and followers of US-based Turkish Islamist preacher Fethullah Gulen. Two pundits wrote that they had been told by the prominent politicians of the AKP in Ankara days after the uprising that the coup attempt was the work of various commanders but for the sake of national unity the entire blame would be put on a group that is an object of hate in Turkey — the Gulenists.
Nobody questioned who had truly pushed the buttons and joined in wholeheartedly. To this day, none of the observers of Turkey with sound reason deny that Gulenists were behind the coup to a large extent but nobody can demonstrate with proof who led whom that night.
After the failed coup, an unprecedented witch-hunt was launched in public service, academia, media, the security apparatus and the army. About 160,000 people were fired from their jobs, 50,000 were arrested, 160 journalists imprisoned and academia was cleansed.
It is symbolic that Kemal Kilicdaroglu, leader of the main opposition CHP, walked 420km from Ankara to Istanbul in a march for justice, signalling that that Turkey’s crisis will be long-lasting, because Erdogan’s opponents will not let go quietly.
Their adversary is more powerful than ever, however. Erdogan had a head start and he is determined to maintain the best tool he has a grip on. On July 12, he said emergency rule would continue “as long as we see necessary.” In plain words, that means at least until the end of 2019, the year of presidential elections and the change to a political system of one-man rule.
The rule of law has collapsed in Turkey and the judiciary is an extension of Erdogan’s palace. The parliament has been stripped of its powers of scrutiny and the media are probably more than 90% under the AKP’s control.
Turkey from its allies’ and friends’ perspective is lost. The consequences will be far more costly in terms of democratic values and human dignity than ever imagined.
Yavuz Baydar is a journalist based in Istanbul. A founding member of the Platform for Independent Journalism (P24) and a news analyst, he won the European Press Prize in 2014. He has been reporting on Turkey and journalism issues since 1980.