On July 15, 2016, a vicious military coup attempt stunned Turkey. A year later, the country is still reeling from this blow and from the massive purge initiated by the Turkish government afterwards. Turkey has now become more turbulent than a year ago.
I’m writing this article exactly one year after the above mentioned coup attempt in Turkey, which though apparently seemed to be threatening the paradoxical Turkish combo of a so called demokratik yönetisim (democratic governance in Turkey as proclaimed by the governing AKP) under the dictatorial and autocratic president Erdogan, but instead provided Erdogan with an opportunity to enhance his autocratic clout over 78 million citizens of his country while eliminating dissent and debate from Turkiye’nin siyasihayat (Turkish political life).
Turkey, which was once a bastion of an experimental marriage between Islam and democracy, which resulted in a peculiar Turkish version of secularism known as Kemalism, is now under the constant threat of extinction by the Islamist policies (quite similar to those of Saudi kings and Iranian Ayatollahs in the region) pursued by Erdogan.
Erdogan’s religious conservative societal agenda has tarnished Turkey’s fame as a secular state, especially among the European Union member states despite the fact that once Turkey was eagerly aspiring for becoming an EU member, but now even that zealous aspiration has lost its vigour.
Turkey as dreamed by Ataturk (the founder of modern Turkish republic) to be a secular state, which will join the ranks of democratic and prosperous Western nations has now unfortunately become more of an Erdoganistan, where Erdogan has been determined to gradually erode the peculiar secular character and foundation of Turkiye and to plunge his country into the troubles particularly in Iraq and Syria and broadly in the greater Middle East.
This article is being written not just one year after the failed coup attempt took place in Turkey, but also two months after the notorious constitutional referendum that took place in April this year in Turkey (under a state of emergency that was declared following the abortive putsch attempt in July, 2016) to give Erdogan sweeping new constitutional powers as Turkiye’nin Cumhurbaskan (President of Turkey).
The office of Prime minister was abolished and the Parliamentary system of government was replaced with an executive presidency and a presidential system. An executive presidency has been a long-standing desire of the governing AKP and its founder, the current Turkish president Erdogan. Early results of Erdogan’s desired constitutional referendum indicated a 51–49% lead for the “Yes” vote.
In an unprecedented move, the Supreme Electoral Council of Turkey (YSK) allowed non-stamped ballots to be accepted as valid. The main opposition parties decried this move to be illegal, claiming that as many as 1.5 million ballots were unstamped, and refused to recognize the results. Large-scale pro-democracy protests erupted following the results in order to protest the YSK’s decision.
In subsequent reports, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) and Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) both criticized unfairness during the campaign and declared the YSK’s decision to be illegal.
During the Evet “(Yes)” campaign for this constitutional referendum, which was being pursued by Erdogan’s governing party AKP, allegations were being hurled at them by Hayir “(No)” campaigners that there was widespread state suppression and violence perpetrated by AKP under Erdogan against them before the referendum took place, and due to state suppression the “No” campaign was weakened and they weren’t able to fully accomplish in their campaign goals.
“Yes” campaigners also utilized massive state funding and made use of state facilities to organize their rallies and campaign events which was also criticised by “No” campaigners and also by several critics of Erdogan government throughout Europe.
Concerns were also raised about voting irregularities, with ‘Yes’ voters in Germany being caught attempting to vote more than once and also being found to have been in possession of ballot papers before the overseas voting process had started. European election monitors said the vote did not meet international standards.
Since the abortive putsch attempt in July last year, a lot has drastically changed in Turkey and Mr Erdogan has not just strengthened his power through a constitutional referendum in April, 2017 but a lot more has happened.
In domestic terms, the large-scale degradation of Turkey’s rule-of-law architecture seems to have no end in sight.
Nearly 140,000 government employees have been dismissed, including members of the military, police, judges, and academics, while more than 50,000 people are in jail, among them many journalists, intellectuals, human-rights activists, and business people. More than 2,000 schools and universities have been shut down.
Different media outlets including the Zaman which had affiliations with the alleged perpetrator of the abortive coup attempt Fethullah Gulen have been closed and discriminately targeted by the Erdogan government.
Media has often been targeted for exposing truth about the purges carried out by so called demokratik yönetisim (democratic governance) of Erdogan’s AKP in the aftermath of the failed coup attempt. Businesses have been seized and their assets transferred to the state.
The Presidency of Religious Affairs suspended 492 employees, among them three provincial muftis. The Turkish human rights lawyer Orhan Kemal Cengiz was detained at an airport on 21 July 2016. Human Rights Watch described his detention as “shocking” and called for his immediate release.
The government initially held religious movement Hizmet of the exiled Turkish cleric Fethullah Gülen solely responsible for the abortive coup attempt and placed it among its list of Terör Örgutular (Terrorist organizations) by giving it a new name to his religious movement FETÖ (Fethullah GülenTerörörgütü).
But shortly afterwards a new tendency emerged amongst the Turkish governing circles under Erdogan to lump together three organizations labeled as “terrorist” under Turkey’s current state of emergency—the Gülenists, the insurgent Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), and the self-proclaimed Islamic State—although it is hard to identify structural links between these three entities.
According to several well renowned western political commentators from throughout the Europe and from the US, given the nature of the purge, which consists essentially of cleansing the state structures of members of a secret society that was first introduced by the government itself, there is no measurable end result to such a political cleansing exercise.
Under the emergency law, almost anything can be deemed to be treason or terrorism. By Western standards, Turkish democracy has been drastically damaged and most democratic safeguards—the high election board, the constitutional court, and the parliament—have ceased to play their normal roles.
Turkish police and military kept Turkey from disintegrating in the past from the violent clashes between the left and right wings in the 1970s to a nationalist insurgency perpetrated by Kurdish PKK against Turkish government which was accompanied by several terrorist attacks in 1990s.
Though I acknowledge that their methods were illiberal and undemocratic as they often resorted to the use of coups d’état and police crackdowns, but their function as preventing Turkiye from disintegrating has been weakened and severally affected since Erdogan’s massive unprecedented purge of the Turkish security services in the aftermath of the abortive putsch attempt on July 15,2016.
The abortive putsch attempt actually gave Erdogan a vital opportunity to pull Turkish military and police further into his pro-Erdogan side of a polarized Turkey. It seems from the ongoing politicization of Turkish police and Erdogan’s growing influence over Turkish military that next time if military tries to intervene in the political system that would probably be to safeguard Erdogan’s demokratik yonetisim and not to topple it.
The current dilemma of Turkey reminds me of lyrics from a popular Turk sarki (Turkish song) Hayrola (what’s going on) by Turkish pop singer Hande Yener which were “Kötühaberçok, iyihaber yok” (There are lots of bad news while there is no good news).
In the same song Turkish pop diva melodiously narrated agonies of people by also uttering “Herkesinderdiçok, hayrola” (Everyone is in pain, what’s going on). But she also said once in this song “Hepyarınola” (There is always a tomorrow).
All these lyrics from Hande Yener’s popular sarki seem now not mere melodious utterances from a Turkish pop diva, but they are reflecting the thoughts and sentiments of different sections of Turkish populace from secular Turks (frightened by Erdogan’s religious conservative societal agenda and his drift from Kemalism) to Turkish leftists, liberals and Alevis and Kurds and non–Muslim religious minorities like Armenian and Greek Christians and Jews who think they live in a Cehennem (Hell) except for a pro-Erdogan conservative right wing coalition which believes that Turkey has become a Cennet (Paradise) on earth under the Erdogan government.
Under the Erdogan government, religious Turks feel personally cared for as he promises them more Camii’ler (mosques) and religious schools and secular Turks feel threatened in their own country for which they fought under Ataturk in Kurtulus Savasi (War of Independence) in 1923 against the foreign occupying powers and regional enemies like Greece and Armenia after the dissolution of Ottoman Empire.