- John C. Thompson
16th July, 2017.
Yesterday, Turkey marked the first anniversary of the failed military coup against the government of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. July 15th is now a national holiday, and at “Democracy Rallies” the names of 250 people killed in the coup were recited as a glorious paean of heroic resistance. Oh, and thousands more academics, teachers, and police officers were sacked.
The last hundred years haven’t been easy for the Turks. Their empire was collapsing even before the First World War; and their alliance with Germany meant that the Allies broke out the carving knives with the end of the War. The Turks then had to fend off acquisitive Greeks, confront the great European powers, bristle at the Bolsheviks, and figure out who they were.
The Imperial model had failed, and the Muslim world was self-evidently backward, so Kamal Atatürk created a model of secularist nationalism and then worked himself into an early grave. The Turks made a lot of progress for several decades, but the military turned into the guardians of the Atatürk legacy.
Military government was often a feature of Turkish politics in the tumult of the 1960s and ‘70s. The Left and uneasy minorities presented many challenges, and the Turkish military was uneasy about a fully democratic society lest the Muslim identity of many Turks become harnessed to political Islam, Sure enough…
The military relaxed its guardianship of the secular ideal so that a more democratic Turkey could enter the EU, and ended up with Erdoğan. Prime minister from 2003 to 2014, and President of Turkey since then, Erdoğan is chummy with the Salafist movement, corrupt, and no fan of the secularist-nationalist model.
There are still a lot of questions about the 2016 Coup attempt by the Turkish military. By Turkish military standards it was tentative, irresolute and badly organized. It was also easily quashed after a few violent hours. Erdoğan, however, cannot be described the same way.
Within ten days of the end of the Coup attempt, 1,684 Turkish military officers had been suspended or arrested, as were 8,777 senior police officers. The rest of the 81,494 suspensions or arrests included over 41,000 teachers, professors and education officials; 5,581 officials in the Ministry of Health and 648 senior judges and prosecutors. The Purges have continued since.
Altogether, in the year since the Coup attempt over 160,000 people have been suspended from their jobs; about 10 percent of these have been arrested but only half of the detainees have been charged. Ominously, Erdoğan has striven to reverse the abolition of the death penalty in Turkish law; with so many judges and lawyers out of the way one might suspect ‘Show Trials’ in the near future.
Among the institutions that have been shut down since the Coup are 15 universities and 1,043 private schools, 35 hospitals and clinics and dozens of television channels, radio stations and newspapers.
Like Stalin with Trotsky, or George Orwell’s fictional Big Brother in 1984, there is an external enemy to blame. Erdoğan’s one-time confederate Muhammed Fethullah Güllen is a 66-year old exile living in the United States. He is a Hanafi Sunni Muslim, not one of the Salafists of the Hanbali school, and had committed the unpardonable sin of trying to expose Erdoğan’s corruption in 2013 — clearly a dangerous fellow. Attempts to blame Güllen for the coup have been rejected by numerous independent investigations.
A new dictatorship is being born, and it could turn as nasty as Stalin’s Russia or Nazi Germany. Erdoğan is someone to watch but one gets the sense this is a play we have seen before.
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