Friday night’s attempted military coup in Turkey came as a surprise to everyone, not least to President Erdogan, who was holidaying at the coastal resort of Marmaris, but the rumblings have been there for some time.
Otherwise, things were looking up, at least as far as foreign policy is concerned. With Erdogan loyalist Binali Yildirim as prime minister, former PM Ahmet Davutoglu’s neo-Ottoman folie de grandeur has been replaced by hard line pragmatism. This includes making up with Russia after Turkey shot down a Russian
SU-24 in November, where Erdogan had to eat crow and apologize to Putin. The rapprochement with Israel after the Mavi Marmara incident in May 2010 was helped on its way by the prospects of a gas deal and there have been overtures to Egypt. Yildirim has even spoken of normalising relations with Syria so as to “expand the circle of friendship” as far as possible.
However, former parliamentary speaker Cemil Cicek recently put the situation in perspective when he called for a move to reduce domestic tension and build “a bridge of love” between opposing camps. Given Erdogan’s “bull at the gate” style of governance and especially after last night, this is hardly likely. As Cicek warned: “The function of checks and balance systems is important. Otherwise the parliamentary system could bring a dictatorship, as was the case with Hitler and Mussolini.”
Turkey is well on the way with its dismantling of human rights and freedoms and the reduction of the judiciary to a tool of the governing AK (Justice and Development) Party and President Erdogan. Therefore it is no coincidence that the coup makers explained that their aim in taking control was “to restore constitutional order, democracy, human rights and freedoms and the rule of law.”
Since 1960 there have been four military coups in Turkey, including the “soft coup” in 1997, which forced an Islamist-conservative coalition from power. Ten years ago Erdogan, then prime minister, declared that the era of coups was over, and was hailed both in Europe and the US for sending the military back to the barracks.
Nevertheless, late one Friday night in April 2007 the Turkish general staff, who declared they were “the absolute defenders of secularism”, warned in a memorandum on their website against “circles who have been carrying out endless efforts to disturb the fundamental values of the Republic of Turkey” and “who do not refrain from exploiting the religious feelings of our people”.
The AKP defied this warning and in August Abdullah Gül, Erdogan’s foreign minister, was elected president instead of his staunchly secular predecessor Ahmet Necdet Sezer. The following year the AKP was indicted by the Chief Public Prosecutor as “a centre of acts against the principle of secularism” with a demand for the party’s closure. Despite being found guilty by the Constitutional Court, the AKP escaped with a slap on the wrist and a nominal fine.
The same year the AKP took its revenge in what Erdogan’s political advisor called “the biggest settling of accounts in Turkish history”. In a series of show trials over 500 military officers and secular opponents were convicted of being members of a fictitious terrorist organisation and on fabricated evidence of plotting a coup. Erdogan declared himself “prosecutor” and even the former chief of staff was given a life sentence for “leading a terrorist organisation”.
The whole plot was concocted in collaboration with Erdogan’s ally, Fethullah Gülen, a reclusive imam resident in Pennsylvania, and his network in the police and judiciary. But when the Gülen movement began an investigation into corruption in AKP government circles as well as Erdogan’s own family in December 2013, the boot was on the other foot. In desperate search of allies, Erdogan began to admit the shortcomings of the trials and spoke of “people who are unfairly in jail”. This ultimately led to the release of all those convicted but the damage has been done and a deep-seated sense of grievance remains.
The Turkish military has earlier resisted a purge of suspected members of the Gülen movement in its ranks but now the blame for the attempted coup has been put fair and square on the Gülenists. It was first claimed that those responsible just constituted a small group inside the First Army but the fact that a number of high-ranking officers have been arrested belies this fact.
There is also disagreement in the military with the AKP government’s conduct of the war in Syria and its collaboration with the jihadists – also with the reignited war against the PKK and the rising toll of military and civilian casualties.
President Erdogan has warned coup supporters “they will pay a heavy price for their treason” and given his track record, there is no reason to doubt his word.
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