The wrong path of President Erdogan

Turkey’s most recent previous coup took place in 1997, was known as a post-modern or ‘soft’ coup. There was no military presence on streets or on air, yet enough pressure was put on the coalition government, by Turkish Army, to cause the Islamist leader of the Welfare Party Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan to resign. His party was subsequently disbanded by the Constitutional Court on the basis that it violated the secular principles of the Turkish Republic.

The 1980 coup was led by the military, as the county was in “chaos” due to mass uprising by leftist youth movements and Kurdish political mobilisation (notably the PKK founded in 1978). General Kenan Evren took power and under his presidency, by using excessive force, mass imprisonment of political activists, trade unionists and other progressives in the county, he reorganised and “stabilised” the country, ultimately handing back power to “civilian” legislators. Before the AKP came to power in 2002, Turkey’s only period of great instability was in the 1990s due to the Kurdish insurgency and government’s harsh treatment of its Kurdish population, increasing human rights abuses and limited direct foreign investment.

This year’s failed coup of the 15th of July, strays from the norm in the sense that those attempted to carry out the coup were not the whole of the army but a faction within the army that President Erdogan has denounced as “Gulenists” (supporters of banned opposition Islamic cleric Fetullah Gulen), and not based in the traditional defence of Turkish nationalism and secularism. The most notably difference from the previous coups is that this one failed.

The similarity between the coups lies in the aftermaths, the crackdown on opposition academics and intellectuals of generally left-wing leanings were purged, imprisoned and even executed in past. Presently, this is a fate faced by critics of the AKP government, especially should talks of reintroducing capital punishment go through. Though the government is currently focused on right wing Gulenist supporters, my fear is that this shall spread to all major opposition groups.

President Erdogan in the aftermath of the coup had 2 paths to take for the future of the country, he chose wrong. Domestically, he could have consolidated the country as all opposition groups were united against the coup, instead he chose to alienate the HDP and other Kurdish parties by shunning them from strategic talks at the Presidential Palace, favouring alliances with the ultra-nationalist party, the MHP and the main opposition party, CHP.

Relations have been strained with the international community for some time now, should talks of re-instating the death penalty come to fruition this will mark the end of accession talks and relations with the EU. Relations with the US are equally frosty, following diverging views in Syrian intervention policy. With calls to extradite Gulen from his home in Pennsylvania, along with conspiracy theories circulating in the Turkish Press (Yeni Safak) that US General John Campbell is the mastermind behind the coup, the souring of US relations points to the Turkish government paving the way for a rapprochement with Russia. For extradition to happen, the Turkish government will need to provide hard evidence proving Gulen’s involvement in the coup. Additionally, extradition is a lengthy process and may take years, it appears the Turkish government is applying political pressure to get Fethullah Gulen extradited.

Given Turkey’s history, another coup is not unlikely. For some, Turkey experienced a “civilian coup” in June 2015 after the general election in which the AKP lost their majority and chaos ensued as the conflict between the Turkish State and the significant Kurdish minorities came to head. It was only after the bombing in Ankara, when President Erdogan immediately called new elections and secured his parties majority amongst this period of chaos. After the most recent failed military coup, President Erdogan should be encouraged to use this opportunity to build bridges, peacefully resolve the issue of the Kurdish Question and confirm democratic rule of law.  Unfortunately, the opposite has materialised, with the suspension of the European Convention of Human Rights and reports of mass torturing and rape of coup conspirators, he is not seen to be chosen the path of reconciliation.

There is reason to believe Turkey will become a much more violent country in the near future. With the increase in terrorist attacks by Islamic State targeting Kurdish and other civilians in the country, it is clear that the ultimate aim of Islamic State is to plant seeds of a civil war in Turkey. The masses Erdogan called to the streets in protest, believed to be of people with Islamist and Jihadi sympathies, by giving them the sense they are the saviours and defenders of their country, he is putting in danger the more liberal leaning and ethnic and religious minorities by making them targets. The mobs have already attacked neighbourhoods where ethnic and religious minorities dominate.

European Governments now find themselves in a tenuous position, having supported the democratically elected government against the coup plotters, they are now witnessing a not very democratic clampdown on dissidents, the Kurdish issue, human rights and minority rights. An independent judiciary is needed otherwise the opposition will find itself discriminated against and unlawfully imprisoned, which is unacceptable in a modern society. This is not the mandate President Erdogan promised in 2002, he has chosen a far more dangerous track.

There is certainly a case put forward by Prof. Dr Yilmaz Esmer, that this is becoming more and more  a democracy without democrats. Despite not disputing the legitimacy of the AKP elections, they are not using their mandate to build proper institutions for a democratic country. Conversely, they are doing what they accuse the Gulenists ‘terrorists’ of doing, in that they are infiltrating all institutions and filling important positions with people sympathetic to their political position.

President Erdogan is the democratically elected leader of the country, the de facto leader of the AKP. Should he go for the executive presidency, he will become the head of state and the army simultaneously, he will become the single most powerful person in Turkish history. Given what we have seen so far, with all the changes President Erdogan is making and the allies he keeps, this could have significant negative implications for the rest of the world.

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