Sometimes news happens at inconvenient times. As I was racing around after work this past Friday, I managed to stop in at my apartment in Vancouver, dropping off books I had read and reviewed, picking up my mail and more books to read and review, and somehow during that brief time in the midst of hours of driving through rush hour traffic I managed to stop long enough to see a story on the evening news on a coup attempt in Turkey. Considering that it is now several days later as I write this, one might wonder what took me so long to write about a current event that is no longer current, although the answer is that I was far too busy this weekend, and not possessed of the uninterrupted rest in front of a computer that is required for me to write in my accustomed style. Be that as it may, there is another reason to delay writing about such an event, and that is that it was not clear at the time that the coup would be an absolute shambles, whereas it is clear right now that the coup failed and that Turkey’s rule by a moderate Islamic party is likely to continue, and that the changes that will turn the nation into at least a semi-presidential republic are likely to continue and that the army is likely to be drastically changed as a result of its ill-advised putsch attempt.
As it happens, on Friday evening, after returning to my current base of operations after the brief stop at my apartment, I managed to see my dearest Turkish friend online , and I chatted with her about the coup as well as her family and personal life, as she has been a busy college student recently without a lot of time to chat. She expressed that it has been said that the coup attempt was an inside job in order to ensure that the current party stays in power and gains even more through discrediting elements of the Kemalist opposition. It should be pointed out for the purposes of fairness that my friend is herself a Kemalist and has not been particularly sympathetic to Islamism, and is quite a Westernized and secularist Turk. Being somewhat skeptical of conspiracy theories , the case for a conspiracy theory would amount to a claim that Turkish president Recep Tayyip Edrogan, or his lead advisors, are equivalent to the Cecils of early Jacobean England who incited a Gunpowder Plot-like coup attempt only to crush it and engage in massive societal changes in the face of an ugly and long-lasting culture war. This is not a ridiculous scenario.
One only has to wonder why it took the Turkish army so long to attempt to overthrow Erdogan. Although Turkey’s army does not have quite the experience in overthrowing democratically elected regimes as, for instance, the Thai army , it has a history much like Chile’s when it comes to coups, seeing itself in an overly messianic role as the guardians of the Kemalist and secular Turkish state. In 1960 and 1980 the Turkish army overthrew elected governments, in 1960 executing the prime minister involved, and twice more military decisions toppled governments in 1971 and 1997, as well as having banned political parties. For a considerable time, now, the moderate Islamist AKP party has been in charge, and over the past few years Edrogan has been remaking the army leadership to be less threatening to himself, knowing the army was the main threat to his continued rule. Unlike some populist leaders, such as Thailand’s Taksin Shinawatra, Edrogan appears to have been able to successfully neutralize, at least for now, the threat of hostile military efforts.
The proof is in the pudding, so to speak. Here are the statistics at present, per Wikipedia : The “Peace At Home Council,” the current winner in ironically titled political organizations, lost between 24 and 104 putschists killed, one helicopter shot down, and around 8,000 soldiers and judiciary members arrested for disloyalty, at a cost of 63 pro-government forces killed, with 145 civilians killed and the suspension of almost 8000 police officers, 614 officers of the gendarmerie, as well as 30 provincial govenors and 47 district governors. Elements of the first and third Turkish armies as well as the air force and navy and gendarmerie were involved. The result was a spectacular victory for the forces supporting Turkey’s current political establishment, and there are likely to be some substantial repercussions. How serious are the repercussions so far? Let us at least briefly discuss the repercussions that are currently going on, and reflect a bit on the future consequences.
There is some fight over who planned the coup, as there are at least two possibilities. It would appear as if the coup was a Kemalist one, as the “Peace At Home” council made reference to an ambiguous quotation from Kemal himself, and Gemal, the other main contender, faces threats of extradition from his peaceful abode in Pennsylvania and strongly condemned the coup. There appears at least some popular demand for a reinstitution of the death penalty, something that is causing tension between Turkey’s leadership and the European Union, which demanded that Turkey ban the death penalty as a precondition for its entrance into the EU itself, a process that has bogged down. In addition to this, in the aftermath of the coup there have been demonstrations against Alevis as well as more liberal elements in Turkey. It appears that the Turkish leadership is in a siege mentality and using the aftermath of the coup to crack down on hostility in the face of a prolonged cultural conflict within Turkey itself over its identity and its destiny.
Turkey is a nation riven by many deep conflicts, not only between traditionalist Sunni beliefs and Turkish nationalism and a host of competing elements, including a large and restive Kurdish population , as well as some Sufi and Shi’ite cultural elements, and neighboring countries that present difficulties like Greece, Syria, Iraq, and Iran. Not trusting in the long-term demographic trends that have increased the popularity of moderate Islamism and decreased the popularity of the Turkish army and its Kemalist ideals, especially in the face of European unwillingness to fully accept the proud Turks as full Europeans either in international institutions or among their own nations with Turkish immigrants, it appears likely that the current Turkish leadership will attempt to use the political capital from this spectacularly failed coup attempt to increase its own power and enact its political program. Whether it will succeed in dramatically reshaping the Turkish republic or whether there will be overreach and blowback depends on the savvy and wisdom of Turkey’s people and political and military leadership. It does not appear, though, that this coup will make Turkey a more united nation or help it overcome its deep rifts and come to terms with its complex reality. Fighting and coming to terms do not tend to go together well, after all.
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