Mohammad Behzad Fatmi
Painful days in Turkey continue unabated. On Friday (July 15) night a faction of renegade soldiers attempted a military coup against the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government.
After hours of clashes on the streets of capital Ankara and the largest city Istanbul, the coup-plotters were killed or arrested and the government forces took hold of strategic positions.
At least 265 people – including over 100 coup-plotters – died and more than 1,400 were injured in the process. The government and president Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused that the perpetrators were the sympathisers of the US-based Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gulen and his movement known as Hizmet or Gulen movement.
Gulen emphatically rejected such an accusation and reiterated his belief in democracy and the rule of law.
In a statement he said, “I condemn the attempted military coup in Turkey in the strongest possible terms. The government must not change through force but through free and fair elections... It is undignified to link a person who has suffered the ordeal of all the military coups in the last 50 years to such an attempt. I unconditionally reject such slanders”.
Unless and until a reliable investigation is conducted into this extraordinary event in Turkish history, we would never know who were behind it. But a critical analysis of the government’s position is nevertheless totally warranted.
Since December 17, 2013, it has become a regular government practice in Turkey to blame the Gulen movement for almost every tragedy/failure/opposition in the country.
On that date, a huge corruption scandal implicating the inner circle of president Erdogan - then prime minister - became public. The corruption scandal itself was labelled a “judicial coup” by the government and blamed on the sympathisers of the Gulen movement.
Likewise, the downing of the Russian jet in 2015, the arrest of a businessman close to Erdogan - Reza Zarrab - early this year in the US, the ongoing turmoil in the Kurdish-dominated southeast of the country, turbulent relationship with Israel and other neighbouring states and so on have all been blamed on the Gulen movement.
Quite understandably, none of these allegations are backed by real evidence and are full of contradictions.
Let’s have a look at them one by one.
Firstly, when the Russian jet was downed by the Turkish military, it was initially hailed as a brave decision by the government which is not subservient to superpowers unlike its predecessors, and takes violations of Turkey’s territorial integrity seriously.
But as it became clear that the action had backfired horribly, the government officials were quick to link it to the “parallel state” (the name they have given to the Gulen movement).
Secondly, the Indian-born US attorney Preet Bharara was accused of taking an amount of $2.5 million as a bribe from the Gulen movement for getting Reza Zarrab arrested and thereby starting a legal battle against the Turkish government.
Thirdly, the government started to link the Gulen movement with the Kurdish militant group Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) after it started a large military campaign against the group after the AK Party lost majority in the June 7, 2015 general election.
Whereas prior to that period when the government-launched “Peace Process” with the group was still in place, the Gulen movement was charged with trying to derail that effort and not wanting peace with the PKK.
Fourthly, Gulen’s statement on the 2010 Mavi Marmara incident that permission must have been sought from the “authorities” before setting sail for Gaza was vociferously criticised by Erdogan, and aggressively used in Turkey’s domestic politics.
In 2014, he said, as the prime minister of Turkey he had given permission for it and suggested that for Gulen Israel was the real “authority” and therefore he issued such a statement.
However, in a sharp U-turn this year with Turkey trying to restore its relationship with Israel, Erdogan publicly said he had not given any permission.
Given this trend in the country, it is not surprising to see the government accusing the Gulen movement for this coup attempt. Whenever it is in the government's interest to blame the Gulen movement for something, it does so. However, like other allegations, this too hardly seems to be holding the ground.
What is now necessary is to understand why the Turkish government has possibly taken this position and whose interest is this serving.
Even a brief review of Turkish politics would suggest that all the previous allegations have immensely helped Erdogan and his AK Party to cling to power and justify their crackdown on dissent; and the latest allegation is also likely to do the same.
They have created a superficial, larger than life enemy to not only shrug responsibility for tragedies and failures but also gain popular sympathy of the gullible masses.
As far as this coup attempt is concerned, there are some very important questions that need to be answered: how practical it is to block Istanbul’s bridges in a coup aimed at toppling the government?
Was it safe for Erdogan to travel to Istanbul in a flight when fighter jets of coup-plotters were still airborne?
Why did the coup-plotters not attempt to silence the pro-government media?
Is it possible for the intelligence agencies not to have any idea whatsoever regarding the coup plan involving thousands of soldiers?
Why did the renegade soldiers move to action in the evening hours and not before dawn when everyone had been sleeping?
It must be reiterated though that it hasn’t yet become clear who was behind this coup attempt and an independent and thorough investigation is still due.
But the aforementioned pattern of political developments and the questions must not be ignored while observing Turkish politics.
It should also not be forgotten that this failed military coup has greatly played into the hands of the embattled president Erdogan and his AK Party who have long been criticised for their authoritarianism.
Published on dailyO, 17 July 2016, Sunday