S P Seth*
The tumultuous events in Turkey are a harbinger of worst to come. The failed military coup has catapulted the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan into turning the country upside down to re-engineer its make-up by going after a whole range of institutions suspected of subverting/sabotaging and seeking to overthrow the country’s elected government. A military coup is rarely a justified exercise because (i) it does more harm than good by violating the principle of people’s sovereignty exercised by a duly elected government and (ii) it tends to be self-perpetuating thus losing whatever little rationale it might have, in the first place. Therefore, it is not surprising the attempted coup in Turkey aroused such concern and reaction. But to use it as an exercise in settling political scores with related or unrelated enemies will only further inflame the situation. There are reports that the Erdogan government had already prepared lists for purges and suspensions, and the failed coup has brought forward the whole exercise.
While a faction in the military engineered the failed coup, it is being made out that it was somehow a much bigger affair involving elements loyal to Fethullah Gulen, a Muslim cleric who lives in self-imposed exile in the US. Gulen is being made out as some kind of a superman with wings spread out all over and able to act at will. It is even suggested that the US was behind the coup, with Gulen’s presence in the US being proof of it apparently. In other words, Gulen, a cleric, is even able to manipulate and mesmerise the US into doing his bid. Turkey’s labour minister, Suleyman Soylu, who is said to be close to Erdogan, reportedly told a television station that “America is behind the coup.” And Erdogan has, more or less, has said the same.
And it has gained so much currency and self-belief in the Erdogan quarters that President Obama was obliged to personally deny this. He said that, “Any reports that we had any previous knowledge of a coup attempt, that there was any US involvement in it, that we were anything other than entirely supportive of Turkish democracy are completely false, unequivocally false.” One reason for making these accusations against the US would seem to be to exert pressure on Washington to extradite Gulen to Turkey, which the US is reluctant to do without solid evidence of his involvement in the coup. Indeed, Erdogan personally asked Obama to hand over Gulen to his government. To which Obama said: “I told President Erdogan that they should present us with evidence that they think indicates the involvement of Mr Gulen, and it would be processed the way it is always processed, and that we would certainly take any allegations like this seriously.” In the meantime, Turkey needed to conduct its investigation of the coup attempt “consistent with the rule of law,” which is sound advice for the good of the country, but it is only further complicating US relations with the Erdo?an government.
Erdogan and Gulen were erstwhile political allies and worked together to rid Turkey’s political system of military domination. Gulen suffered under periodic military coups in Turkey as he reminded in a statement denying any such involvement. He said: “As someone who suffered under multiple military coups during the past five decades, it is especially insulting to be accused of having any link to such an attempt.” The Gulen-loyalists are accused of having infiltrated the military to create a strong faction, which then sought to engineer the coup that failed. How they managed to continue operating as an autonomous force within the military without being noticed stretches one’s imagination. It would seem that ever since Erdogan purged the generals and put some of them behind bars after he came to power early in the last decade, there was some disquiet among elements of the armed forces, which eventually led to the failed coup. And the government would need to go through the process of uncovering the truth seriously and transparently without hysteria and paranoia leading to large scale purges.
Erdogan and his loyalists seem to smell a rat almost at all levels and in all institutions, and that rat is an undifferentiated Gulenist. And that is is now leading to large-scale purges, dismissal and arrests in the military, judiciary, educational institutions, bureaucracy and wherever. It is beyond belief that during his several years in power, all these so-called saboteurs and terrorists with links to Gulen and his movement, somehow continued to function to bring down the government. Besides, there apparently was, if one can believe, some sort of intricate mechanism for all these diverse elements to be acting for one unified goal of overthrowing the Erdogan government. The Turkish government doesn’t do its cause any good by giving a free rein to its paranoia of seeing enemies all around. Gulen’s followers, like others who dare to disagree with Erdogan, are “terrorists,” no two opinions about it.
Prime Minister Binali Yildrim likened Gulen’s followers to a “parallel terrorist organisation.” And added that, “We will dig them up by their roots so that no clandestine terrorist organisation will have the nerve to betray our blessed people again.” And the process of digging them up “by their roots” has started with thousands being hauled up with no end in sight. A state of emergency has been declared for three months, which is likely to be extended as Prime Minister Yildrim has indicated. He reportedly said, “Our goal is that it shouldn’t be extended, but if the need arises it may of course be extended.” The first decree issued after the emergency ordered the closure of 1043 private schools, 1229 charities and foundations, 19 trade unions, 15 universities and 35 medical institutions, all suspected of links to the Gulen movement. And it is just the beginning. The witch-hunt unleashed by the government against its “enemies” is likely to make many people worry that it might be their turn next.
At a time when the government is waging war against Kurds, IS and all sorts of conceivable enemies, it simply is madness to whip up mass hysteria imagining that the government will be able to direct and control it at its will. And that is what Erdogan is doing, apparently unmindful of the forces that he is unleashing. He has justified the declaration of emergency in Orwellian doublespeak. He said that, “A state of emergency is not against democracy, the rules of law and freedom. On the contrary, it aims to protect and strengthen them.” And he darkly said that, “A lot of people have been arrested but we haven’t come to an end yet. We have so many suspects, and so many suspicions. Theses detentions and arrests will provide us with many names.” The numbers already arrested are staggering and the process will continue. In other words, Turkey will increasingly become unstable, further adding to the instability of the region around it.
Not surprisingly, Turkey’s NATO allies are worried as Turkey is an important ally. The US uses its Incirlik air base to attack IS positions in Syria. Turkey is being urged by its NATO and European allies to act with restraint and lawfully. NATO secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, urged “a swift return to calm and full respect for the rule of law and democratic institutions.” But such advice is rather adding to tensions between Turkey and its western allies.
* Senior journalist and academic based in Sydney, Australia.
Published on Daily Times, 10 August 2016, Wednesday