A coup d’état, a purge and state of emergency: The weirdest week in Turkey’s history, yet

Photo creds: aanirfan.blogspot.com.tr

This past week has been a turning point for modern day Turkey, where a small fraction of the army did what was once thought to be impossible in Erdoğan’s Turkey: they attempted a coup d’état. The reason of the coup’s ultimate failure seemed to be the civil uprising initiated by Erdoğan, but was everything as it seemed to be?

On the night of the 15th of July, Turkey was shaken by what seemed to be a failed coup d’état. Many aspects of this coup attempt remain questionable, especially for those who lived through the 1980 coup (or the ones who studied it).

Primary reasons for this scepticism were the time chosen for the coup (around 10 pm, prime time for TV) and the fact that there were no arrestings of  any government officials. Plus, putschists not taking over the press and the satellites showed a weakness in the army chain of command, meaning that they did not have the whole army at their disposal. These details pushed some people to question the sincerity and the seriousness of this coup attempt. Government officials don’t usually get to make press releases at the same time as the army in a serious coup. And without the support of high ranking army officials, any coup is bound to fail.

Erdoğan on FaceTime. Taken from CNN

This sceptic point of view, developed on social media by mainly anti-government users, resulted in some people using the terms “theatre” or “mise-en-scène” when discussing the event, around 2 am. The reason why people (including myself at some point during the night) thought that way was because it was, in a way, a perfect fairy tale. Erdoğan calling people out to the streets, non-stop prayers rising from every single mosque in Turkey, and the very thought of stopping a coup d’état (which is unconsciously seen as a bad thing -even if it’s against Erdoğan- given the country’s history of suffering from different coups throughout the years) with a single FaceTime call seemed ridiculous. Plus, the enemy was already chosen: The army declaration read on national TV over and over again contained Kemalist aspects, maybe even a lot of it. It sounded really cheesy, even the most dedicated Kemalist wouldn’t emphasize on Kemalism that much… Erdoğan had the chance to blame secular elite and Gülen, a high profile cleric currently residing in the USA who was once one of Erdoğan’s biggest allies, at the same time, it was too good to be true. Whether it was a “theatre” or just a very bad organisation from the army officials, it was enough to make Erdoğan supporters lie in front of tanks and lynch soldiers. At some point, even the police forces -known to be close to Erdoğan- had a run in with the army. A single enemy was chosen, and there was a single ally. The prayers might even subconsciously suggested a battle between infidels and soldiers of god. That night was best summed up by a twitter user:  

(This is an old elections ad which was banned because of the usage of Turkish national anthem as a publicity tool. The video has resurfaced on TV and even has radio air time now. This is exactly the politics that Erdoğan has been following for the past 5 years: A secret dark force threatens our democracy and people are called to rally against by Erdoğan. Doesn’t it seem too familiar?)

Then, the army started bombing the parliament building and opened fire against people. That’s when everyone started questioning the theatre theory. Erdoğan couldn’t be that driven by power to bomb the very sanctum of democracy, especially while calling his voters to stop “our democracy being torn apart by the army”, could he? Is beheading soldiers under constant call for prayer a form of protecting our democracy? Is social media that strong even amongst people who were strictly against Taksim riots in 2012, also arranged solely by social media, to create the group psychology that drew out the people on the streets? Could it really be a plot against Erdoğan perpetuated by his new nemesis Fethullah Gülen?

When things started calming down, the purge began. First, army officials and judges were removed. During the first 2 days, more than 2000 judges were sacked. Then came the academics, university deans and directors… “More than 50,000 people have been rounded up, sacked or suspended from their jobs by Turkey’s government in the wake of last week’s failed coup.” reported BBC news yesterday, which marked only the fifth day after the attempt. Erdoğan and the government also introduced a travel ban on those holding special or service passports (green and grey as we call them) which are given to public servants in order for them to travel visa-free. The reason why the preferred word is purge is because those 50,000 people are the last remaining government officials to have a critical approach against Erdoğan and I doubt all of them plotting a coup –if 50,000 government officials and Turkey’s brightest academics plotted a coup d’état, we would not be in the same political climax as we are now.

So, how is Turkish society doing now? Not so well, if you take a look at current government agenda. There are efforts to keep public morale high. Public transport is free all over Istanbul and Erdoğan supporters started organizing rallies at night called “democracy watch” where gather to cherish the fact that the democracy is kept intact. Nonetheless, Erdoğan’s first open mentions of the possible introduction of death penalty and a new gun law to ease up firearm ownership seem to concern a good amount of people. A possible introduction of these two policies might cause a rise of tension between Erdoğan and the EU, who are already on a weakened terms following the refugee crisis. It will also cause further segregation in a community already getting torn apart day by day.

“Democracy watch” Photo creds: ensonhaber.com

What’s next for Turkey, after all these extraordinary events? Well, the state of emergency; or its name in Turkish, “Extraordinary State” have been declared as a three month trial which started yesterday, and news of random police checks will surely follow. I took a stroll today to one of Istanbul’s more conservative neighbourhoods and I realized that the amount of Erdoğan posters and billboards were exceptionally high. One billboard read “No matter what they do, the decision was made up high” (referring to God, I presumed). We will surely wait and see if billboards like this spread all over the country, bolstered by an even aggressive administration. An administration which would make life even harder for those of us who didn’t want to choose between a coup d’état and a twisted radical Islamic perception of democracy. Was this the hardest choice that we made so far? Will we be forced to make even harder decisions? Only time will tell…

Berke Alikaşifoğlu

Born and bred an Istanbulite, the co-editor-in-chief of Le Zadig, Berke has grown up in socially divided, politically complex environment that is Turkey, and he decided to focus on his passion for social sciences.
Utilizing his wits and writing skills to give voice to the diverse mentonese Ummah,Berke can express himself in three and-a-halflanguages. Although he admits that his red, thick and gorgeous beard is a vital part of his charm, he doesn’t like to be reduced to only his facial hair. He can rock a beanie like no other and rumor has it, that he is the reincarnation of the great pirate Barbarossa, exploring the Mediterranean, and discovering new horizons.
Berke’s passion for music is a driving force in his life, and please don’t talk to him if you don’t like Pearl Jam. His heart can be won by nuanced talks on Kurdish regional politics, anything Marvel or DC.
Berke is single and he resides in rue longue and his door is always open for those who seek intellectual conversations and intoxicated company.

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