Is the Democratic Revolution in Turkey Over?
Tayyip Erdogan’s longest night is over. After hours of fights, blood and arrests, the Turkish government has declared an attempted coup to have failed. What remains now are abandoned tanks on the streets of Ankara, a steadily rising number of arrests and a promise made by the president of changes to the country’s constitution to assure that such an episode won’t be repeated.
During the night of Friday 15 July, a large group of military elements took to the streets of Ankara and Istanbul, having announced the coup. Around 9pm GMT, Turkey’s Prime Minister, Binali Yildirim, described the ongoing action of the army as an “illegal attempt” to seize power. Within the next few hours, social media were blocked and NTV read the statement sent out by the plotters confirming the coup – which subsequently caused Turkey’s currency to plummet 3.8 percent to 2.9901 against the dollar. Staff of the national television channel, RTR, were taken hostage and Erdogan fled to a secure and unknown position.
Up to that point, the plotters made clear they didn’t want bloodshed amongst the population or a change to the relationships between Turkey and the rest of the world. The chaotic situation in the streets that followed was in part created by the president’s open request, made on CNN Turk via a Facetime video call, to Turkish citizens to flood the streets to show support for the democratically-elected government. After that, it started to become clear that the plotters didn’t have the support of the majority of either the armed forces or the population and violence arose: clashes between soldiers and police loyal to Erdogan and the plotters started to get more and more violent, an F-16 shot down a military helicopter used by the plotters and a bomb exploded near the Bosphorus Bridge, one of the first strongholds occupied by the plotters. After midnight, explosions filled Ankara and Istanbul. Reuters was contacted by a member of the Turkish parliament stating that the palace was being bombed and lawmakers were hiding in shelters; Central Tamsik Square, one of Istanbul’s main meeting points, became a theatre of violence.
At dawn, when it was already clear that the plotters were doomed, Erdogan reassured the population, speaking to the media. With words pre-announcing a harsh reaction, the president declared that the plotters “will pay a heavy price for their treason to Turkey.” Later in the morning, the last two handfuls of them (standing respectively at the Chief of General Staff Headquarters and the Bosphorus Bridge) surrendered, putting an end to the 13-hour-long attempt to displace Erdogan.
Even though the facts of the night between 15th and 16th July didn’t ever represent a real threat to the president’s power – leaving fringes of the opposition to accuse the AKP itself of being the organiser of a fake coup – Erdogan and Turkey’s relationships with the rest of the world may now change forever.
First and foremost, the coup exposed friction with the United States: the first and leading suspect towards whom the Turkish government immediately pointed its finger was the Muslim cleric, Fethullah Gulen, leader of the group, Hizmet, who has lived in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania since 1999. PM Yildirim immediately asked to extradite the imam; with the passing of hours, the accusations made by Turkey to the United States of having backed the coup became louder and louder.
“Any country that stands behind [Gulen],” pronounced Yildirim, “is no friend of Turkey, is engaged in a serious war with Turkey.” According to John Kirby, spokesman for the US Secretary of State, John Kerry, the United States offered assistance in the investigation and will consider the possibility of extraditing the imam (who joined those speaking of a fake coup) and firmly warned Ankara against continuing with its allegations as they could heavily damage the relationship between the two countries. Whether the closure of the Incirlik US airbase, used by the Arab coalition to fight ISIS in Syria, is a direct challenge to Washington is too soon to tell, but the fact that the United States is still not allowing flights to Turkey is not a good sign.
The relationship between Angela Merkel and Erdogan may be weakened by this episode as well. According to MSNBC, when the president fled on a plane from Ankara, he sought refuge in Germany, but the country, even though it later declared that it stood with the democratically-elected government, didn’t grant permission to land on its soil.
But what may really change and endanger the worldwide balance of power is the reaction of the Turkish government to the coup. The AKP is now likely to abandon entirely its reformist attitude to introduce not only more severe punishments (Turkish media are speaking about a probable reintroduction of the death penalty) but to increase control over those who stood against Erdogan in the last 13 years, potentially giving the president power close to that seen only in authoritarian states.
Purges have started already amongst the army – more than 100 soldiers who took part in the coup died during the clashes, 700 spontaneously surrendered to the police and a total number of 2,800 arrests have been made – and 2,745 judges have been removed from their positions because they are suspected of affiliation with Gulen. It is not too daring to say that the arrests will not stop here: Erdogan has already enacted a long story of preventing key sectors of the country from undermining his position (one example may be journalist Can Dundar, sentenced to five years in prison for his scoop on the arms trade in Syria), and this attempted coup gave him a reason for tightening control over the opposition.
The consequences of Erdogan drifting towards clear authoritarianism will be seen in the long run but, surely, are not good news for a Middle East in turmoil and a Europe grieving once again.
Global Seven News