18 Brumaire of Erdogan: ‘Turkish society returns to their 1937’
A columnist of Realnoe Vremya writes about how the Turkish authorities have launched a repressive flywheel against their opponents
It has been four months since the failed coup attempt in Turkey. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan immediately named the culprit – famous religious preacher Fethullah Gülen living in the USA. Mufti of Tatarstan Kamil Samigullin agreed with the position of the Turkish leader and called the actions of the followers of Gülen unscrupulous. A columnist of Realnoe Vremya, political scientist and Orientalist Gumer Isaev has been working in Istanbul for several years and has seen first-hand all the events developing during and after the coup attempt. Read details in the column written specially for our newspaper.
Turkish 'Reichstag fire'
Four months after the coup attempt in Turkey, one can definitely say that a real revolution began in the country after the surrender of the Turkish coupists. It will continue until there is the emergency rule and there are new 'conspirators' going to jail. In English, there is a good term for what Erdogan conceived — self-coup. Self-coup — it is when a politician taking advantage of a crisis situation takes the power in their hands.
The failure of the Turkish coup against the background of today's purges, extending far beyond the army, is nothing but a Turkish version of the 'Reichstag fire'. There is no doubt that the military coupists were wrong-footed in order to purge not only the army but all the disloyal to the system. The further it is, the clearer reasons are for the 'strange coup' in Turkey, which the military failed to perform.
The 'Erdogan's coup' began immediately after the return of the president from holiday. The start was given when the miraculously avoided special forces and fighters of the conspirators Turkish president publicly promised to punish the rebels. The conspirators acted foolishly, but the authorities played their part without a hitch. Most importantly, the background was ready — electorate in indignation was after coupists' blood. While on the streets of Turkish cities the red guards were calling for hanging of the conspirators and the TV channels were trumpeting victory of democracy over the coupists, Erdogan began to implement the plan of large-scale purges in the Turkish society. Some sources claim that the lists of arrests had been prepared in advance.
'While on the streets of Turkish cities the red guards were calling for hanging of the conspirators and the TV channels were trumpeting victory of democracy over the coupists, Erdogan began to implement the plan of large-scale purges in the Turkish society.' Photo: golos-ameriki.ru
Lustration à la Erdogan
The first blow, almost the next day after the suppression of the coup, was made on the judicial system, when over 3 thousand judges and prosecutors were forced to resign. The scale of repression was so serious that even inviolable judges of the Constitutional Court were arrested.
Why judges first? The answer is simple — the purge of judicial manpower is necessary in order the judges passed the right sentences. Those were dismissed who could show integrity at the trials, the remaining will judge depending on the opinion of the authorities. Thus, the second (after the army) victim of the internal coup by Erdogan — the independent judiciary.
On 18 July 2016, the large-scale purge of officials began — more than 30 governors were dismissed. It is a lot if to consider that they were 81 in total. The President's administration and different state agencies were subjected to the purges. If to add to this list thousands and tens of thousands of laid-off representatives of various non-political activities, we can talk about a process of lustration — a purge of society on ideological grounds. Given that the ideological affiliation to the 'secret structure of the conspirators' is difficult to prove, and most of the 'purged' have nothing to do either with the proverbial 'guilty of everything' Fethullah Gülen or with the military, it is about the social elimination of all potentially disloyal to the system. Only according to the reports of the authorities, the number of the arrested is 37 thousand people. More than 100 thousand civil servants were dismissed.
The question that is often asked, seeing the scale of dismissals in the non-military environment, boils down to one thing — what's the point of such massive shakeup? Whether were thousands of teachers and doctors and other silent workers in various fields a threat to the regime? Whether could they try to carry out a new coup attempt? The removal from office of thousands of deans and heads of departments reminds the Chinese Cultural Revolution: there was a place for 'the doctors' and other processes for apprehension and punishment of traitors to the Motherland. It will just suffice to mention a website created by the Turkish authorities, where citizens are encouraged to inform on those who might be involved in the 'coup'… Turkish society has plunged into their '1937 year'.
'Given that the ideological affiliation to the 'secret structure of the conspirators' is difficult to prove, and most of the 'purged' have nothing to do either with the proverbial 'guilty of everything' Fethullah Gülen or with the military, it is about the social elimination of all potentially disloyal to the system.' Photo: milatgazetesi.com
The evolution of government from democracy to authoritarianism is one of the most interesting subjects for researchers of political processes. How in a short time the society becomes paralysed and can silently give tens (or hundreds) of thousands of people for a slaughter to the authorities? Obviously, it is not an insanity of the leaders or a sharply revealed thirst for absolute power. In the conditions of aggravation of competitive struggle at the top and the problematic external challenges, the political regimes, until recently willing to abide the rule of the democratic game, put aside all previous decorum and proceed to hard purge of all undesirables. The benefit of the purge in Turkey has not reached a mass physical elimination of dissents yet. However, there are quite serious talks in the Turkish society about the need of introduction of the death penalty and direct annihilation of the 'conspirators'.
Until recently they could tolerate pesky journalists or principled judges, but in the current turbulence all those who criticize the government have a negative impact on its image and rating. The ratings, as you know, are almost most important thing for a modern politician. The authorities have learned from the failure of the Turkish elections in June 2015, and preferred not to risk in the future, given the fact a new referendum to change the Constitution is at stake. Even loyal party members were liquidated — new ones will be even more zealous and loyal. It is enough to compare the environment of Erdogan several years ago and now to understand how serious the changes are that the Turkish establishment have undergone.
How Kemalists and pro-Kurdish forces fell within 'emergency state'
For political purges, Erdogan had to go beyond the legal framework. Therefore, 'the Sultan' hastened to use the classical technique of many middle eastern leaders and declared a state of emergency.
Every dictator in the Middle East knows how convenient it is to rule the country in the 'state of emergency'. Some countries, such as Egypt or Syria, existed in this regime for decades… It is enough to convince people (or themselves) in the existence of a threat. And then the saving 'state of emergency' will remove all the disloyal. Erdogan's foreign and domestic policies were not going well: spoiled relations with the West, Russia, the failure in Syria, refugee flows, unrest in the Kurdish areas… And here — a luck! Absurd military coup, which gave Erdogan a great opportunity to deal with those who criticised him.
'A few days ago, the leader of one of the parliamentary parties — a Kurd Selahattin Demirtaş went back to jail. The flywheel of repressions does not stop, it is only gaining momentum.' Photo: kurdpress.ir
Let us remind you what the Turkish authorities spoke about three months of 'emergency state'. 'They will purge the Gulenists and then will stop': naive members of the opposition thought, hoping to hide out on the sidelines. But they were wrong. The 'state of emergency' was extended and in November the repressions in Turkey reached a new level, covering those who could not even be suspected of being sympathetic to the 'terrorist organization of Fethullah Gülen' invented by the Turkish authorities. And they waited their turn: in early November, journalists of a secular newspaper Cumhuriyet were arrested. A few days ago, the leader of one of the parliamentary parties — a Kurd Selahattin Demirtaş went back to jail. The flywheel of repressions does not stop, it is only gaining momentum…
There are those who will rush to justify Erdogan, purporting that he is acting in the Middle East country in machiavellianism style, he is driven by understandable desire to retain power at any cost. We should not forget that Turkey is a complex and fragmented society, and a destruction of the balance of power can be fraught with consequences for the whole country. If at the beginning of his reign Erdoğan could negotiate with different forces, but now the pressure and arrests of 'dissenters' can be considered not as a manifestation of the political will and power but as an indicator of inability to find a compromise in a difficult period for the country. The repression is working today, but tomorrow the boomerang will come back. And Bonaparte will go to the scaffold.