This column has come out with a series of write-ups on Turkey, always warning about the possibility of chaos under President Erdogan. Our position did not go down well with others, who thought that we had been paid to do damage to a country and its presidency. But we are professionals. The July 15th coup attempt and the aftermath should vindicate us and we feel proud that this column is an authentic global observer. The coup attempt did not surprise us at all. Refer to our series on Turkey – Erdogan in Ghana; Turkey and Russia; Turkey Dictatorship and Africa; and Turkey – Fighting Beyond Borders; – and you would recall the very picture we painted of Erdogan deterring democracy in Turkey, while at the same time causing regional instability.
We have taken time to study the aftermath of the failed coup and realized that the purge is purposeful. All along, Erdogan wanted more powers. He’s gotten it. It makes others believe that he planned the coup in order to benefit from it. Erdogan has angrily rejected suggestions that he or his government might have been behind the failed coup, which he has blamed on the followers of a U.S.-based Muslim cleric. More than fifty thousand (50 000) Turkish citizens have been rounded up. This is outrageous. Imagine prisoners the size of the full house of the Accra Sports Stadium! Several highly placed military officers (about 1 500) have been arrested and/or dismissed. Several thousand teachers, nurses, doctors, you name them, have equally been purged. Further, all persons, suspected to have links with or support for the self-exiled Gullen are arrested. It is strange that Erdogan fears the frail 77-year old philanthropist, domiciled in the US and blaming him for the woes of Turkey!
The leader of the Free Democratic Party (FDP) in Germany, Christian Lindner, sees parallels between Erdogan’s behavior and the aftermath of the Reichstag fire in 1933 portrayed by the Nazis as a Communist plot against the government and used by Adolf Hitler to justify massively curtailing civil liberties. His comments echo those of Austria’s far-right Heinz-Christian Strache who has stated that Erdogan’s use of the failed putsch in July to crack down on his opponents was reminiscent of Hitler’s use of the Reichstag blaze to amass greater power. It is in this vein that there is a push by Austria, asking the EU to halt the talks with Turkey on joining the European Union, saying the bloc needed to think more broadly about how to frame its relationship with Ankara in troubled times. And why not. Europe’s credentials are based on democracy and secularism. Democracy is being seriously deterred and Islamism is being urged by Erdogan (he has asked Islam to be taught in elementary schools). Under Erdogan the tension between the secular Europhile elite and Eurosckeptics (mostly Muslim) has grown with the latter gaining more in popularity. Besides, the only mitigating factor, the military, needed to be purged to pander to the whims and caprices of Erdogan. The failed coup has offered this opportunity. Turkey was founded by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk as a staunchly secular society and the military has always been constitutionally responsible for upholding secularism. Meanwhile, the festering question of Islam’s role in politics came to the fore since 2002 and the AKP, Erdogan’s party, acted as an agent for the Muslim community.
At a point where economic power and the complexity of the regional political climate were both growing, Turkey needed to be a player. That meant that Turkey would inevitably get drawn into regional conflicts. And so it has been involved in Middle East politics on the side of the West. The US has a very important base (with nuclear arsenals) in Turkey. Turkey has become entangled in events in Syria, Iraq, the Balkans, the Caucasus, and the Black Sea. The failed coup has created a wedge between Erdogan and the West – the US, which has refused to extradite Gullen, and the EU which is demanding Turkey stuck to the principles of democracy and secularism. In a snobbish fashion, Erdogan has chosen to play the Russian roulette – he is visiting Russia. Readers would recall how Erdogan had ordered the downing of a Russian fighter jet that had allegedly strayed into Turkish territory and how Russia had retaliated swiftly by curtailing economic ties. A 180 degrees turn! He has apologized to Russia and is ready to mend fences, probably to spite the West. So erratic is Erdogan that to predict the future of Turkey is difficult. The West must be worried indeed. For over a week power to the US base was cut; verbal attacks on Germany and the US were incessant amid more reprisal purges in Turkey. The lamentations of the German Foreign Minister sums it all: “We are experiencing a coup d’etat from above like in 1933 after the Reichstag fire. He is building an authoritarian regime tailored solely to himself”.
The difficulty here is whether Erdogan understand Turkey’s stresses. Since the 1990’s Turkey has been confronted with three basic stresses – First the rapid economic growth it experienced created tension between existing elite and centres of economic power. It also promoted political rivalries. This was exacerbated by Cold War rivalries in which Turkey had to make a choice between Russia and the West. This stress is still unresolved. The second is the role of political Islam in Turkish affairs. This stress is also unresolved. The third is that, Turkey’s economic power and the complexity of the regional political climate were both growing. Inevitably therefore, Turkey has to be a variable in the determination of regional issues – economic issues and conflict. Again, this issue is a bogey, stressing Turkey. In sum, these stresses come from rapid economic growth, the tensions between secular and Muslim regions, and the beginning of Turkey as a great power.
Turkey therefore, needs a leader with the requisite temperament to understand how these stresses may be navigated. Unfortunately, Erdogan is resolving these issues in a way that would lead Turkey into more instability.