Photo by Joshua Tartakovsky (C) All Rights Reserved 2016
By Joshua Tartakovsky, 16 July 2016
Erdoğan has not been perfect. Secular Turks have suffered as the country turned on the path towards Islamisation, support for foreign islamic rebels in Syria was steadfast, and authoritarianism grew cracking on dissent. But there is no indication that the coup attempt on 16 July 2016 was backed by a majority of the public or of the military. So far four generals were arrested but the motives of the coup-makers appear obscure still. Commander of the Aegean region, Gen. Memduh Hakbilen, was one of the key figures behind the coup. Perhaps his recent background and history will reveal the motives for the attempted coup. As responsible for the Aegean region Hakbilen may have had contact with NATO officials on proposals to patrol in the Aegean Sea. Why would a secular Turkish army seek to topple Erdoğan precisely at such a moment when he took on a more conciliatory approach and sought to end his support for jihadist rebels?
Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Photo by Joshua Tartakovsky 2016
Erdoğan called on his supporters to come to the streets and indeed they did. Pictures of masses of Turkish people defending their democratically-elected president in the street can be seen. A Turkish protester even tried to stop a tank of the coup-makers with his body. Turkish soldiers who took part in the coup against the democratically-elected government were beaten, sometimes to death, in several cases by the masses, while the Turkish police saved their lives when it could.
Some people have argued that Erdoğan tried to carry out a coup against himself to increase his popularity or to excuse taking strong anti-democratic measures. But Erdoğan is already immensely popular among the Turkish majority living in rural areas, and the west turned a blind eye to his anti-democratic actions as long as he was firmly on its side. Supporting a coup against oneself is too risky. What if it actually succeeds?
The attempted coup against Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Istanbul, resembles to some degree the attempted coup against Hugo Chavez in Caracas. In both cases the public rallied in defense of the endangered leader. In the case of Turkey and despite the anti-democratic actions of Erdogan, the spontaneous support of the people for their leader is a heartwarming sight. The people rose to protect their democratically elected government despite great personal risks. Erdoğan may be no Chavez or Che Guevara but is the sovereign president of the country and widely supported by the people. And any force that seeks to remove him through a coup is a threat to Turkish identity and sovereignty.
In the aftermath of the coup, Turkey announced that it will reintroduce the death penalty against saboteurs. This is good news. It means Turkey is closing the door on the European Union and that the Turkish people won’t be impoverished as the people of Greece, Bulgaria, Spain or Croatia. After all, the Turkish economy has been growing quite steadily. Why ruin it all by having EU companies take over Turkish industries and by Turks face lower living conditions after they embrace the Euro?
As far as external forces are concerned, the ones seeking to depose Erdoğan may be the ones who dislike his latest foreign policy moves. The timing is suspect as Erdoğan’s islamization has been going on for a while and the Kemalist explanation appears insufficient. Therefore those who complain that Erdoğan supported ISIS need to realize that actually Erdoğan just made peace with Russia and Israel and planned to reconcile with Egypt and Syria ending his support for islamists.
Turkey is pointing a finger at Fethullah Gülen, an islamist preacher living in Pennsylvania who some suspect has ties with the US intelligence. And Erdogan also may have used the opportunity to crack down on media critical on him – such as Hurriyet – already.
It is childish and simplistic to blame every regional development on the world’s superpower. It is also fair to assume that senior generals in the Turkish army would have perhaps not engaged in a coup unless they sought they had some backing. Erdoğan, while far from perfect, has actually been taking more conciliatory moves recently. For now, one has to commend the Turkish people for their steadfastness in resisting an attempt at a military coup. Erdoğan is supported by a majority of the people and as long as he is not invading other countries he should received our support as well as the legitimate president of the republic. Erdoğan should not be given a free pass to violate civil liberties. But demonizing him while failing to consider his latest positive moves is an approach that suggests that a war between Turkey and Russia is more preferable.
The defiance of the Turkish people against the coup-attempt deserves our respect and solidarity.