In Turkey / Türkiye

By Patrick Cockburn, The Independent (UK), July 18, 2016

The implementation of Mr Erdogan’s long-desired presidential system based on Islamic values is beginning to look inevitable, writes Patrick Cockburn

Pro-Erdogan rally in Istanbul following failed coup on July 15-16, 2016 (Xinhua)

Pro-Erdogan rally in Istanbul following failed coup on July 15-16, 2016 (Xinhua)

As crowds chant calls for the execution of those involved in the failed coup in Turkey, there are fears that this once-secular country is decisively turning the corner towards full scale Islamisation. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is using the attempted military takeover to justify a purge of state officials and army officers who do not give him total obedience, opening the door for him to establish an all-powerful presidency while seemingly Islamising Turkish society to a degree not seen since the fall of the Ottomans.

Breaking news on July 19, 2016: Mass firings in Turkey of teachers, judges, university heads and other state employees, reports on New Cold here

Further below: Erdogan says will consider reviving death penalty for those who took part in coup attempt.

The purge continued at full throttle on Monday with the sacking of 8,000 police and 30 governors as well as 52 high ranking civil servants. This is in addition to 70 admirals and generals along with 3,000 soldiers and 2,700 members of the judiciary fired or detained since the coup failed on Saturday.

As pro-coup forces were rounded up over the weekend, there were parades of religious zealots in the streets chanting “Allahu Akbar” as giant speakers in Taksim Square in central Istanbul blasted out verses from the Koran. Appeals from Turkey’s 85,000 mosques played a significant role in mobilising popular protests in the hours after the coup began. Gezi Park in Istanbul, the centre of secularist and liberal protests against Mr Erdogan’s authoritarian rule three years ago, was now filled with crowds loyal to the President.

The increasingly Islamist mood is already influencing social mores in Istanbul. Selin Derya, 26, who works for a business head hunting company, says that since pro-Erdogan crowds flooded into city centre in the aftermath of the coup “I am frightened of going out wearing a dress that some bigot might think is too close fitting or does not like the fact that my skirt ends above the knee.” Another secular woman in Istanbul explained that she does not want to enter the city centre at the moment because she fears harassment by religious extremists.

There have been escalating signs of intolerance of secular lifestyles in recent years, including an attack in June by two dozen men on a music store in Istanbul where they beat up Radiohead fans whom they accused of drinking alcohol during the holy month of Ramadan. When protesters gathered to demonstrate against the attack, they were dispersed by police using tear gas and water cannon.

The programme of Mr Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) since they won their first general election in 2002 has been to reverse the secularisation introduced by Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the republic in 1923.  As the AKP has tightened its grip on power, it has chipped away at the secular institutions of the state and encouraged the Islamisation of education and social behaviour as well as seeking to cull non-Islamist officials and officers.

Mr Erdogan has said that he wants to see “the growth of a religious generation”, which would replace long-standing secular domination in Turkey. His foreign policy since the Arab Spring in 2011 has been to support the largely Sunni Arab uprising in Syria in alliance with Saudi Arabia and Qatar, though his efforts to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad have so far failed. This strategy included tolerance for extreme Islamist jihadi movements such as Isis, Jabhat al-Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham, enabling them to establish networks of support inside Turkey. However, in the summer of 2015 the Turkish government agreed to let the US and four other states, including the UK, use Incirlik air base in south east Turkey for air strikes against Isis. Gunmen and bombers from the Islamist group attacked Ataturk Istanbul airport in June killing 42 people.

The failed coup will enable the implementation of Mr Erdogan’s long-desired presidential system based on Islamic values. It is unlikely to face much resistance now from people who do not want to be labelled as coup sympathisers. Not only are large numbers of soldiers and officials being arrested, but they are being publicly humiliated by being beaten, forced to strip to their underwear and lie crammed together on the floor of wherever they are being held. The commander of Incirlik air base, Gen Bekir Ercan Van, was shown on film handcuffed and being bundled into the back of a van.

Mr Erdogan is likely to find it easier to create an executive presidency, with all power concentrated in his hands, given that his victorious aura, following the failure of the coup, has enhanced his popular support. Though Turks are deeply divided between his supporters and opponents, few want to see him replaced by a military junta. “He expanded his political base by increased nationalist support after he abandoned a peace process with the Kurds after the 7 June general election last year,” said a political observer. “He has even more support now.”

U.S. and EU officials have called on Turkey’s government to respect the rule of law amid the purge of state institutions in the wake of the attempted coup.

As regards the coup plotters, it looks likely that only the movement led by the U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen would have had the connections within the Turkish armed forces to organise such a widespread conspiracy – although Mr Gulen and his supporters have denied any involvement. This coup may not have been as big as the Government now says it was in order to justify its crack down on all its opponents, but it was still impressively large and was not far from succeeding from seizing power for a few hours on 15 July.

An explanation may be that the Gulenists, when closely allied to Mr Erdogan and the AKP between 2006 and 2012, played a leading role in helping him defang the armed forces. They ruthlessly led a witch hunt inside the army with hundreds of officers removed or arrested accused of plotting a coup which probably never existed. The Gulenists appear to have used the opportunity to replace the ousted officers with their own sympathisers who were activated last Friday night to launch a coup of their own.

Erdoğan doesn’t rule out reviving death penalty for coup soldiers

By Patrick Kingsley in Istanbul and Jennifer Rankin in Brussels, The Guardian, July 19, 2016

The Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, has refused to rule out executing the ringleaders of last week’s failed coup, despite repeated warnings from western leaders who said the use of the death penalty would end Turkish hopes of joining the European Union.

“The people have the opinion that these terrorists should be killed,” Erdoğan said in interview for CNN on Monday night. “Why should I keep them and feed them in prisons for years to come? That’s what the people say.” Erdoğan said the final decision lay with parliament and that “as the president, I will approve any decision to come out of the parliament”.

Some fear that Erdoğan may be using the backlash against the plot’s architects as a smokescreen for a wider crackdown on other political opponents.

Erdoğan’s allies said measures taken by the government were a necessary and justified response to a coup attempt that had almost toppled an elected administration, left the parliament badly damaged and killed hundreds of civilians. Erdoğan was nevertheless accused of mission creep, with almost 9,000 policemen, 30 regional governors and more than 50 senior civil servants dismissed since Friday and more than 7,500 people arrested.

The detainees included more than 6,000 soldiers and 103 generals and admirals – just under a third of the military’s high command. Arrest warrants were still out for 2,700 judges, and all three million Turkish civil servants have been given travel bans amid government fears that some plotters within the deep state might attempt to flee. One journalist was listed for arrest, and by some estimates, 20 news websites critical of the government have been shut down.

Responding to the widening crackdown, the U.S. secretary of state, John Kerry, urged the Turkish government to “uphold the highest standards of respect for the nation’s democratic institutions and the rule of law. We will certainly support bringing the perpetrators of the coup to justice, but we also caution against a reach that goes well beyond that.”

Speaking in Brussels, where he met European foreign ministers including the UK’s new foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, Kerry said Turkey would have to provide evidence that “withstands scrutiny” if it requested the extradition of the cleric Fethullah Gülen, who resides in the United States and whom Erdoğan has blamed for the attempted coup.

As Turkish authorities consider restoring the death penalty – outlawed in 2004 – in response to the coup attempt, the EU foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, stressed that such a move would rule out EU membership. “No country can become an EU member state if it introduces the death penalty,” she said, noting that Turkey was a member of the Council of Europe and a signatory to the European convention on human rights, which bans capital punishment. [See note below.]

A spokeman for German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the EU was a “community of values, therefore the institution of the death penalty can only mean that such a country could not be a member. We categorically reject the death penalty and an institution of the death penalty would mean an end to the negotiations to join the EU.” he said.

A statement from EU foreign ministers called for “the full observance of Turkey’s constitutional order”, but missing was any mention of a refugee pact struck between Turkey and the EU this year. That agreement hinges on visa-free access for Turks to Europe’s 26-country passport-free zone, but has run into trouble as Erdoğan has refused to change Turkey’s anti-terror laws, a key condition of joining the EU.

The French foreign minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault, said Turkey was a “strategic partner” but had to respect fundamental liberties. “After the failure of the attempted military coup, the response must not be less democracy in Turkey but more democracy,” he said.

The NATO secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, in an unusually sharply worded statement, said it was “essential for Turkey, like all other allies, to ensure full respect for democracy and its institutions, the constitutional order, the rule of law and fundamental freedoms”.

While Erdoğan and his allies have amplified the sense of an authoritarian crackdown by publicly using language such as “purge” and “cleansing” to describe the government reaction, Turkish officials on Monday expressed frustration at Western criticism. They view the crackdown as a legitimate response.

One Turkish official said those arrested or fired either were clearly involved in the coup or had known ties with those who led it. “I understand that the numbers seem excessive, but right now this is about preventing the next wave of attacks against civilians and government buildings,” he said. “Obviously, the courts will consider evidence and reach their verdicts.”

He added: “I am starting to feel that we are ignoring the fact that the parliament was hit 11 times by hijacked F16s.”

Elsewhere in Turkey, some argued that the crackdown was expanding far beyond its acceptable remit. Among Turkish journalists, who were already the subject of a backlash prior to the coup attempt, there were rumours of an imminent series of arrests. At least one arrest warrant was formally issued – for Haberdar’s Ankara correspondent, Arzu Yıldız.

In an online statement, Yıldız said she had no connection to the coup attempt. “I do not even know the names of these soldiers and generals,” she wrote.

Andrew Finkel, the co-founder of P24, an initiative that supports independent Turkish media, said the pressure on journalists had “obviously gone up a notch since the [failed] coup”.

He added: “It’s basically because they can. There are all these dissident news sites that have been very critical of the government, and they want to shut them.”

Other analysts were less certain about the scope of the crackdown. Aslı Aydıntaşbaş, Turkey analyst at the European Council on Foreign Relations and a former columnist in the Turkish media, said: “They’re paranoid and they’re cracking down on people they think were affiliated with Gülenists. But I don’t think they’re going to go after left wing unionists that traditionally oppose AKP [Erdogan’s party], or Kurds.”

Aydıntaşbaş added: “That’s not to say that the crackdown is based on the rule of law, but as widespread as it looks, I think it is still linked to people who are presumed to be Gülen-affiliated.”

Life has continued relatively normally in Turkey since Saturday morning, but the country is still on edge. The government has called for its supporters to remain in the streets in a show of strength to deter conspirators who remain at large. Searches for suspects continued in several cities, and on Monday a man was killed outside an Ankara courthouse after reportedly firing on security forces. In Istanbul, the deputy mayor of a central district was shot in his office.

Background note on death penalty in Turkey:
From Wikipedia: Law 4771 of 9 August 2002 (the 3rd Package for Harmonization with the European Union) abolished the death penalty for peacetime offences. Law 5218 of 14 July 2004 abolished the death penalty for all times. Turkey ratified Protocol No. 13 to the European Convention on Human Rights*, overseen by the Council of Europe, in February 2006.

From European Convention on Human Rights: Protocol 13 provides for the total abolition of the death penalty. Currently, all Council of Europe member states bar three have ratified Protocol 13. Armenia has signed but not ratified the protocol. Russia and Azerbaijan have not signed it.


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