Outmanoeuvred: The troops who rose against the authoritarian government of Turkish President, Tayyip Erdogan failed to follow the first rule of regime change by force: "When you strike at a king, you must kill him." Erdogan alive was not only able to call his followers into the streets, but to persuade those military units not involved in the coup d'état to rally to his defence. The Islamisation of Kemal Ataturk's secular republic can now proceed apace.
WHEN YOU STRIKE AT A KING, you must kill him. This, the first and most important rule of regime change by force, is the rule which the military units rebelling against Turkish President, Tayyip Erdogan, failed to follow. It was their biggest, but very far from their only, mistake. Observing the unfolding debacle through the all-seeing eyes of CNN, an old CIA hand informed viewers that it had all the appearance of a “colonels’ coup” – not one planned and executed by those at the summit of the military hierarchy. The relative ease with which civilian and military forces loyal to the President crushed the uprising proved him right.
The collapse of this attempted coup d’état has been met with many sighs of relief in Western capitals. Had it succeeded, President Barack Obama, in particular, would have faced an extremely difficult choice. To condemn the overthrow of the democratically-elected government of a Nato ally; or, to endorse the constitutionally sanctioned role of the Turkish military as the secular Turkish Republic’s ultimate protectors. Because it was precisely in this guise that the soldiers who rose against Erdogan presented themselves. As the last, desperate hope of all those Turks who still cling to the legacy of Mustapha Kemal – the father of the modern Turkish state.
That it was colonels, and not generals, who ordered their men on to the streets, says much about the state of Turkey. Those who might have struck a more telling blow in the name of the republic, the nation’s most senior military officers, had long ago been arrested under trumped-up charges by Erdogan’s followers, dismissed from their posts and thrown into prison. A similar fate befell the nation’s senior judges and police officers. In the slow-motion coup Erdogan and his Islamist political allies have been carrying out since coming to power 2003, they have been careful to ensure that the secular state they were striking down would never again rise to its feet.
Those who have been issuing congratulatory statements to the Erdogan regime, should ponder the meaning of its first acts upon reclaiming the levers of power. Yes, thousands of rebel troops and their officers have been detained. That is to be expected. But so, too, have upwards of twenty thousand judges, prosecutors and policemen. Is that the response of a democratic government? No. It is the response of a tyrant who described the failed coup attempt as “A gift from God.”
American and European diplomats have taken reassurance from the coup’s failure, citing the crucial role Turkey has been playing in combatting the terrorist Islamic State (IS). Shrewd observers of the Erdogan regime have, however, speculated that part of the motivation for the weekend coup attempt may have been senior army officers’ disgust at alleged behind-the-scenes cooperation between Erdogan and IS. After all, the terrorists’ arms had to come across, and their oil be carried over, somebody’s border.
Those same diplomats should also take another look at the “democratic” crowds who, at Erdogan’s bidding, poured on to the streets of Ankara and Istanbul to confront the rebel troops.
Did they shout: “Long live the Turkish Republic!” Or, “Long live Turkey’s secular democracy!” No. The moustachioed men (there were no women in evidence) shouted “Allahu ekber!” – “God is great!”, and declaimed the shahadah: “There is no god but God – and Muhammad is his prophet!”
Secular Turks disdain the facial hair of Erdogan’s followers – although, with the backbone of their judiciary broken, and the last of their military protectors in detention, it might be wise for secular Turkish men to put away their razors, and for secular Turkish women to cover their heads.
Is this the true import of Erdogan’s jubilant description of the failed coup as a gift from God? Does he now feel justified in speeding-up his party’s progress towards the creation of a Sunni Islamic Republic in Turkey? A fanatical religious regime to rival the Shia Islamic Republic of Iran? And how much in common would such a republic have with the theocratic extremism of the Sunni Saudi Kingdom? Between these two powerhouses of radical Islam would stand only Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Jordan – and Israel. Of those five states, only Israel possesses the military strength to defend its borders.
Article 2 of the Turkish constitution states: “The Republic of Turkey is a democratic, secular and social state governed by the rule of law”. This reiterates the principle contained in the document’s preamble that: “there shall be no interference whatsoever by sacred religious feelings in state affairs and politics”.
The actions of the Erdogan regime, both before and after the weekend’s abortive coup, make it clear that constitutional government in Turkey has become a fiction. The eternal vigilance Kemal Ataturk enjoined upon Turkey’s soldiers has failed. Europe will soon have an Islamic Republic at its southern gate.
This essay was originally posted on Stuff on Monday, 18 July 2016.
Europe may have an Islamist republic at its gates, but not one in its midst. Turkey will never become part of the EU.
Erdogan must be manufacturing domestic enemies on an industrial scale. He is going to have to set up a despotic North Korea type power structure in double quick time. Poor Turkey.
Cheers David J S
Friend of mine hitchhiked around the general Middle East area plus – India/Pakistan Afghanistan Iran just before it turned to custard. He always claimed that outside of the major cities, it was a little bit like an Islamic version of Alabama. It's quite possibly a mistake to think that secularism has taken hold anywhere but major cities to be honest. And while it might be sad that secular parties are losing ground, it may well not be what the majority of the people want. And that's democracy. Though I must say Erdogan is less of a Democrat and more of a Putin.
Dmitri is onto it in a savagely funny way. Erdogan played with the wrong "friends" and got bailed out by the clever Turks. He owes them big time.
"Europe may have an Islamist republic at its gates, but not one in its midst. Turkey will never become part of the EU."
If Turkey had gained admission a decade ago the EU wouldn't have an Islamic republic at its boarder now.
So what's wrong with an Islamic state Chris Trotter? Aren't you being Islamophobic? Are you saying Islam is only o.k in small doses (or de-sexed)? In Aoteroa we celebrate diversity.
Whilst trying not to sound Trump like we do appear to be seeing the birth of a likely hard line islamist state out of what was a relatively moderate islamic influenced state. Erdogan has been busy gathering power to himself over a decade or so, so should we be surprised?
The irony is that it is arguable that the army in previous times prevented the effective take over of the state by hard line Islam, non-democratically by the army of course.
This leaves the EU in an insidious position. Cosy up to Erdogan to try and control the migration problem and to minimise Russian ambitions or follow your moral compass. My pick is that it will go the former. NATO has a similar problem.
I await the brutality and suppression of Turks that goes hand in hand with such a regime. With effective control of media, police, government, army and judiciary we can expect Erdogan to successfully manage the public face of his burgeoning dictatorship for quite some time.
This also will make sorting out the mess that is IS, Syria, Kurds etc even less likely as Erdogan plays everybody off against each other to protect his power base.
It's been clear for some time that Turkey has been heading down a bad path.
Goodbye the Turkey we knew.
That was interesting Chris; I had missed what was behind the Coup in Turkey. These days I find our news services distasteful (I don't want to hear Hoskings opinions, or DuPreisse-Allen's, nor wet behind the ears Jack Tame's and I no longer read a daily) so I pick the eyes out of news on the internet in a disorganised fashion.
@ JH 09:18
There's no scope for diversity in an islamic state.
D J S
Due to the incompetency of this coup, it will certainly gift Erdogan's islamic Ottoman revival. Kemal saw clearly the retarded nature of islam "I will not have Turkey ruled by the theology of an immoral Arab"
Erdogan obviously wants that state of affairs. His support for ISIS and two faced disembling towards the world follows from his creed.
In 1922, 13,000 kiwis volunteered their services to have another crack at Kemal over the Dardanelles, but another war was averted by the powers giving him what he wanted. He may have been respected but he wasn't all that liked in NZ.
Its time to draw a line under the mawkish Gallipoli nostalgia between NZ and the current Turkey and tell their ambassador this current bum has neither respect nor affection.
There are interesting and entirely negative parallels between Turkey and Russia.
Both lost their empires and are currently now suffering from people in charge who want that back or are at least excessively nostalgic for what has gone. So both think they deserve a bigger place on the world stage, although they do not of course, and will not get it. The opposite is more likely, i.e. continuing and accelerating decline.
Both have become undemocratic in the hands of nasty little fascist leaders, one a very conservative faux Christian revivalist and the other another awful Sunni Islamist from that God forsaken Saudi influenced and backwards looking sect.
So both represent a serious failure of human progress and they are now enemies again. One supports the Shias and secularists of Syria and the other the murderous Sunnis which IS are the current worst example of.
So Europe should move to secure its borders with both as it is quite likely now we will before long see war escalate in the ME and drag in Turkey & Saudi, Iran & Russia. A new Holy War that may even last 30 years like its predecessor which has parallels too..
Your objective wisdom is so reassuring. It appears that someone in the world knows the answers to today's turmoil. But why just limit the comments on 'serious failure of human progress' to Russia and Turkey?
Chris - I went into local Turkish takeaway for my ishkender and expressed sadness to the staff there about the recent coup. The comment was 'I have hardly slept for four nights.'
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