It has now been almost three months since the failed coup in Turkey. The events of July 15 were predictable, but they nevertheless mark a watershed in modern Turkish history. Still, it would be a mistake to view the coup as a single event. Turkey actually experienced two coups, but it will be the third and coming coup which could be the most violent and might very well cost Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan his life.
The U.S. and Turkey have faced difficult days before, such as after Turkey’s 1974 invasion of Cyprus and the 2003 American invasion of Iraq, yet American and Turkish leaders managed to find their way back. This time will be different. The failed coup was a clarifying moment. Ankara and Washington don’t share values or interests.
The purge was in the making well before the attempted coup, but took a massive shape, unprecedented in entire history of the Turkish Republic. The scale and nature of post-coup purge gives legitimate suspicion for critics that President Erdogan is not solely after coup plotters, but for anyone he deems non-loyalist. As the coup plot was falling apart, Erdogan described the putsch as a “gift from God” to cleanse the army.
A Turkish professor who was my father’s colleague and frequently visited our house is now incapable of counting right amount of money to pay for a bottle of water at a prison canteen. He is traumatized as a result of days of harsh treatment during the interrogation. He is sharing a prison cell with my father, longtime friends, in western Turkey.
More troubling is evidence emerging that his government is now using the attempted coup as a pretext to round up all manner of troublesome opponents, not just the Gulenists. It is also damaging the fabric of Turkish society and undermining its institutions, including the security forces. That is a dangerous move in a country whose immune system is already weakened by jihadism and which is battling armed opponents on several fronts.
Journalists have been in Mr. Erdogan’s crosshairs, and his campaign is pushing into the digital universe, too. Turkey is pressing Twitter to silence journalists, and Twitter must resist more vigorously. Twitter is a powerful force for free expression. “The tweets must flow,” the company likes to say. But they don’t always flow, as freedom of speech and democracy are in retreat around the globe.
In May 2009, I received an award at the International Turkish Olympiad. The event was sponsored and organized by members of the Hizmet movement and most of the performers were students of Hizmet schools abroad. When I, together with a handful of other recipients, mounted the stage to accept our awards, there to shake our hands was the smiling then prime minister of Turkey, Recep Tayyib Erdoğan.
Turkey’s relations with African countries have been strained following demands by the Turkish government to close Gulenist schools in Sudan, Nigeria, and Somalia. After the attempted coup in Turkey on July 15, which the Turkish government has accused Gulen of masterminding, Turkey’s ambassador to Nigeria called for 17 Gulenist schools in the country to be closed.
The ongoing purge leaves no room for doubt that the Turkish government is ready to go to any lengths to eliminate the Gülen movement. The current rise in homegrown Islamist radicalization is another sign that Turkey’s social fabric is undergoing a noxious change. The major effect of this change has been damage to the traditional mainstream understanding of Islam in Turkey.
At separate meetings between President Obama, US Vice president Biden and President Erdogan of Turkey, the American justice system has technically made it very difficult and imposable for the unlawful demands of Erdogan to be met. However, the options available to Erdogan are number one, to propose and sponsor amendments at the US parliament, number two, is to provide evidences to his claims against Gulen.
The vastness and persistence of the purge of the civil service, arrests of journalists, and closure of media outlets—many seemingly having nothing whatsoever to do with the exiled Turkish preacher Fethullah Gülen or his Gülenist movement that the Turkish government blames for the coup attempt.
Yes, at one time, there had been rapprochement and mutual support, but reality and history show that such an alliance has long been overstated. The truth is, Erdoğan and Gülen only came together when Erdoğan’s stated goals reflected deeply held beliefs by Gülen. As is often the case, perception is mistaken for reality. Gülen is not Erdoğan’s biggest threat, nor was he his chief ally.
Erdogan is establishing the regime he wants even if the constitution is not amended, a regime that ensures complete loyalty, whether out of support for him or out of fear he is instilling in tens of thousands of government officials, hundreds of thousands of teachers, thousands of judges and prosecutors and army officers. The shakeup in the education system is perhaps the most significant, even more than in the justice system or the army.