Since the July 15th coup attempt, Turkey has been struggling to deal with the aftershock. The death toll is huge and the number of injured is pronounced with thousands. The majority of the public have rejected the coup attempt and united in solidarity. In the wake of the attempted coup, Turkey announced a state of emergency and went after the Gülenists, followers of the self-exiled cleric Fethullah Gülen, as the coup plotters were accused of being linked to him. Concerned over the worrying reports of human rights violations, the US and the EU were mostly preoccupied with the restrictions of freedom of expression and urged to respect the rule of law. As a response, Ankara blamed the West for failing to understand the severity of the situation.
Let’s go back to that date. On the night of June 15th, in the length of just a couple of hours, Turkey survived a coup attempt organized by a group from within the country's military. It was as the clocks had ran backwards and we were in the middle of a military coup d’état in the 1980s. Tanks were on the streets, Bosporus Bridge had been blocked by army units, the entrance to Atatürk airport in Istanbul was blocked by tanks as well, and military jets were flying low with their scary voices. TRT, the state TV station, was broadcasting a statement from the coup leaders declaring nationwide martial law and urged everyone to go home.
We were following the events with anxiety but mostly with disbelief. All the process was too bizarre from the very beginning. Turkey have witnessed many military coups in the past, we have experience on this issue. Military had a traditional guardian role of democracy and secularism, and had previously intervened to remove governments. But this one was different in many ways. First, this coup could not have been carried out by Kemalist officers as they had no power as before. Second, during military coups, we usually learn about it when we wake up in the morning. But this attempt started in the middle of a busy Friday night, at 22.00. Third, the first pictures released showed the soldiers on the bridge; very young, inexperienced without any credibility for this grandiose attempt. Forth, the military was not unified in this attempt. Finally, and most importantly, the coup plotters did not have the backing of the Turkish public.
Moreover, we are not in the 1980s any more. It is very difficult to control the narrative with numerous TV stations and the social media. While they were broadcasting their announcement on TRT, it just took President Erdoğan to connect to CNNTürk via FaceTime to urge the public to take to the streets and to revolt against the coup attempt. Hundreds of people took to the streets and started disarming soldiers. However, while the parliament was bombed, everyone in Turkey watched this violent process with horror.
June 15th is a milestone in the republican history. Turkey still has many problems, but a military coup is not the desired solution. Turkey had already witnessed many coups and from its own experience knows that no good can come of it. Turkey has entered a difficult new phase in its history and needed all the support it could get from its allies. But, to Ankara’s big disappointment, this was not the case.
The West perceived the failed coup attempt as another destabilizing factor that reinforces the already existing anxiety about the Middle East. Their orientalist instincts resurfaced and in their eyes, Turkey became another Middle Eastern country that needs West’s protection for modernization and democratization. They just choose to underestimate Turkey’s democratic and secular tradition, its economic and military power, that Turkey is a NATO member and a EU candidate suffering from the consequences of the Syrian war; refugee crisis and terrorism as much as France or Germany.
Brussels did not lose a moment to start its endless criticism and suggestions. The EU did not understand the severity of the situation and its possible consequences as worst as a civil war in the country. Everything has its own time. Without their clear support against the coup, their suggestions fell on deaf ears. They should have shown solidarity first and then criticize.
Turkish society is inclined toward conspiracy theories and the naked truth is sometimes not enough. The rumors that the US was behind the coup had risen at the same time. The already problematic relations between Turkey and the US are now stuck to the extradition of Gülen and it will probably be the main issue during Vice President Biden’s visit to Turkey on August 24th.
And then came the first meeting of Erdoğan with a foreign leader after the coup attempt. Erdoğan’s visit to St. Petersburg followed the support given by Russia and Iran in the immediate aftermath of the attempt. However, Turkey had already started a normalization process with Israel and Russia before the attempt. Erdoğan-Putin meeting should be seen as a reaction to the West’s lack of empathy and not as a possible shift of axis. In addition to that, Turkey does not have the luxury to break its ties with the West, with the instability it faces in its borders, the refugee crisis and the terrorist attacks. Let’s not forget that it was Turkey’s NATO membership that protected from a retaliation from Russia following the downing of its jet.
It has been more than a month since the failed coup attempt. We still don’t know accurately what was planned that night. While we try to make sense of all that had happened, we still get confused from the contradicting data available and the lack of credible answers. However, we can say with certainty that Turkey is not the Turkey it used to be, and it did not become the “new Turkey” that everybody was talking about. Turkey is in the middle of a transformation phase, that we still don’t know the outcome. Maximum effort should be made by the West to change their tone, to continue the dialogue and avoid feeding Ankara’s feeling of disappointment and abandonment. The EU has to remember the dynamism in the democratic and economic progress during the first years of AKP rule and should try to revive it again. While Turkey is in the process of a transformation it needs more and more the support, friendship, and assistance of the EU and the US in order to stay in the path of democracy. The cooperation of the West and Turkey is indispensable for the future of Turkey, Europe, and the region; as the instability in the Middle East feeds the threat of ISIS and results with the continuation of the war in Syria, terrorist attacks and the flow of refugees.
Karel Valansi 15 August 2016