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Turkey: The Undemocratic Democracy

 4 min read / 

Martin Luther King Jr. once said that “the ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people, but the silence over that by the good people.” In many ways, the situation in Turkey since July 15th has been just the opposite. The people have not just spoken, they roared.

Taking to the streets to oppose military forces, hundreds died for the ideal that democratic freedom may persevere. It is not currently known whether military forces acting against President Erdogan’s government were irreligious or backing the somewhat tenuous Gulen Islamic social movement. Either way, the violent military forces have been condemned by both opposition political parties and civilians alike. Since 1960 four Turkish governments were toppled by military forces. The people have grown weary of the lurking military presence and anti-religion power grabs enacted by generations of Turkish soldiers.

Winston Churchill once famously said that “democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.” Hence while Erdogan’s party, the AKP, had been accused of bribery, corruption and undemocratic practices (as well as violent suppression of past protests such as the ones in 2013), Turkish citizens still preferred it to the more authoritarian alternatives.

Walking Backwards

The irony now is that the democratically elected President Erdogan is throwing away the democratic ideals that his people sacrificed themselves to protect. He announced that “this uprising is a gift from God to us because this will be a reason to cleanse our army.” In reality, it has been more of a convenient excuse to declare a three-month state of emergency (recently extended to six months), allowing him time to fully cleanse his country of political rivals. Historically, these military coup d’etats have actually performed a necessary ‘check and balance’ on the government of the day. The pity of this 2016 attempted coup is that its failure will actually be a step away from true democracy.

It is not news that Erdogan has sought ways to extend his power with autocratic tendencies throughout his presidency. He currently wants a new constitution that will allow him to extend his executive power, and therefore he forced the resignation of Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu this year, for his scepticism towards his proposal. Since 15th July, 60,000 people have been rounded up by the AKP in what can only be described as a purge. This included 100 military generals, 6,000 soldiers and 3,000 judges. Even more nebulous is the roundup of many academics, civil servants and teachers, whose connection to the military coup cannot be clearly established. “It is essentially not a struggle about ideology because [Erdogan and Gulen’s] ideology is so similar. Both want to turn Turkey into a more conservative Islamised society,” said one unnamed Turkish analyst. This further reinforces the notion that Erdogan is trying to establish a dominant-party status for the AKP by removing potential threats to their grasp on power.

The Bright Side

Is there potentially a silver lining? Erdogan’s attack on the military’s strength might ensure greater accountability within the government. Since the termination of the military control over Nigeria’s government and policy in the 1980s/90s, the country has seen a drastic increase in the number and scope of social movements. This movement towards a ‘social movement society’ can be seen as a positive, whereby a protest becomes a perpetual feature of modern life, allowing a more civil and democratic society to function. This is, however, conditional on Turkish security not being severely threatened at a time when it faces potential Kurdish and jihadist attacks. The question is whether they can still defend themselves after the removal of so many key personnel. “We would not have such losses to the officer corps if we had fought a conventional war for eight years,” says Haldun Solmazturk, a former brigadier-general.

60,000 people have been arrested
in Turkey so far

The coup d’etat could have been a catalyst for the reunification of a divided nation, as has been the result in previous coup d’etats in Turkey. Indeed, Turkey was founded off the back of Ataturk’s successful coup d’etat. There could have been greater press freedom, greater control of military forces, and greater efforts to rekindle peace talks with the Kurds. Instead, it has taken a massive backwards step with respect to Western Democracy.

Turkey is the latest scene in what has been a series of similar events. First Russia invaded Ukraine in 2014, and then Britain left the European Union in 2016, and now the coup d’etat has caused chaos in a geographically strategic country linking the West and East. With November just around the corner, we should all fear that voters may well decide to Make America Great Again.

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