ISTANBUL: Turkey sought to assure its citizens and the outside world on Thursday that there would be no return to the deep repression of the past, as the country’s parliament approved a three-month state of emergency declared by President Reccep Tayyip Erdogan five days after a coup attempt that could have cost him his life.
After parliament’s approval of the decision, the cabinet will have the power to issue decrees that have the force of law.
Deputy Prime Minister Mehmet Simsek took to television, Twitter and news conferences in a bid to calm nervous financial markets and dispel comparisons with the past.
“The state of emergency in Turkey won’t include restrictions on movement, gatherings and free press etc. It isn’t martial law of 1990s,” he wrote on Twitter. “I’m confident Turkey will come out of this with much stronger democracy, better functioning market economy & enhanced investment climate.”
However, another deputy prime minister, Numan Kurtulmus, was quoted by broadcaster NTV as saying that Turkey would invoke its right to suspend its obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights.
The president’s immediate concern is to ensure he is never again caught off guard. In a comment that suggests a massive intelligence failure, he has said he only became aware of the coup as it got under way. When commandos attacked the Marmaris holiday hotel he was staying in, Mr Erdogan had only just left. “Had I stayed 10 or 15 minutes extra there I would have been killed or I would have been taken,” he later told CNN.
Senior ministers also feared for their lives. Reports circulating in the Turkish media say that when ministers gathered in Istanbul as the coup unfolded, they openly discussed the likelihood that, before the night was out, they could be killed.
Their fears help explain the scale of the government’s crackdown against suspected opponents. According to Turkish media reports 6,000 military personnel, including 103 generals and admirals, have been detained. As many as 7,850 police personnel, 2,745 judges and 1,500 staff in the finance ministry have been fired. At least 15,200 teachers in state schools have been suspended and 21,000 private teachers have had their licences revoked. And in a move that has shocked many in Turkey’s elite, 1,577 university deans have been forced to resign.
Having survived the coup, President Erdogan now seems unassailable. He has described the coup as a “gift from God” in that it has helped him identify his opponents. Few now dare openly criticise the president for fear of being branded a coup sympathiser.
It is almost universally assumed in Turkey that the coup was ordered by Pennsylvania-based exiled cleric Fethullah Gulen, something he strongly denies. Once allies, Mr Erdogan and Mr Gulen have subsequently fallen out. Mr Gulen’s years in the United States have taught him how to pitch his “moderate” Islamism in a way the West finds palatable. And over the past four decades his network of high-quality schools and colleges in Turkey has enabled him to place loyalists throughout the military and bureaucracy.
Many Erdogan supporters fully support purging the ‘Gulenists’. “We are talking about a movement that has schools and hospitals… at the top level they are criminals because they are spreading the word of Fethullah Gulen,” said 30-year-old Yavuz Yigit, an activist of the ruling party AKP who wants to see prosecutions. Despite knowing some Gulenists, 22-year-old comparative literature student Samarnur Pekkbnbir agrees: “If I have a friend who teaches at a school and activates his or her students to work against the government then, yes, they should be put on trial.”
Such views are not restricted to AKP supporters. The coup plotters lost all public support the moment they fired on civilians. Official figures state that as well as 24 putschists killed during the coup, 173 civilians, 43 police officers and 5 soldiers lost their lives.
Catching the mood of public anger, President Erdogan has said he will consider reinstating the death penalty to deal with the plotters: “Why should I keep them and feed them in prisons, for years to come?” he asked.
Turkey is demanding Mr Gulen’s extradition from the US and has made it clear it will not look kindly on a refusal by Washington to send him back. “We will present them with more evidence than they could possibly want,” said Prime Minister Binali Yildirim. “But we want to ask our American friends, on the 11 September when the twin towers were brought down, when you were looking for terrorists, did you demand evidence?”
When Mr Erdogan first came to power in 2003, many hoped he would reconcile democracy and Islamism. In recent years he has been criticised as an increasingly autocratic ruler who has not only built himself a 1,150 roomed presidential palace but also shown little interest in civil liberties -- apart from those relating to the rights to Turkey’s more religiously-minded citizens to express their faith in public. But whatever Turkeys’ secularists and liberals say, Mr Erdogan has a formidable domestic political base.
“We have gone through a revolution in slow motion and those who were never enfranchised in this country have found life was better for them,” said newspaper columnist Soli Ozel.
“They fear that if he (Erdogan) were to leave then they would lose everything they have gained.”
With the coup defeated, Mr Erdogan has indicated that, far from rewarding liberals who came onto the streets to defend his government, he will be confronting them. In his first big speech after the coup attempt, he spoke of reviving plans to redevelop Gezi Park whether his opponents “like it or not”. In 2013, protests against the development plans for the park, one of the few remaining green spaces in central Istanbul, turned into mass anti-government protests.
Even some of Mr Erdogan’s loyal supporters wonder if he is right to react to the attempted coup by going on the offensive on all political fronts. They argue that with a more conciliatory approach he could build on the wave of post-coup patriotism and create a broad consensus behind his government.
Published in Dawn, July 22nd, 2016