The Day Freedom Died In Turkey
July 15th, 2016 will likely be remembered as the day of the last dead cat bounce of freedom and secularism in Turkey. It will likely be remembered as the day President Erdogan destroyed the last barriers standing in the way of his dream of transforming Turkey into a true Islamic Republic. It will likely be remembered as the day that the ghost of Kemel Ataturk was finally exorcised from the Turkish national psyche.
It is a truly regrettable development. Kemel can certainly be recognized as an imperfect historical figure. His direct complicity in the Armenian Genocide, and broader Turkish persecution of its Christian minorities is beyond dispute; it is beyond dispute to everyone that is except for the Turkish state itself which continues to deny the very existence of such atrocities, let alone accept accountability for them. That being said, for all his imperfections Kemel did put in place the foundations for the only truly secular and democratic nation state in the Middle East other than Israel. He aspired for Turkey to be a modern, Western facing society that (somewhat) embraced the values of pluralism, equality of the sexes and toleration. Just as the bad cannot be ignored for the sake of the good so too can the good not be ignored for the sake of the bad. For this last part alone, Kemel’s legacy must be lauded.
Kemel must also be recognized for accept the very fragile nature of that legacy; he knew that he could not live forever or expect that his successors could be trusted to preserve what he had built so he put in place the institutions necessary to do so. The cornerstone of this was to be the Turkish military, which would be the ultimate bastion of defence for secularism and the democratic process even if it meant overriding the popular will of the people at certain times. All this was done to guard against the threat embodied by Tayyip Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party, the threat of a popular Islamist political movement led by a dangerous demagogue undoing everything that had taken centuries to build.
With the defeat of the coup, this final defence against Erdogan’s ambitions has been removed. There is now nothing to stop him. Already he has shown every sign that he will take advantage of the opportunity that has been presented to him to crush whatever lingering obstacles might still remain. In the days that followed he has already sacked thousands of judges and arrested thousands more. Whatever lingering institutional independence there may be in the military or judiciary shall likely be removed, until both are mere puppets of his will staffed by loyalists to him and him alone. This represents the final defeat of the legacy Erdogan has spent his career dismantling, a figurative sowing of the fields of Carthage with salt.
Even more infuriating has been the response of the West to these events, which has universally been to condemn the initiators of the coup and to urge support for the current Turkish government. While openly supporting the overthrow of a so-called Western ally and NATO member might have been a step far too brazen to contemplate, particularly when the outcome of the coup was very much unknown, there is a middle ground between that and the course that was taken. Simply saying nothing would have been a perfectly legitimate response, and it would have been one that made the unspoken acknowledgement that while Erdogan may be a necessary evil an evil he still remains.
Let us speak the truth. Erdogan may indeed be a geopolitical necessity that must be tolerated in the name of realpolitik. That does not change what he is. While it is questionable whether he himself is an Islamist (his female family members all wear the hijab, but his daughters are both educated and the youngest actually seems to wield a degree of political influence in the government…two things a genuine fundamentalist would most likely not permit) the political movement he has created is, one that has no-Ottomon fantasies at that. He has been supportive of ISIS, was an ally of the Muslim Brotherhood during their brief reign in Egypt, and openly antagonistic to Israel. He has moved the headscarf ban on Turkish schools and openly mused on doing the same for the one in the national legislature. On both moral and strategic grounds, Erdogan is no friend of the West.
Such a reversion of a nation that until recently was one of the few genuine succes stories of a part of the world that so lacks them is unfortunate. It also is a sign of how enfeebled and impotent the West, and particularly America, has become to influencing the course of events rather than just reacting to them that what happened genuinely seemed to have blindsided governments across the globe. It is yet another sign of how volatile and chaotic the world we live in has become. The river Tiber is foaming with blood, and it shall likely only become more so as things progress.