Our correspondent

Failed “coup” in Turkey only strengthens President Erdogan’s grip on power

Our correspondent

Tayfun Hatipoğlu writes:

The failed “coup” in Turkey has significantly bolstered the position of President Erdogan’s regime, giving him an excuse to go even further in repressing his critics. The farcical coup was virtually tailor-made to help President Erdogan’s AK Party regime further strengthen its power, while simultaneously giving it a claim to be “defenders of democracy”. No wonder Erdogan greeted the coup as a “gift from god”.

Far-fetched as it may seem to think that this coup was actually stage-managed by the regime, suspicions are raised by the fact that neither the President, the Prime Minister nor any of his ministers were arrested or injured, or any government buildings occupied. Nor, by chance, was there any damage done to Erdogan’s beloved new Presidential Palace, the prime symbol of his overweening ego. And what kind of coup would allow the President to issue a video appeal online as soon as events began to unfold, fire on his hotel after he had left it, and then allow him to fly unhindered a few hours later into Istanbul’s Ataturk airport to a waiting crowd of his supporters?

Indeed, how was it possible that the government would immediately have a list of 2700 judges (no less!) ready for arrest and prosecution within hours of a coup which they claim came as a complete surprise? And what in any case could these judges have to do with a military coup attempt?

Last but not least, how could Erdogan so quickly blame his religious rival, Fetullah Gulen, for organising the coup before any military participants were interviewed or the coup plot investigated?

Meanwhile, Gulen, from his compound far away in Pennsylvania, denied he had anything to do with the coup and said that democracy cannot be achieved through military action, rejecting all military interventions in principle. “It could be anything,” Gulen told journalists, including a staged coup intended to justify further repression. “My position on democracy is really clear. Any attempts to overthrow the country is a betrayal to our unity and is treason.” Gulen then went on to point out that he had personally suffered every time a coup had happened in Turkey.

Was it a Genuine Coup?
Despite all the appearances to the contrary, two things undermine the idea that this pantomime coup was a just put-up job organised by Erdogan in order to justify even more severe repression of his opponents.

The first was, of course, the casualties – 250 people dead and more than 1,400 injured. But then such considerations have not held back the regime before, as we saw by their false flag bombings in Suruc and Ankara last year which killed around 150 people and injured hundreds more. Or their decision to launch a civil war against the PKK accompanied by brutal tactics in the Kurdish areas which have seen thousands of deaths and injuries, and widespread devastation.

The second issue giving some credibility to the coup scenario was the statement issued by the participants and read out on TRT, the state TV channel. The rebel army faction announced that the aims of the coup were “to ensure and restore constitutional order, democracy, human rights and freedoms”. It denounced Erdogan’s increasingly non-secular and autocratic approach, highlighting the lawlessness of the regime which had “lost all legitimacy”. It then condemned the massive corruption and thievery of the government ministers; their control of the judges; their failures in the fight against terrorism; and their destruction of the secular nature of the state.

Erdogan would obviously not have wanted such a statement read out on television, the content of which may well become more popular as time goes on.

Coup Statement Gives A Clue to it Origin
The content of the statement issued by the military rebels strongly indicates that it would not have been issued by Gulen, the Islamic cleric who Erdogan accuses of organising the coup. Instead, it clearly represents the traditional pro-Ataturk ‘Kemalist’ standpoint which opposed the involvement of religion in politics. This was still the dominant tendency in the army and until recent years also the ideology of the rest of the state. In fact, the statement read out on television closely resembles Ataturk’s famous address to the Turkish youth. Furthermore, the coup plotters referred to themselves as the “Peace at Home Council”, which was obviously a quotation from Ataturk’s famous slogan “Peace At Home, Peace In the World”.

An Alternative Scenario
There is another possible explanation for this theatrical event, replete with pro-government crowds being called onto the streets after the coup had been suppressed and demonstrators clambering over abandoned tanks and beating up bewildered soldiers.

It is possible that there was a genuine anti-regime group inside the army looking to use force to bring down the government. And that this was just the sloppiest, most badly organised coup of modern times.

Yet, there is another possible explanation. That this was a genuine coup action plan that the regime came to know about in advance, and then allowed or even encouraged to take place, only to sabotage key aspects of the plan when it started to be put into operation. That would not only explain how ineffective the coup was and how easy it was for the regime to put it down, but also how prepared the government was with its retribution.

That said, at this point nothing is clear. Perhaps interviews with the participants and other facts will start to emerge that will cut through all the government propaganda.

In the meantime, one tactical mistake already made by Erdogan has been to demand the extradition of Gulen from America in order to stand trial in Turkey for organising the coup. This demand has ironically passed the initiative over to US authorities who have not turned down such a possibility but made it dependent on them first properly investigating whether there are genuine grounds for suspecting Gulen of being involved in the coup. If such an investigation finds no grounds for the charges against Gulen it will be a major propaganda blow for Erdogan, and the first international judgement on his claims against the “parallel state” which he has used in order to extend his power in the media and elsewhere.

Consequences of the “Coup”
Within hours of the failed “coup” nearly 200 top Turkish court officials were taken in custody including two members of the Constitutional Court, 140 members of the Supreme Court, and 48 members of the Council of State. Another 2500 judges have been arrested. Is it a coincidence that this clear out of the last relatively independent-minded judges comes just before many of the opposition members of parliament will face trial and expulsion from the parliament? Although Erdogan had already taken over control of the justice system, recent cases involving journalists and academics on trial for criticising the regime had demonstrated that there still remained a number of judges, especially in the top layer of the system who were not willing to carry out the repressive aims of the government. From now on, we can expect no such resistance.

The purge of the state will also be extended to other sectors. According to the Turkish Foreign Ministry 4000 soldiers have been detained and arrests will continue. This failed “coup” provides a golden opportunity for Erdogan to strengthen his position in the army, an area where he was still relatively weak.

Moreover, the last two day have seen around 8,000 police suspended from duty although just like the judges there seems little likelihood that they played any direct role in the coup.

In addition to a promise to “cleanse our army”, Erdogan has said that he will remove the “viruses” from all state institutions. This gives him a blank cheque to remove any civil servants who are not pro-government. Already hotlines exist in most departments for civil servants to inform on their colleagues. Meanwhile, the AK Parti octopus is spreading its tentacles into every section of public service and even into the non-governmental sector. No wonder that many critics of the regime are pointing to the similarities between the methods of Erdogan’s repression and that of Hitler’s. Perhaps the main distinction being that Hitler consolidated his power very quickly while Erdogan’s coup has been performed in “slow motion”.

Another twist to the screw has been President Erdogan’s new call to reintroduce the death penalty, a demand immediately taken up by his supporters.

Meanwhile, since the “coup” a flood of slickly produced videos are now appearing on Turkish television glorifying Erdogan and exploiting Islam to the max. In these videos, one can see Erdogan’s desire to be a latter day Caliph along Ottoman lines, laid out for all to see.

A Silver Lining
Just as some dark clouds have a silver lining, there are a few positive aspects that can be drawn from last weekend’s dangerous development.

First off, this outbreak of resistance in the army is one more symbol of the discontent of large sections of the public at the growing dictatorship being exercised by President Erdogan. Of course, the regime still retains the support of a solid core of the poorer and more religious sections of the population, a support buttressed by its control of the media and the cynical use of patriotic propaganda for its manufactured civil war against the Kurdish PKK.

The government is also favoured by the economy which despite the increasingly unequal distribution of wealth in the country, continues to grow at 3-4% per year. Part of the reason for this is government pump priming through mega projects – bridges, tunnels, new airports etc. Incredibly, Turkey currently accounts for 40% of all mega projects in the world which apart from boosting economic activity also provides the regime with plenty of opportunities for corruption. Corruption that not only benefits government ministers and their ‘kept’ businessmen, but also feeds the ravenous welfare demands of the ten million member AK Party movement. Moreover, this year’s big increase in pensions and the minimum wage have helped maintain support among poorer layers.

But this favourable situation will not last as Turkey is hit by the coming global economic storms.

No Solution in the Military
The collapse of this “coup” is one more defeat for the idea of military intervention in Turkish political life, something that has repeatedly cursed it since 1960. There is no solution down the military road. We don’t need a group of soldiers to set themselves up as our “saviours”. What we need is for the people themselves to defeat the oppression of the current regime.

While this may seem unlikely in the current period, a day will come when this regime will fall either by it its own contradictions or by a collapse in support among its own supporters. Or probably by a combination of both.

Indeed, the image of masses of people resisting and defeating military action so championed now by the regime may yet come to haunt Erdogan as he is inevitably forced to face the growing discontent of the population.

[This article was first published yesterday on the Socialist Network].