On the 15th of July a coup was attempted in Turkey against president Erdoğan. It didn’t last long, however, as it was crushed the next day.
Erdoğan has been incredibly controversial internationally but also domestically given his islamist politics which is new to the Turkish Republic. Though the Turkish Ottoman Empire was devoutly Muslim the succeeding republic was founded as a secular-nationalist one by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. He emulated France by promoting a laïcité system. Erdoğan represents a complete break from the Kemalist past once infamously stating, “The mosques are our barracks, the domes our helmets, the minarets our bayonets and the faithful our soldiers.” He has allowed religious events in Hagia Sophia and several years ago went against the military by claiming members were part of some shadowy organization named after a mythical location in the Altay mountains[i] that was trying to take over the government, and thus were in need of purging.
Supposedly the Gülenist movement was a major part of this coup. The Gülenists are a moderate islamist organization that used to be in bed with Erdoğan but there has now been a split. Given how quickly this coup was put down I think it is fair to say that the Gülenists have lost whatever power they may have had. Erdoğan’s supporters came out yelling religious slogans and mosques called a jihad on plotters. Moderate Islam is dead.
The Turkish military has a history of becoming involved in government when it feels the civilians have failed to keep the state running properly. The last time was in 1997 when the islamist Welfare Party was forced out of government. In 1980 the Chief of the General Staff, Kenan Evren took over the country and though military rule ended a few years later, Evren remained president until 1989. Like a latter day Sulla Kenan Evren changed the constitution in order that it would restore order and save the republic. Secularism was naturally promoted but it was even extended, with abortion being legalised. Given its history for becoming involved in Turkish government and past conflicts with Erdoğan it isn’t hard to believe that the military launched this coup.
However, there are some questions concerning this coup. Why didn’t rebel jets down Erdoğan’s plane when they had the chance? Why didn’t plotters try to take over the media narrative? They left the media alone even after occupying several stations. Aftermath has seen 50,000+ people lose their jobs in the civil service, military, etc.[ii] so naturally many wonder if perhaps this coup was done on purpose by Erdoğan in order to increase his hold on power. Previously his leadership style had caused conflict with prime minister Davutoğlu who was basically forced to resign. His successor is an far more pliable.
Let us say that this was not some Erdoğan plot, then it was clearly poorly planned and executed. But even if it had succeeded what would have become of Turkey? As Duns Scotus has noted Kemalism has gone from authoritarian nationalist to being about democracy. More then that it has become the type of “democracy” we are so familiar with in the West, complete with support for feminism and homosexuality. The party of Atatürk, the Republican Peoples Party, has essentially become another run of the mill social democrat organization, but it now has competition from even more radical parties like the Peoples’ Democratic Party (which is openly against Turkish nationalism but supports Kurdish nationalism). Given the support for the current government and political Islam in general the success of the coup would only ever have been short lived.
Kemalism seems to have failed, giving way to more radical secular forces on the left and Islamist ones on the right. Secular Turkish nationalism is essentially snuffed out. In Turkey it is the Islamist element which is far and away the largest section of society and we can see this in the overwhelming support for Erdoğan, especially during this latest crisis. Atatürk and İnönü must be turning in their graves.
The French revolutionaries were unable to fully impose laïcité and it was not until the Third Republic that this was achieved. While the French took a while to become fully secularised it would seem that the Turks are not going to go through fully with this process at all.Part of this is due to the ruling religion as Islam has always been an aggressive and uncompromising faith.
The Roman republic naturally died and was replaced by empire. One wonders if secular Turkey will die and be replaced by an Islamist one as it was in the days of the Ottomans? If so, then the July 15th coup will prove to be yet another event which future historians can point to when discussing the nation’s transition back towards open state-sponsored religiosity. Evren’s rule will be much like Sulla’s in that it was a temporary brake.
I could care less for the progressive elements within contemporary Turkish secularism and indeed am indifferent to Turkey as a whole because – although it has an interesting history – it is a wholly foreign entity which I cannot relate with. That said the entrenchment of the Erdoğan regime and continued march of political Islam in that country bothers me in that this is a fellow NATO member. Erdoğan’s policy towards his southern neighbours, whose current conflicts he has helped aggravate, and saber rattling with Russia do not bode well for NATO so long as Turkey is allowed to remain within the organization. Better still than simply kicking Turkey out would be to end the organization completely.
[i]Many secular Turkish nationalists have fallen for Pan-Turkism because of their Turkic language. As such they see themselves as the ancestors of Central Asian peoples when according to genetic research they are the descendants of ancient Anatolians (mixed with Semites and Europeans) with little Central Asian influence.