Turkey after the coup attempt: Normalisation or deeper chaos?

July 31, 2016

Following the bloody coup attempt, Turkey has been dragged into a fierce political storm. While speculation remains as to who was at the centre of the putsch, the aftershocks leave little doubt about the magnitude of the countermoves led by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who now seems to have a stronger grip on the country.

His chief of staff declared that nearly 9,000 officers and soldiers were arrested; at least 125 generals were in custody. There are 347 generals in the Turkish Army, NATO’s second largest military force.

According to the Interior Ministry, 15,900 people were arrested and 8,113 of them were detained indefinitely. Those who have been purged from the state apparatus number more than 75,000.

There is no doubt that the country, with an economy in shatters, is at an existential turning point, even its tradi­tional position as part of many Western institutions — NATO and the European Court of Human Rights, etc. — are in question.

All these issues await certainly a clarity over a fundamental question: Will the putsch lead to a normalisation long overdue or a further drift into instability and authoritarian rule? How will the emergency rule affect the political diversity and will the Kurdish issue be tackled brutally or democratically? How will Turkey’s deeply crippled consti­tutional order be handled?

A silver lining in the midst of the hurricane is that all opposi­tion parties, media and non-gov­ernment organisations stood behind the government, con­demning the coup and its plot­ters. The expectations had been that the dark night of July 15th would begin to heal the wounds and unite all the parties around democratic values.

A key point was the hand of Erdogan extended to his foes in the opposition. But when he invited the leaders to talk, one point was enough to raise new questions. Erdogan chose to meet, at his palace, only the leaders of the main opposition, Kemalist Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the ultra-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP). The third largest elected force in parliament, the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), was excluded from the “democracy dialogue”.

No wonder, then, that HDP leader Selahattin Demirtas reacted harshly. “The exclusion of us means that the result of the coup attempt is not really grasped,” he said. “’HDP is the key to democracy. If they think that they can solve the problems by a Turkish national front, well, it’s all up to them.”

What Demirtas points out is yet another sign that the issue of distrust of Erdogan, whom observers at home and abroad see as mainly responsible for the turmoil and its bloody climax marking the past five years, will remain part of the agenda.

The Kurdish issue is only part of the problems of the mismanage­ment and the series of institu­tional collapses within the state. The coup attempt made it clear that the self-defence mechanisms of the frail democratic order had failed and left NATO’s second largest force at its most vulnerable in the most delicate of times. How the damage repair will be man­aged remains an open-ended issue.

It is clear that Erdogan pulls all the strings. He can launch a “revival of democracy” wave or, as many experienced observers fear, utilise the situation to cement an autocratic rule that will place Turkey among Central Asian dictatorships.

Emergency rule is a powerful instrument and all the signs so far point to the latter.

In the immediate aftermath of the putsch, the Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) launched a massive purge within the judiciary coupled with a law subordinating the high judges to the political power; attacked the media with mass arrests and bans; encouraged a witch hunt indis­criminately targeting the opposi­tion; brought back the issue of death penalty to the agenda; suspended the European Human Rights Mechanism; and a compre­hensive reorganisation within the mainly secular army is under way.

The fact that all this is done without any minimum inclusion of the opposition raises serious eyebrows.

It may be that the AKP and its voter base may have stood out as victorious out of the putsch, the real question is whether the same can be said about the entire country and its diverse, dynamic social fabric.

If normalisation is not pushed by the democratic opposition strongly enough, the risk is that large swaths of Turkish society will see themselves taken hostage.

This is what the historic watershed, pushed by the plot­ters, means.