We went to sleep with images of soldiers shooting people in the main streets of Istanbul… and awakened to the view of civilians celebrating their control of those streets from the top of liberated tanks. What an amazing piece of history!
The initial response
What do you do when you hear about a military coup?
Many of us will think hard whether to run for a cover or take out to the streets. It could be the difference between life and death – or between (relative) freedom and long years of dictatorship.
As I was following the news last night, US secretary of state John Kerry was also hedging his bets. For him the question, of course, was different… Supporting the coup or defending Turkish democracy? What he said at the time (as reported in the LA Times) was “We’ve heard reports that others have heard. I don’t have any details at this point in time. I hope there will be stability and peace and continuity within Turkey, but I have nothing to add on what has transpired at this moment.” If some of the coup plotters understood this as a green light from the US they couldn’t be blamed.
I’ve also noticed that some Facebook friends were following the news about the coup with some hope… Apparently some people are so hostile to political Islam that they are ready to give up all the principles of democracy and human rights and didn’t learn anything from the disastrous experience of Al-Sisi in Egypt. So I wrote (in Arabic) “يسقط يسقط حكم العسكر!” – “Down, down with Military Rule!” – this famous slogan of the Arab Spring – and went to sleep.
Victory to the People
The failure of the coup is a big victory for the people – first and foremost because it is the people that went out to the street at night, unarmed in the face of tanks and helicopter gunships, that won their freedom and democracy again, in the price of hundreds of martyrs and thousands wounded. Many soldiers defied orders from their superiors and joined the people, another victory for humanity over the system.
It is also a victory for Turkey’s civil society, where all the political parties took a stand against the coup, and many members of Parliament hurried at night to occupy and defend it under the threat of tanks. This unity in defense of democracy is especially significant if we remember the sharp divisions within society and between the parties, not least Erdogan’s military oppression against the Kurds and his attempt to criminalize the HDP – the main party of the left.
The failure of the coup is an important optimistic note in the ongoing argument where does new technology, and especially new media, take us. On one side repressive regimes use intensively the new options for surveillance, intimidation and control. On the positive side, new media is giving new powers to the people to report, argue and publish at real time. After the coup plotters took control of the official media, Erdogan himself used social media to call the people to go out and take control of the streets.
We all learn by examples. The success of the Assad regime to cling to power by bombing his citizens and the success of the military coup in Egypt to topple the first democratically elected president are very dangerous precedents. Now the failure of the coup in Turkey will restrain the appetite of similar coup plotters elsewhere.
Who sent the army against the people?
The very fact that some foolish army officers dared to try a new coup is a symptom of the crisis that Turkey is going through.
Most people take a partisan view to the crisis, ignoring facts, contradictions and constant changes. Most people tend to be either “Pro Erdogan”, blaming everybody else with plotting against him, or “Anti Erdogan”, blaming him and his party for whatever they do or don’t do.
The biggest contradiction in modern Turkey is its forced control over the Kurdish people. Here comes a most overt example of Marx’s saying that people who oppress other people can’t be free.
For many decades the army that was deployed to fight the Kurdish “enemy within” was using its powers to terrorize Turkish society as a whole. The Islamists, as a popular current within society, were also defined as an enemy and oppressed. In his first ten years in power Erdogan knew that the main danger to his rule came from the dictatorial tendencies within the army.
At the same time Erdogan tried some limited steps toward peace with the Kurdish people, led by the PKK and Abdullah Ocalan. Ocalan even steered the PKK toward another program, putting democracy and pluralism for Turkey (and the region) as a whole at the center of the Kurd’s agenda instead of the quest for a fully independent Kurdistan.
But recently, mostly after the success of the HDP in the parliamentary election limited his AK’s power, Erdogan seems to turn most of his fury against the Kurds, probably believing that the army was already tamed. By deploying the army to oppress Turkey’s citizens Erdogan put in danger the hard won democratic achievements of the last years.
On the other side, much of the western propaganda against Erdogan is pure racism and Islamophobia…
One example is the issue of the Gulenists – supporters of US based Islamist Fethullah Gulen. They constitute a right-wing secret religious organization embedded in the security forces and the judiciary. They were an essential help for Erdogan in his first years in power, helping to avert a military coup, sometimes using not-very-democratic tricks. But when they turned against Erdogan, and he tried to purge their power, the western media was full of cries about the danger to democracy. What is more democratic after all: An elected president or a secret society manipulating the state apparatus?
Comprehensive and balanced judgment is also required for other aspects of Turkey’s policy and crisis.
Erdogan is not a socialist, but his “nationalistic” capitalist policy to steer the economy away from servitude to the Western multi-nationals and toward more internal development and relations with 3rd world countries led to fast economic development.
Another hot and controversial issue is Erdogan’s new normalization of relations with Israel. While we call for complete boycott of the Apartheid state, there is still a lot of difference between Erdogan that tries to get some alleviation of the siege for the people of Gaza and others that take part and enhance the siege.
The biggest issue, of course, is Turkey’s position toward the Arab Spring in general and the civil war in Syria in particular. Each of Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon, absorb much more Syrian refugees, and is paying much higher price for the Syrian conflict, than all of rich Europe put together, without much less xenophobic uproar. Erdogan’s Islamic roots put him in a position to support the Syrian’s people struggle for freedom, but his enmity to the Kurdish people is an imminent obstacle.
While we celebrate the failure of the coup, we still have a hard struggle ahead to solve the underlying problems. The defense and enhancement of true democracy in Turkey and the region are not a one-night affair but a prolonged historic task. It requires every one of us to go beyond his religious (or secular), ethnic or political tribe and form a new type of pluralistic society.