I have just a few thoughts tonight as I decided to wait on writing this until I spent some time with a Turkish-American friend of mine who has been an American citizen about thirty years, married to an American woman, but who had served as a junior officer I the Turkish Army, and still has relatives in Anarka.
I have known a good number of Turks, most who were Turkish military due to my time in the military working with NATO. I have always held the Turks in good regard and had the distinct pleasure of visiting Turkey in 2002. I admired the political system set up by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk which set Turkey on the road to being Muslim nation with a secular constitution and government. Turkey, nor its leaders were not perfect, and the Turkish military and courts were the bastion of secularism for most of Turkey’s existence.
In 2003 Recip Erdogan became prime minister. Erdogan is a very conservative Islamist who as the head of the Justice and Development Party (AKP). He served three terms and then was elected President, a post which had been more of a symbolic figurehead with little real power. Over the years that Erdogan served as Prime Minister he has ruled with a simple majority of the vote, not a large majority by any means, elections in Turkey have been very close. But over the years Erdogan has shown that he and his party are not generally actually interested in democracy except as it benefits them. Opposition parties have suffered at the hands of the government, democratic institutions including the judiciary, the media, and educators, have been silenced, and Erdogan has worked hard to bring the military under the control of his party. Erdogan has shown that he has a very thin skin, internal opponents have been harassed, persecuted, and jailed, and foreign critics condemned. A German comedian who dared to satirize Erdogan was condemned, and Erdogan demanded the the German government apologize for the actions of a private citizen. It led to a diplomatic crisis between Turkey and Germany that has lasted much of the year.
On Friday, elements of the Turkish military handed Erdogan, who was growing less popular by the day a gift. With the intention of stopping the country’s drift into a single party religious state, some parts of the military attempted a coup in order to remove Erdogan from power. I believe that their motives were honorable, but their method was wrong, and its execution inept. Military coups are not the right way to remove an elected leader from office, in a democracy, even one that is under seige, the ballot box must be the first choice to change a government.
The coup attemp not only failed, but it gave the decidedly unpopular Erdogan the advantage. He can now purge the government and military of all opposition with impunity. Even his political opponents were against the coup. But now, although the Erdogan government remains in power, the country’s divisions are even more starkly in evidence.
My fried said that his brother said that people, even people who did not support the coup, are afraid the Erdogan will use it as an excuse and justification for more anti-democratic measures.
The face is what is happening in Turkey matters to all of us. Turkey is one of the most strategic countries in the world based on its geographical location. It is a key ally against the Islamic State, and for most the last three decades Turkey has been a model of stability, and progress in the Muslim world. What happened this weekend is disturbing as it could usher in more instability and maybe bring about a civil war in Turkey, which believe me would be really bad. I hope that Erdogan will not act out in revenge seeking to exact retribution on his political and religious opponents, but personally I do not think that he is capable of that. He seems to me to be driven by his religious ideology more than realpolitik, but I can hope.
So anyway, I said this would be brief, so until tomorrow.