Monday, 18 July 2016

The Attempted Turkish Coup: A Comment

The Attempted Turkish Coup

Watching the attempted Turkish coup unfolding was extraordinary. I was following the hashtag #Turkey and every few seconds, another 18 tweets would be posted.

Most were serious, but some flippancy crept in, mostly with reference to Boris Johnson making a statement, and usually accompanied by pictures of him looking ridiculous on the trip-wire. It is uncomfortable seeing humour creeping in at a time when events are kicking off, and there is genuine fear, and people have actually been killed.

I suspect that some of that has to do with this distancing effect of Turkey. No one made jokes about Nice, or the Paris attacks earlier in the year.

The Bishop of Dover had rushed out, presumably by email, a prayer concerning the atrocities in Nice. But one couldn’t help thinking that Turkey was somehow missed off his agenda, even though the events had taken place on Friday night, and there was plenty of time for notice to be taken.

It seems that once one leaves Europe and probably mostly Western Europe at that, the news agencies and the churches tend to regard events as outside of their radar. The crash of the Egyptair plane involved Europeans and did get mentioned; the bombing in Iraq was mentioned briefly once, and then just pushed under the carpet.

There was a sketch in the “Not the Nine O Clock News” that parodied the respective weightings that the news gave to various nationalities during natural disasters. It basically consisted of one of the team as a BBC presenter reading out a list of disasters around the world with a disclaimer of "fortunately no Britons were killed". It was a very blunt satire, but I can’t help feeling that it hits the mark.

The same was true of the terrorist attack on Ataturk airport a few weeks ago; it made the news, but rapidly vanished into oblivion.

The coup in Turkey lay on the fault line between the secular Turkish state established by President Atatürk after the end of the First World War, when the Ottoman Empire lay in ruins. But President Erdogan has brought back into being a more Islamic state, in which Sunni Islam is the dominant party, and which has not only attempted to backtrack on the reforms of Atatürk but also become increasingly repressive, imprisoning journalists and vocal critics of the State.

It was no doubt with that in mind that some of the Military leadership attempted to follow the designs of President Atatürk and depose Erdogan in order to reintroduce, at some point, the secular democracy.

But the attempt failed. It is a moot point whether it would have failed ten or fifteen years ago. I think it might well have succeeded. There is an old Simon Templar TV story called “The Reluctant Revolutionaries” where Simon Templar helps democratic revolutionaries overthrow a dictatorship by the simple expedient of taking over the media and broadcasting that it has already happened.

Something of the same seems to have happened here. The leaders of the coup took over the State broadcaster and began a series of messages about a curfew, about the military takeover, and about the President being deposed.

Fifteen years ago there was no social media so to speak of, and no smart phones. The control of the flow of information was much easier. But as the plotters found out to their cost, the global reach of modern technology meant that President Erdogan could send out a video message on Facetime, to be multiplied a thousand fold on Facebook and Twitter, giving a lie to some of the news being broadcast.

Some people on Twitter mocked him being reduced to this means, but in fact it was an extremely clever move. It meant he could stay in charge, he could give messages to the ordinary people to defy the coup in the name of democracy, while at the same time planning to return to Istanbul.

The leaders of the coup also misjudged the President. They attacked when he was known to be on holiday, away from capital cities. In the past, some coups have succeeded in other countries because the President involved thinks their number is up, and flees into exile, hope to reclaim their power at some later stage. That almost never happens; removed from the mechanisms of command, they live out a lonely exile as a guest of some neighbouring country friendly to them, or prepared to shelter them for a price.

Erdogan decided to fly back to Istanbul and be present and not to run away. He was by now in contact with the military who had not taken part, and with the police forces, and coming back to the heart of the nation meant he was still present and not deposed: a symbolic act, and possibly an element of a gamble, but probably the best strategic move he could have made.

The problem now comes in the aftermath. The coup has failed, but the opposition parties all opposed it publically at the time and came out in support of their rival, the President. Will he now see an opportunity to seek rapprochement and heal those divisions, or will Turkey become an even more divided and repressive government.

And the President told a crowd that Turkey would consider reinstating the death penalty. He said: "In democracies, decisions are made based on what the people say. I think our government will speak with the opposition and come to a decision. We cannot delay this anymore because in this country, those who launch a coup will have to pay the price for it."

Turkey has arrested 6,000 people after a failed coup, with President Erdogan vowing to purge state bodies of the "virus" that caused the revolt. Despite calls for “unity and solidarity”, the omens are not good for a united country which respects the rights and freedoms of all its people.

1 comment:

James said...

Your comment about Turkey being off the radar rings true, especially as there appears to have been a second attempted coup in neighbouring Armenia. With political instability now reigning all the way from the Bosphorus to India, these are nervous times.