Turkish president vows revenge on plotters
Thousands have been brutally seized in Turkey after an attempted military uprising. Some now fear that the coup will allow President Erdogan to crack down on democracy for good.
At 7:30pm on Friday two major bridges in Istanbul were lined with soldiers ordering car drivers to ‘go home’. By 8pm gunshots had been fired in Turkey’s capital city of Ankara. A faction of the military was attempting to overthrow the government, admitted the prime minister. At 9:30pm President Erdogan appeared on FaceTime, urging his supporters to ‘take to the streets’. Thousands of civilians resisted the coup as military helicopters hovered over the parliament.
By Saturday morning the soldiers were holding up their hands in surrender — and 265 people were dead.
Turkey has arrested around 6,000 people in the coup’s aftermath, including high-profile judges and military officials. Now that it is over, Erdogan is calling the incident a ‘gift from God’ which will allow him to ‘cleanse’ the state of its ‘virus’, words almost as worrying as the coup itself for liberals in Turkey and the West. In the last few years Erdogan and his Islamist AKP have become ever more authoritarian; some now fear that the coup is the perfect excuse to tighten their grip even further.
‘Democracy is like a train,’ Erdogan once said. ‘When you reach your destination, you get off.’ He went on to be Turkey’s prime minister for over ten years, and was elected president in 2014. This was once a ceremonial role, like the queen in the UK. But Erdogan has plans to give himself more power, and is increasingly paranoid about the ‘dark forces’ of a ‘parallel state’ opposing him from within Turkey.
Journalists have been locked up. The media is controlled. A war against the Kurdish community has led to renewed tensions and violence. Hundreds have been arrested on the charge of insulting the president — which could just be making critical comment.
All this in one of the most strategically important countries in the world: Turkey bridges the gap between Europe and the Middle East. It has the second largest army in NATO, an alliance with enormous military power. And it holds the key to the EU’s tumultuous refugee crisis.
Could it also be on the verge of a dangerous dictatorship?
Yes, say some. The secular army has long seen itself as a defender of Turkey’s democracy. But staging a coup was a disastrous mistake — and now any voices which oppose Erdogan will be crushed, leaving him free to exercise ruthless power. Stability in the rest of the world will be shaken as a result.
No, say others. Turkey relies on trade with the EU to survive economically, and it needs its NATO allies to help fight Islamic State beyond its borders in Syria and Iraq. The West can restrain Erdogan. More importantly, the Turkish people are dedicated to their democracy; they will not let it go without a fight.
- Could Turkey become a dictatorship?
- How should democratic leaders respond to Erdogan’s behaviour?
- Produce a newspaper front page which explains the weekend’s dramatic events to the people of Turkey.
- Choose one of the coups in modern Turkey’s history, as shown in the graphic above. Using your own research, write a report on how it changed Turkish politics.
Some People Say...
“If Turkey fails, it takes the whole world with it.”
What do you think?
Q & A
- If Erdogan is so terrible, why did Turkey vote for him?
- He is a divisive figure. While many in Turkey oppose his recent actions, he is still popular with around half the country. This is partly thanks to religion, and also his success as prime minister; the Turkish economy boomed throughout most of his time in office, and only began to falter more recently. He may now see the people’s willingness to fight against the coup as a mandate for his plans to obtain more presidential power.
- How has the West responded?
- The US secretary of state, John Kerry, gave a sharp warning to Turkey after Erdogan implied that there might have been American involvement in the coup. Most leaders have offered support to the ‘democratically elected’ government while stressing that it should ‘show restraint’.
- Calling itself the ‘Peace at Home’ movement, it claimed to be acting to ‘protect human rights’ in the country.
- Recep Tayyip Erdogan has gone from a charismatic leader who promised to modernise Turkey, to an authoritarian intent on quashing any dissent. When the coup began he was on holiday in southern Turkey, and his statement was filmed on a journalist’s smartphone.
- 265 people
- Of these, 104 were ‘plotters’ related to the coup, and 161 were civilians attempting to fight it. More than 1,400 have been wounded, including Turkey’s counter-terrorism chief.
- Islamist AKP
- Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party has roots in Islam. It has launched campaigns against alcohol and adultery, and in April a top politician argued that secularism should be taken out of Turkey’s constitution.
- A large ethnic minority in Turkey, Iraq and Syria. Some Kurdish groups have been fighting the Turkish government for decades.
- The North Atlantic Treaty Organization includes the USA, Canada and European countries. If one member is attacked, it can call on the others for military aid.