21.07.2021 – 08:25
By Cengiz Candar “Al Monitor”
Some dates serve as milestones for history. For Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, July 15 is one of them. The failed coup attempt for
ousted Erdogan on July 15, 2016, has become the founding myth of the “New Turkey” in its historiography.
For five years, the July 15th anniversary has become a celebration of Erdogan’s victory, which helped him replace the country’s parliamentary democracy with his personal government. This date also marks the commemoration of the 251 “martyrs” who lost their lives during the suppression of the coup attempt.
Commemorative ceremonies took place across the country, and especially in Istanbul, where the highest number of casualties was recorded, especially during the clashes over the Bosphorus Bridge that connects the continent of Asia with that of Europe.
The year 2021 is no exception to the efforts of Erdogan and his regime that does not hesitate to celebrate and commemorate July 15. A film entitled “Safak Vakti” (At Dawn) on the popular heroic resistance against the coup attempt, which began after Erdogan’s call against the conspirators, was released in cinemas on July 15, 2021.
The passion for commemorating that event has not faded after five years. And this is not because the trauma of the coup attempt is still alive in people’s minds. On the contrary, it is because the Erdogan regime feels it has not yet legitimized the rewriting of Turkey’s history.
I wrote an article for Al-Monitor, which was published on July 17, 2016 – when the coup was still going on – in which I wrote that the coup attempt, on the night between July 15-16, had risen more questions than answered.
Ironically, after 5 years, this still remains true. The questions raised remained unanswered, and the mystery surrounding the coup attempt has not yet been resolved. Today we know that more than 8,500 troops, 35 military aircraft, 37 helicopters, 246 tanks and armored personnel carriers and 3 navy ships took part in the coup attempt, along with about 4,000 light weapons.
This means that almost 621,000 troops and 1,056 aircraft, 434 helicopters, 102 navy ships and about 1,800 tanks remained stationary. These figures show that the coup attempt was destined to fail from the beginning.
However, on the night of the coup, Erdogan declared it a blessing, and then used all that saga to fulfill his ambition to establish a “New Turkey” under his authoritarian rule. The government did not waste a second before claiming that its former ally, US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, was to blame for the coup attempt.
Every institution and its affiliated individuals at every level are considered terrorists and members of the so-called Fethullah Gulen Terrorist Organization (FETO). Anyone who may question the validity of this claim will be plunged into trouble.
Countries reluctant to agree to Ankara’s official claims have been labeled as permitting the Gulen plot against Turkey. The United States and the European Union – the Western world at large – are also implicated in this narrative, as the current regime’s Islamic and nationalist electorate believes that Western powers supported the coup attempt.
The heavy blow after the coup was not limited to the Gulenists. It targeted the entire opposition; leaders, members and followers of the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party, as well as journalists.
According to official figures released on July 14, some 4,890 people were sentenced to prison – 3,000 of them for life. 44,000 soldiers were expelled from the armed forces. The Turkish Human Rights Association and the Human Rights Foundation reported that nearly 140,000 civil servants were arbitrarily fired.
The right to oppose their dismissal was denied during the state of emergency that was in force during 2016-2018, while most of them were denied jobs in the public and private sector.
Following the coup attempt, a referendum was held on amending the Constitution, which brought about the transformation of the country into a presidential system that rejects any kind of control and balance mechanism. The judiciary lost its independent status, and submitted to the president as a result of constitutional changes.
The post of prime minister was abolished, and all executive authority was transferred to the president.
The Turkish presidential system bears no resemblance to the American or French models. It has features more similar to the caudillo-type presidencies that dominated South American countries during the Cold War.
During a private conversation with a group of journalists where I also participated before 2014, when Erdogan became the first elected president of the country, the latter explained to us what kind of executive presidency he envisioned. “The American system is unacceptable to us. Imagine if an opposition party controls parliament. “It would not allow the president to do anything as an executive authority,” he said.
July 15 can be interpreted as a benchmark for regime change in Turkey.
In the conditions of a developing New Turkey, it really deserves to be perceived as such. Undoubtedly that event has been a milestone in ending the rule of law in the country.
Turkey was a candidate for full membership in the European Union. In 2015, the country was ranked 80th among the 102 countries listed in the World Justice Project Rule of Law Index. In 2020, among 128 countries, it slipped to 102nd place.
In 2020, the number of lawsuits filed by Turkish citizens against Turkey in the International Court of Human Rights reached 11,750. The court decided to punish Turkey in 85 out of 97 cases for violations of the Human Rights Convention.
Although gradually, but decisively, Turkey moved from a new democracy to an autocracy. Some political scientists call it competitive authoritarianism, as some opposition parties still function and are not banned by law.
The birth of a Erdo Rean New Turkey and July 15 has been without a doubt a fundamental myth. But for Erdogan, the consolidation of his power is by no means certain. In the 2019 local elections, he lost his main constituency: Istanbul; the capital Ankara; and all major provinces that generate 2/3 of Turkey’s gross domestic product.
His increasingly popular support due to difficult economic conditions – caused mainly by himself – has added to the already existing problems. For him, the next presidential and parliamentary elections scheduled for the centenary of the republic in 2023 are very worrying.
“If you look at the assessments in President Erdogan’s polls along with the aggravated economic situation, it is very difficult to really imagine what the situation will be like in the next 12 months.” says Winslow, director of Fitch Ratings on European leaders.
“The World Bank estimates that more than 1.5 million Turks fell below the poverty line last year. “And an index of income and wealth distribution shows that inequality has increased since 2011, and has accelerated since 2013, undoing the great achievements of 2006-2010 during Erdogan’s first decade at the helm.” – says the Fitch Ratings report.
Whatever the future holds for Erdogan, it is fair to say that he managed to build the New Turkey he envisioned. But his problem is that he could not consolidate power over his New Turkey.
If he loses – and here are the biggest dilemmas, as he is likely to retreat elegantly – the painful process of dismantling his New Turkey will begin. If he wins the 2023 elections, then July 15 will be recorded as the most important historical moment in Erdogan’s odyssey to have absolute power.