Worst. Possible. Result.

by wjw on July 18, 2016

Flag_of_Turkey.svgSo a couple days ago there was a military coup in Turkey. And that coup has failed.

Which is the worst possible result.  Much worse than if the coup hadn’t happened, worse than if the coup had succeeded.

Prior to the election of Erdogan and his AK Party in 2003, Turkey was under the thumb of the Deep State (derin devlet), a creepy alliance of politicians, military figures, and mafia whose chief ideological task was to keep the reins of power (and of money) in their own hands, and to make sure those hands were secular ethnic Turks.  Kurds were treated as backward Turks, encouraged to assimilate, and murdered and terrorized when they didn’t.  The state religion was Sunni Islam, which was kept firmly under government control, and which left out Alevis and other religious minorities.  There were political parties and political leaders, but the parties acted more as the personal fiefs of their leaders; and there were elections, but the elections didn’t matter because the Deep State was always in charge no matter who occupied the Pink House in Ankara.

When the Deep State felt threatened, it would launch a military coup, which was usually preceded by a series of bombings and assassinations, secretly staged by the Deep State so that the military could step in to “restore order.”  The Deep State’s deeply cynical motives were revealed in the Susurluk Incident, when it started to look as if the state was in close contact, if not actual alliance, with the Kurdish guerrillas with whom it was fighting, and that the whole point of the war was to keep certain people on both sides of the conflict rich, in part by controlling the heroin pipeline from Iran.

Erdogan and the AK changed most of that.  Their moderately Islamist party opened up the economy to those who had formerly been excluded, and the result was an economic boom in which the GDP grew by 64% and a 43% increase in GDP per capita.  There were huge investments in infrastructure, education, and health care, and new laws vastly expanding labor rights.  A truce with the Kurds of the PKK was followed by peace talks.  This was very popular, and led to the AK being reelected over and over again.

But Erdogan wasn’t content to be a reforming prime minister presiding over a rising economy and popular with his people.  He attacked the military, arrested generals and civilians allegedly connected to the Deep State, and accused anyone who disagreed with him of being a tool of foreign powers and/or a secret member of the Deep State.  Lots of journalists got arrested on trumped-up charges, and languished in jail until they could be tried.  But the trials never happened, because trials would reveal that the government had no case, as happened in the Operation Sledgehammer trial, which resulted in over 300 accused military officers being released.

Plus Erdogan began to cheese off his neighbors.  Turkey had long been at odds with Syria, but now he lectured Israel (a longtime regional ally) on its misbehavior, broke with Egypt’s military junta, shot down a Russian aircraft, annoyed the EU, and became a problematic member of NATO.

But thanks to economic growth, Erdogan and the AK continued to prosper until 2013, when the revolution began to eat it young.  That was the year that police detained over 60 people on charges of corruption, including the sons of three cabinet ministers.  Recordings of phone calls between Erdogan and his son were released on social media, in which Erdogan seemed to be telling his son to hide large amounts of cash.  Erdogan responded not merely by denying the charges, firing and transferring police and judges, but by declaring war on Twitter and Facebook, blocking the former and trying to block the latter.

Erdogan’s aggressive paranoia now turned against his allies, particular the liberal Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen, founder of the international Hizmet movement, which has millions of followers and which had allied with the AK.  Erdogan decided that Hizmet formed a “parallel state” that was responsible for the corruption investigations, and that Gülen himself was a terrorist leader.

And so Erdogan continues to be the center of a storm largely of his own making.  He had himself elected president in anticipation of a constitutional change giving the president more power, and has moved into the Pure White Palace (Ak Saray), a colossal mansion built illegally on reserved land, and which in Turkey is now known as the Kaç-Ak Saray, the Illegal Palace.

The war with the Kurds reignited after the bombing of a peace protest in Ankara in 2015, a bombing blamed on IS, though not claimed by the latter.  Whoever set the bombs, the result benefitted Erdogan, who won the following election.  Erdogan’s government was subsequently discovered to have been in communication with the IS, presumably having to do with their mutual interest in killing nationalist Kurds.  All major newspapers and television stations either parrot the government line, or have been simply taken over by the government.

The coup seems to have been fairly inept.  The coup leaders ignored social media altogether, and had no way of rallying their supporters.  No political parties supported the coup, and only a small part of the military seems to have participated.  Nobody wanted to go back to the bad old days of the Deep State.  Live television coverage of helicopters shooting up the parliament building enraged Turks nationwide. Erdogan demonstrated his mastery of 21st Century technology by calling for help on his FaceTime app, a call that was immediately answered by practically every mosque in the country summoning the faithful to demonstrate in favor of the government.  Those nightlong cries of “Allahu Akbar” are going to echo in the minds of secular Turks for some time to come.

The failed coup has been officially blamed on fellow Islamists Gülen and the Parallel State.  Over 3000 people have been arrested, and over 2600 judges have been fired.  (Possibly these judges are suspected of believing that Turks have rights— at any rate, the government clearly has clearly had the list of judges in its hip pocket for some time.)  Erdogan is moving to have the death penalty reinstated, and presumably will wreak as much vengeance as he can on his perceived enemies with courts run by handpicked judges.

Erdogan has, like fellow strongmen Vladimir Putin and Hugo Chavez, mastered the art of destroying democracy through having elections, and destroying institutions by creating parallel institutions loyal only to himself.  But the economic growth that fueled Erdogan’s support has waned, and Turkey’s chaotic war against terrorists and its own citizens has made people cynical.

It could be argued that the only thing really wrong with the AK is its tyrannical, paranoid leader.

(And for what amounts to an alternate-history version of recent events in Turkey, check out my novel Deep State.)

John F. MacMichael July 18, 2016 at 8:27 am


Above is a link to a column by a Turkish writer arguing that the coup attempt may have been orchestrated by Erdogan in order to give him an excuse to crush the opposition. I am not sure I would accept this theory. In my experience, conspiracy theories are most often advanced to explain events that are actually explained by sheer human stupidity. Nevertheless, it is an interesting take on what happened.

wjw July 18, 2016 at 9:49 am

That’s the sort of paranoid thinking common in the region. I doubt that the coup was planned by the government, because they seemed so surprised, but it did occur to me to wonder if the government found out about it just beforehand, and allowed it to happen.

I’ve also been wondering about the bombing at Istanbul airport a couple weeks ago, and whether the coup plotters were responsible. (It was blamed on IS, but without evidence so far as I could see.) It’s the sort of thing the Deep State used to do in order to justify their own actions.

bookworm1398 July 18, 2016 at 10:44 am

I have to disagree – this is a better outcome than the coup succeeding. I don’t see any reason to think that a Erdogan dictatorship would be any worse than a military dictatorship.

wjw July 18, 2016 at 5:06 pm

Turkish military dictatorships aren’t made to last— they basically reset the political clock back to zero, and then the troops go back to the barracks.

Erdogan, on the other hand, won’t leave till he’s dead.

Nathanael July 22, 2016 at 11:42 pm

Erdogan has proven to be a power-crazed madman. He’s declared war on civil society, declared war on other factions of *religious* society, gratuitously restarted the war with the Kurds, and destroyed the economic program which originally gave him the support of the merchant class. He’s alienated the core of his own party.

He basically has only one move left — try to make himself a religious dictator. And he already burned all his support.

Look at how things are going in Venezuela. There’s less lead poisoning in Turkey so it’ll be less violent, but Erdogan’s much crazier than Putin at this point, so he’s going to alienate people faster.

I predict Erdogan gets killed within the next ten years, probably by someone very close to him. Since he’s the problem, and his own party *recognizes* this, a lot of people in the AK party will see an opportunity for advancement. We’re back to a very old, medieval form of politics.

S.M. Stirling August 3, 2016 at 1:56 am

There’s no such thing as a good, democratic, or moderate Islamist; Erdogan is as close as you can get to such an up-down, cold-warm, light-dark state, and -he- said a long time ago that “democracy is like a street-car”; you ride until you get to the station you want, then get off.

More generally, religion’s fine, as long as it’s a private hobby, something you do one day a week in a special building, rather like a stamp-collecting club, or invoke ritually and insincerely, without taking its claims to being The Capital T Truth literally.

Christianity has (generally speaking, and in the main) accepted this as far as public life is concerned. It’s been “tamed”. This is not the case with a lot of the inhabitants of the House of Peace.

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