What now for Erdogan & Turkish democracy following failed coup attempt?

John Wight
John Wight has written for newspapers and websites across the world, including the Independent, Morning Star, Huffington Post, Counterpunch, London Progressive Journal, and Foreign Policy Journal. He is also a regular commentator on RT and BBC Radio. John is currently working on a book exploring the role of the West in the Arab Spring. You can follow him on Twitter @JohnWight1
People demonstrate in front of the Republic Monument at the Taksim Square in Istanbul, Turkey. © Murad Sezer
The failed coup attempt in Turkey was an attack on the country’s democracy, to which the country’s President Recep Erdogan has responded with an even bigger attack on democracy.

If mounting a failed military coup was an Olympic sport the people who planned, organized, and carried out the failed military coup in Turkey would now be strutting around with gold medals round their necks instead of long prison sentences or perhaps even death sentences, given the impassioned calls for revenge that have ensued from a government in Ankara and its supporters.

Thus far around 6,000 people have been rounded up by the authorities, with 2,700 of the nation’s judges and many ranking army and air force officers among them. Even NATO allies such as the United States have been denounced, accused of harboring the coup’s alleged mastermind, exiled cleric Fethullah Gulen, once a close ally of Erdogan and a man who it is claimed retains a significant following in Turkey, including within its armed forces.

In a country where there are already more journalists in prison than in journalism school, democracy was under attack even before the failed coup attempt, a fact that has given rise to all manner of conspiracy theories with regard to who was really behind it and for what reason.

Such conspiracy theories are given added weight by scenes that took place during the abortive coup, such as soldiers turning up at Turkey’s CNN headquarters to take the place over only to be placed under arrest by the very journalists they were meant to be arresting. Indeed, it would have been farcical if not so serious for the soldiers concerned, especially in light of the grisly fate that befell some of their comrades who were reportedly beheaded and mutilated by mobs of Erdogan supporters. This injects a sinister aspect to proceedings in a country that had already been plunged into crisis as a result of the blowback from the Syrian conflict across the border in the form of a spate of terrorist attacks carried out on Turkish soil, and the intensification of its war against the Kurds of the PKK.

Chief among those claiming that the regime may have planned and organized the coup is the aforementioned Fethullah Gulen, whose extradition from the United States Erdogan is now demanding. However, given that Gulen is a cleric and former imam, and that the coup plotters issued a public statement calling for the country’s return to secular values, this thesis lacks credibility, carrying with it more than a whiff of opportunism as Erdogan uses the crisis to crush his political opponents and enemies both within and without the country.

More credible is the likelihood that the coup was motivated by concern over the direction in which Erdogan had taken the country. The extent of the relationship between various opposition groups operating in Syria and Turkish intelligence has long been a source of conjecture – conjecture that became impossible to ignore in the wake of Russia’s intervention in the conflict at the request of the Syrian government.

Erdogan until recently had been more hawkish than any other leader in the region when it came to calling for the toppling of the Assad government, at one stage even demanding that a so-called safe haven be created on Syrian territory, policed by NATO troops and aircraft.

The shooting down of a Russian jet on the Turkish-Syrian border at the end of last year came at a time when Russia’s air campaign in support of Syrian government forces had succeeded in disrupting crucial supply routes for the various opposition and terrorist groups from within Turkey, adding credence to the claim that while Turkey may have been speaking the language of anti-terrorism it was in fact working to facilitate it in Syria.

Given the acrimony between Erdogan’s government and Russia as a result of the shooting down of the Russian aircraft, along with the Turkish President’s long and unstinting support for the Syrian opposition and Assad’s ouster, the recent and sudden shift in his stance towards both – apologizing to the former, making moves to restore diplomatic relations with the latter – took everyone by surprise. The only feasible explanation for such a sudden shift is that it was made in response to pressure from within the military in the face of the growing crisis the country had been plunged into as it struggles to cope with the influx of Syrian refugees and the spate of terrorist attacks carried out on its soil in recent months.

The accusation the attempted coup was an attack on democracy echoes the criticism and condemnation of the military coup mounted in Egypt in 2013, which succeeded in toppling the Morsi government. Like Morsi, Erdogan’s governing AKP party has been linked to the Muslim Brotherhood, which throughout its history has clashed repeatedly with those in the region who adhere to modernity, secularism and non-sectarianism rather than the Koran and Islamism as the foundations upon which society should rest.

Erdogan’s critics and opponents have also accused him of being motivated by neo-Ottomanism, driven by the objective of enlarging Ankara’s influence and power, using the chaos into which Iraq and Syria were plunged with the spread of ISIS in order to pursue it. If so, it is an objective and policy that has been blunted by Russia’s military presence in Syria, the ramping up of Iranian military support for the Iraqi government, along with Russian and American support for the Kurds in both countries - this despite Erdogan’s attempt to categorize the Kurds alongside ISIS as terrorists.

Ultimately, the coup in Turkey may have failed, but the fact it took place at all is proof that when you dance with the devil you have to pay for the music. As for those who planned and organized the coup, they are left to ponder the words of French revolutionary, Louis Saint-Just: "Whoever makes the revolution halfway only digs their own grave."

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.