Attempted Coup in Turkey – For Those Who Do Not Understand

You should read this. It’s not just me . . .

e14ab38e-4511-4a3a-9ac8-6a83a38175e8Adam McConnel in Serbestiyet:

“Hours after the Turkish government declared a state of emergency, the German Foreign Ministry took the astonishing step of criticizing the Turkish government for the action. Frank-Walter Steinmeier’s comments revealed how ignorant he is about Turkish affairs. Germany’s neighbor France has been under a state of emergency since November 2015, and has just extended that state of emergency for another six months. The German Foreign Ministry has not said anything about that. Then two days later, in a case of grotesque and horrific irony, Germany itself had to declare a state of emergency when an assailant in Munich killed a number of civilians.

As someone who lived through the night of 15-16 July, there are two aspects of the situation that I find disturbing. The first is the event itself, which was truly terrifying. The second has been the attitude of journalists and other intellectual commentators both inside Turkey and abroad. As the coup attempt emerged and then failed, reporters and pundits struggled to say something coherent for their viewers and readers. The situation inside Turkey was better because the large majority of commentators had (and have) a better grip on the political realities of the situation, but abroad the outlook was grim. This and the following articles will address those journalists’ and commentators’ massive failure to perform their job properly.

A number of extremely worrying narratives emerged even while the violence was continuing early on Saturday, 16th July. In a general way, they were meant to insult or to negatively impact on the public perception of two main actors. The main target was Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan; the secondary, but inherently connected actor was the Turkish citizens themselves. For several years an international campaign has been waged to portray the Turkish leader in as bad a light as possible for Western media consumers. But because Erdoğan has achieved repeated and spectacular electoral successes over the past fifteen years, the insults aimed at Erdoğan have between the lines also been aimed at the Turkish people. If he is the supposed dictator, then they are the brainwashed, hideous rabble that voted him there.”

Read the whole article

Democracy in Turkey? They’re Muslims for God’s sake!

Thanks to my old neighbour and friend Malcolm Evans for allowing me to publish this letter. He’s sent it to several newspapers in New Zealand, but I’m not expecting to see it published. Maybe I’ll be surprised, who knows?

“Maybe it’s just me.  Maybe I’ve just been trawling media stories for too long.  But then again, maybe – just maybe – maybe we’re being fed as big a line of BS in our newspapers as ever we claim is routinely served up to the other lot.

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Did you see these photos in your local newspaper?

It all came to a head these past days in the aftermath of the attempted military coup in Turkey – did you notice?  Clearly a serious attempt to overthrow an elected government had taken place.  And just as clearly the Turkish people, including those who oppose that elected government, took to the streets and stopped it!

But then, instead of stories praising Turkey for defending democracy, which we claim to hold so dear, our newspapers ran sneering suggestions that the coup was engineered by the Turkish government to cement its power. And these were followed by warnings that Turkey had better not use the coup as an excuse to go on a “witch hunt” for other than those responsible.

And all these stories seemed to materialise simultaneously and each seemed to be singing from the same song sheet!  And yes, dare I say it, they carried a distinct whiff of stifled disappointment that the coup in Turkey had failed!

_90415709_034087874-2Turkey is a major power, geographically and politically important and, as a member of Nato, is surely deserving of the same respect we accord other members of that alliance. If a similar coup attempt had taken place in another Nato country I doubt it would have been given the treatment our newspapers gave Turkey got last week.

For instance, maybe I missed it, but I didn’t read of any warning being given to either France or Germany, both of whom have declared states of emergency, not to use their terror situations to impose harsh measures on anyone.  (And don’t get me started on the blind eye we turn to the appalling treatment of minorities in America). So why the difference?

But then of course I’m being naïve aren’t I.  There’s something else going on here isn’t there. Turkey’s not playing the game some would have it played, is it? And that’s what’s behind the jaundiced eye we’re told we must see Turkey through. Heaven forbid that we should consider them as decent, well educated, nice people – they’re Muslims for God’s sake!

I’m a newspaper man. I’ve worked in and around them, in one capacity or another, for over fifty years.  Newspapers are a vital element of our democracy –  “The Fifth Estate” said Edmund Burke – and if they are to remain true to that principle it’s vital that newspapers preserve their objectivity and resist attempts to convert them into a conduit for someone else’s agenda.

Then again maybe that’s just me.”

Give Turkey a Break

I never aimed to write a political blog. For seven years I have been posting my thoughts here, and my motivation remains, as it always was, to present the Turkey that I see, to others whose vision may be clouded by negative publicity.

Americans oppose US intervention in Syria: Poll

Increasingly, however, I seem to have been forced into a situation where my writings have become more coloured by politics. Whose politics? My own.

On Friday 16 July Turkey experienced a night of severe trauma. Some sections of the country’s military attempted to take over the government by force of arms. Since then, foreign media and anti-government voices within the country have continued their vituperative campaign:

  • First, the attempted coup wasn’t real – it was a pantomime staged by President Erdoğan to cement his hold on power.
  • Second, if it was a real attempt to overthrow the government, it was a pathetically disorganised one clearly mounted by a minority of stupid generals.
  • Third, whoever organised it doesn’t matter. Mr Erdoğan is now using it as an excuse to unleash his fundamentalist Islamic supporters in a mayhem of retribution.
  • Fourth, Turkey’s President is now using the attempted coup as a pretext for rounding up all his opponents in a ‘witch hunt’ that will probably result in burnings at the stake.

All of these are still circulating in a myriad of combinations and permutations, but the latest one seems to be that now Mr Erdoğan is cosying up to Russia and Syria, in a clear demonstration that he is against the United States. To make matters worse he is denying America the use of the Incirlik base that they use to launch their peace-keeping, democracy-bringing attacks on nations in the region. Turkey is breaking the terms of the NATO treaty and either wants out, or should be kicked out, depending on how strongly you feel on the issue.

The problem with this latest argument is that Turkey’s ‘normalisation’ of relations with neighbours also seems to include Israel, US bosom-buddy, who can, in the eyes of the American government, do no wrong.

So what’s really going on? First up, many of the apparent contradictions in Turkey’s international relations cease to look like contradictions if you assume that the aim of the government is to modernise the country while remaining non-aligned; to have good working relations with its neighbours while looking after the interests of its own people first.

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Is this really how they see themselves?

Second, commentators and the liberal chattering classes in the West have difficulty grasping the concept that ‘Islamic-rooted’ parties in the Middle East and elsewhere are often populist, trying to pursue policies that they generally associate with non-religious, left wing, socialist political movements.

If you’re confused, let me try to straighten it out for you. The long-standing American position has been, and remains, that if you’re not with us, you’re against us. Non-alignment is not comprehensible and not acceptable. Populist governments in developing countries often espouse policies that serve their own national interest, bringing them into conflict with United States’ commercial interests. It follows that America will do its best to bring about regime change whereby a more sympathetic local will lead his/her country on the road to righteousness.

However, things are not as simple as they once were. Direct military intervention attracts unwelcome publicity, and carries no guarantee of success. The Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba, and the Vietnam War are examples that spring to mind. The preferred technique in recent years has become economic carrot-and-stick coupled with undercover infiltration and encouragement of revolt from within.

Iran is a good example. In 1952, a democratically elected prime minister sidelined the Western puppet Shah and attempted to nationalise the country’s oil industry. Encouraged by Britain, the United States government used its CIA to overthrow the Mossadegh government and reinstall the Shah. Economic carrots supported the Shah’s government and a small socio-military elite for twenty-seven years – until they were overthrown by a populist uprising. Led by who? America’s beloved Ayatollah Khomeini. But who had empowered him? The downtrodden people of Iran who saw radical Islam as the only force capable of uniting them and ridding the country of foreign intervention and Western puppet rulers – ie the anti-American Khomeini monster was created by America itself!

What about Egypt? The Arab Spring of 2011 saw a populist uprising overthrow the US puppet Hosni Mubarak, who had ruled in Egypt for 29 years, maintaining friendly relations with Israel while building the world’s tenth largest military with US support, and kept the majority of his people in poverty while surrounding himself with a supportive socio-economic elite minority. Same game. Egypt’s first democratic election quite naturally, in a 99% Muslim country, tossed up an ‘Islamic-rooted’ president. Suddenly the Egyptian economy turned to pea soup (surprise, surprise!) and Mohammed Morsi was overthrown by a ‘populist’ uprising that everyone but America recognises was a military-sponsored coup.

On to Turkey. Since the beginning of the republic in 1923, Turkish governments have looked Westward for inspiration. Through the Cold War the country was on the front line between NATO and Soviet USSR. The United States had military bases with nuclear weapons sited within Turkey’s borders. In spite of that, the Western alliance has played the country for its fool. The carrot of EU membership is constantly held out, as incentive and threat – and always withdrawn. Turkey has been condemned internationally for its quite justifiable action in Cyprus, and held accountable for the sins of the Ottoman Empire, while being given little or no credit for its exemplary achievement in creating a fusion of secular Islam, modernisation and democratic republicanism.

Not so long ago Turkey’s government was mocked for pursuing a foreign policy aimed at ‘zero problems with neighbours’. It went bad for a while, but they haven’t given up, and I admire them for that. What’s the alternative? Historically the Ottoman Empire fought many wars with Russia and Persia (Iran). The mutual benefits of sound diplomatic relations and commercial trade seem like better options. The Muslim people of this country have had good relations with their Jewish neighbours for centuries. Why should they allow a small spat to poison that permanently? Turkey’s AKP government had a working relationship with Assad in Syria before the civil war broke out – since when millions of refugees have streamed across the border, creating an economic and social tragedy. Probably many of those people would prefer to go home, if that were possible. Certainly Europe doesn’t want them. If a local solution can be found, maybe that’s the best thing, who knows? Turkey allows the United States a military presence at Incirlik, but they reserve the right to say how and when the base will be used – or not used, as they did in 2003 when George Dubya invaded Iraq. I understand there were a few Americans who didn’t fully support Bush’s action there.

So is the Turkish government against America? I don’t think so. They would like to be friends, in my opinion, but they do not want to be mindless puppets of a foreign power whose only interest seems to be maintaining the non-negotiable way of life of a small minority of its own people. Who was behind Friday night’s attempted coup in Turkey? I don’t know, but I have my suspicions.

Military Takeover Fails in Turkey

Turkey experienced four occasions in the 20th century when military officers overthrew the legally constituted government – five if you count the time Mustafa Kemal Atatürk (as he later became known) founded the modern Republic of Turkey, in the process consigning the Ottoman Empire to the pages of history.

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PM Menderes – ousted and hanged in 1960

The Republic came into existence in 1923, and from then until 1950, was a one-party state governed without troubling ordinary citizens to cast a vote. As soon as those citizens got the chance they opted for a new party, the Democrats, led by Adnan Menderes. In 1960 that party was overthrown by a faction within the military. Menderes and two of his ministers were hanged after a hasty ‘trial’. Dilek’s father, a career staff officer with the rank of colonel, was forced into early retirement, along, we can assume, with others who had been reluctant to support the revolt.

Two more military coups followed in 1971 and 1980, the latter resulting in several years of military rule characterised by severe oppression, arrests, torture, disappearances and forced exile of ‘dissidents’. Turkey’s current constitution was written by the leaders of the 1980 coup, and one of its key features was measures aimed at ensuring that parties representing the political Left and the Kurdish people would not be able to gain representation in parliament.

When I first came to Turkey in 1995 there was clearly an atmosphere of restraint, if not fear. The word ‘Kurdish’ could not be uttered in polite conversation, and use of the language was proscribed. Platoons of soldiers with automatic weapons jogged along public streets, and people I knew would say they were ‘protecting’ the country’s democratic and secular constitution. The country was suffering from horrendous hyperinflation and governed by weak coalition governments formed by an ever-changing square-dance of corrupt, self-seeking political parties, none of which was capable of achieving more than 20% of the popular vote. In 1997 there was a ‘post-modern’ coup when the military commanders politely advised the Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan to step aside or face the consequences – which he wisely did. Erbakan was leader of Turkey’s equivalent of the Muslim Brotherhood, and had gained the top job as the result of a questionable deal with centre-right, Kemalist, economics professor and the country’s first woman prime minister, Tansu Çiller.

It was a strange, surrealistic time, and Turkey was something of a pariah on the international stage. I have written elsewhere about what has happened in the intervening nineteen years – but critics of the present government should certainly familiarise themselves with the country’s recent history before racing to exercise their tongues or typing fingers. There is no doubt in my mind that, had the AK Party government of Mr Erdoğan not succeeded in pre-emptively subordinating Turkey’s armed forces to the rule of law, they would long since have been ousted and imprisoned, or worse.

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What happens when a tank runs over a car

Friday night’s attempted takeover by a section of the military failed for a number of reasons. First, as one commentator has observed, it was an old-school coup in the social media age. Television came late to Turkey, and for years, radio and TV broadcasting was a state-monopoly. In days gone by generals took over the TRT building and announced a fait accompli to people who had no other source of information. This time state TV channels were reading a prepared statement from the coup-leaders while viewers were watching a different story unfold on outlets run by the private sector. The government was using social media to call people out on to the streets and oppose the attempted takeover. There was no news blackout as in the past. Holidaying in Bodrum far from events in Istanbul and Ankara, with our TV sitting rarely used in a corner, the first we heard of the uprising was when Dilek’s daughter called from America to learn if we were ok.

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Not pepper spray this time – live ammunition!

Another reason for the failure is that Turkey, whatever you may hear to the contrary, is well on the road to becoming a mature democracy. There are still some who believe that ‘democracy’ needs to be imposed by military force when the ignorant masses prove incapable of making the ‘right’ choice, but they are an ever-shrinking minority. The AK Party government has given a voice to large sections of Turkey’s population who were formerly repressed, oppressed or suppressed. There is now a large middle class, and increasing numbers of people who feel a debt of loyalty and allegiance to the government for their improved standard of living. Hundreds of thousands of these people were prepared to brave the tanks and automatic rifles of soldiers on Friday night to oppose the coup. You may have seen horrific pictures of a soldier beheaded by a ‘lynch mob’. It is not altogether surprising that civilians who went out to face trained, well-armed troops with only iron bars and knives, seeing friends and neighbours shot by their fellow-countrymen, might seek vengeance when the tide turned in their favour. Civil wars are notorious for vicious cruelty. However, it is undoubtedly true that police and security forces, after accepting the surrender of rebel soldiers and forcing them to lay down their arms, worked hard to control the righteous anger of citizens, and prevent hotheads from laying hands on the discarded weapons. More heads could have rolled otherwise – and certainly would have if the coup had succeeded.

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Turkish policeman protects surrendering soldier from angry mob

Several theories have emerged about the background to the uprising. A small group of cynics, or anti-government loudmouths, are insisting or implying that the action was orchestrated and stage-managed by Mr Erdoğan and the government to cement their hold on power. There are several reasons why I do not accept this. First, the AK Party government has been gaining increased support anyway as a result of its ongoing struggle against terrorist activities. Second, I don’t believe that Mr Erdoğan and his people would be so cynical and power-crazy as to precipitate a possible bloodbath on their streets. Third, those coup-leaders have been humiliated, and vilified by their own people, and now face the wrath of the law. Some voices are calling for reinstatement of the death penalty. Is it likely that educated, intelligent, high-ranking officers would put their lives at risk to advance the ambition of politicians?

A more persuasive theory is that the government knew there were still elements within the military who opposed them to the extent that they were considering seditious action. It is difficult to deal with such a threat, however, before potential rebels have actually committed themselves to open rebellion. Therefore, the argument goes, officers loyal to the government encouraged their rebellious colleagues in the belief that a coup would have wide support, in order to flush them out. Again, however, it is obvious that even a small-scale coup attempt by true believers carries the likelihood of much bloodshed, and the possibility that it will be successful – too much of a risk, in my estimation.

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Some righteous anger of course. In this case, only a belt.

So why would they do it? Well, there is no doubt that some people in Turkey, and beyond its shores, hate Recep Tayyip Erdoğan with a passion beyond reason. These people are deaf to any argument suggesting that the AK Party government has actually made Turkey a better place to live for the majority of its citizens, and improved its credibility and standing on the world stage. Most of these people talk only to like-minded others, accept wholeheartedly the most absurd and patently false propaganda, and have persuaded themselves, in the absence of effective political opposition, that the only way forward is for the military to step in and restore . . . whatever it is they want restored, as it has so often in the past. One can only think that there was a coterie of high-ranking officers who believed the rhetoric and saw themselves as saviours of the secular republic, in the tradition of Atatürk himself.

Sadly for them, and the soldiers who followed their orders, there will now be a stiff price to pay. No government can accept armed rebellion by its own people, and such treason carries a mandatory death penalty in the USA. New Zealand abolished hanging for high treason in 1989 – but as far as I know my country has never had a military coup, unless you count the overthrow of indigenous Maori sovereignty by white settlers in the 19th century. Turkey, following EU demands, did away with capital punishment completely, so it is probable that lengthy jail sentences await those convicted of participation in Friday’s revolt. If they do, it will not be a ‘purge’ as one international headline asserted. It will be due process of law punishing citizens who knowingly and deliberately committed the most serious crime in any country’s statute books.

Interestingly, international news sites that were headlining reports of a military coup in Turkey have now relegated its failure to their back pages – replaced by news of Pokemon-induced chaos in New York City and events of similar global significance. Not in disappointment, I hope, though I suspect there are some out there who would be happy to see Turkey revert to military rule so they could go back to belittling the country as a primitive backwater whose citizens are incapable of governing themselves. What is it about English toffs with the surname ‘Blair’ I wonder? Someone of that name writing for the Daily Telegraph has penned an article entitled: You thought Erdoğan was bad before? The worst is yet to come’. Well, that probably sums it up, in fact. If you were one of those blinkered souls determined to condemn Turkey and its government despite all evidence to the contrary, of course you will continue to do so. The more open-minded will use the eyes and the brains that God gave them.

What’s Going on in Turkey? (Update)

Dilek and I are safe and sound in Bodrum a long way from the action in Ankara and Istanbul. In fact we first heard about it when her daughter contacted us from America to ask if we were ok.

It’s hard to know exactly what happened/is happening. It seems a faction in the military did try to stage a takeover of the government. They took over the state TV channels and got them to read a statement saying they were intervening because of the present government’s undemocratic, anti-secular activities, there was a state  of emergency and a curfew. I’ve had mails from NZ MFA saying the same thing and advising me to stay indoors😉

We went to bed last night after watching proceedings on private TV channels and reading sketchy reports on foreign websites. Woke up this morning and it seems the coup failed, soldiers involved have mostly surrendered and are being taken into custody.

People have died, including some civilians, but not very many it seems. At this stage I would say it was a really stupid thing to do – I mean for a few officers to take matters into their own hands, though it has happened before in Turkey of course. If it was an attempted coup and it has failed it will surely cement Mr Erdogan’s position in Turkey – and also anger those who hate him and would have been happy to see him overthrown and put in prison again.

Who was actually behind this? That’s an interesting question. Mr Erdogan is making non-specific accusations, but Fethullah Gulen has denied any involvement. It brings to mind the failed coup against Hugo Chavez in Venezuela in 2002. To what extent are the US and the CIA involved in these kind of activities?

Anyway, we’ve got the TV on and are following events. Will post again when things become clearer.

Common rhythms and songs unite Greeks and Turks

n_101555_1I’m passing on this article that appeared in my local English language paper today:

Though often at odds in the past, Greece and Turkey share a bond revealed not only in food or language but also in music celebrated on both sides of the Aegean Sea.

Turks and Greeks have preserved many similarities when it comes to music, from style to instruments and lyrics.

Cooperation between Turkish and Greek singers has been a stalwart and singers and musicians from both countries are known on both sides of the Aegean Sea.

Ömer Faruk Tekbilek, a Turkish multi-instrumentalist and composer who has worked with Greek musicians in the past, performed in Athens in June while a concert on the island of Lesbos showcased dervishes of the Mevlevi Order of Konya.        

Asia Minor and Istanbul music – the kind played by motley bands  featuring violins, lyres, and other stringed instruments such as baglamas, outis, saz, santouris, bouzoukis and clarinets – are especially prevalent in both countries. 

“The songs found in both musical traditions mainly come from the region of Marmara and they are popular folk songs with lyrics in both languages, some of which were recorded in Greece from the late 1920s until the Second World War,” according to Nikos Andrikos, from the musicology department of Ionian University and research associate at the Technological Educational Institute of Traditional Music in Arta.

Read the whole article.