Saturday, 15 July, was the first anniversary of a failed attempt by some officers in the Turkish armed forces to overthrow the country’s democratically elected AK Party government. The government has planned a week of meetings and other activities to commemorate the courage of Turkish folk who stood up against tanks and automatic weapons to ensure that the attempted coup was unsuccessful. Before the perpetrators backed down, 250 citizens had lost their lives and an unknown number had been injured.
US and EU governments have been generous in their affirmations of support for Turkey’s struggle against forces working to bring down its government. – somewhat quicker than they were this time last year, when they seemed to delay their reaction until it was clear to all that the coup had failed. That’s not surprising, I guess. When Egypt’s first and only democratically elected government led by Muhammed Morsi was overthrown by army intervention in 2013, Western governments hardly paused for breath before announcing business as usual with the new regime. It seems we can work with military dictators – it’s leaders who have to answer to the will of their own people we’re uncomfortable with.
So those Western leaders are expressing support for Turkey – but read on and you’ll find thinly veiled threats following close behind. Turkey’s government should be careful not to use the failed coup as an excuse to trample on the freedom of innocent citizens exercising their democratic right to dissent. Sounds fair enough – but the reality of highly trained and well-armed troops rising up to overthrow their lawful government is not something the United Kingdom or the United States have had to deal with since the 1640s and the 1860s respectively. Memory fades.
Let’s think about how these things happen. Above all, you need a significant chunk of the country’s people to be unhappy. No general, no matter how ambitious he may be for political power, is going to risk his all unless he feels he has a good chance of pulling it off – which means he has to believe there is substantial sympathy and support for his action. What does that mean in a country of 78 million people? Even 1% means 780,000 people! Last week the leader of an opposition party addressed a crowd estimated at two million to protest about the state of justice in Turkey. My guess is a good number of them wouldn’t have been sad to see President Erdoğan ousted by a military coup. Well, they were allowed to assemble, and Mr Kılıçdaroğlu was allowed to vehemently criticise the government. Nevertheless, there is still a state of emergency in force in Turkey, and many thousands of suspects have been rounded up to answer accusations of involvement in the attempted coup. What would you expect? The vast majority of citizens are going about their normal lawful daily business, and a good number of them are bitching and complaining about the government. That’s their democratic right. What do you have to do to get arrested, that’s my question.
Then let’s imagine that the coup had been successful. Lawfully constituted governments in Turkey were overthrown by military intervention on four occasions in the second half of the 20th century. In 1960 the Prime Minister of ten years, Adnan Menderes, was hanged, along with two of his ministers, by the insurgent officers. Menderes was subsequently forgiven, exonerated and had his reputation restored – small consolation for his family, I imagine. After the first three coups there was a period of terror where political dissenters were rounded up, tortured, executed, “disappeared” or driven into exile. Military intervention in the democratic process is no light matter – and almost invariably leads to bloodshed and violent suppression of opposition. At the very least, Mr Erdoğan and his government would have found themselves imprisoned, and a lengthy period of sustained oppression would have been necessary to silence his millions of loyal supporters.
The simple fact is this: if you rise up against your lawful government in any country, and try to overthrow them by force of arms, you had better succeed. If you don’t, you’ll be lucky to escape with your life. Even if you weren’t among the actual rebels, if you are suspected of lending behind-the-scenes support or encouragement, you are likely to be called to account.
Why then are Western political spokespersons and media sources so critical now of the “lack of freedom and democracy” in Turkey? They seem to have been happy enough to accept Egyptian General Sisi’s violent suppression of opposition since the coup he led in 2013. A less publicised feature of most military coups in developing countries is the support, moral and actual, provided by forces beyond their borders who see economic benefits in a regime change. Turkey’s President Erdoğan is consistent in his denunciation of US-based Turkish religious leader Fethullah Gülen, whose tentacles extend into every corner of Turkey’s establishment. At the same time, Mr Erdoğan also maintains that behind Gülen more sinister forces are at work. US spokespersons deny their government had any part in the attempted coup – but they steadfastly refuse Turkey’s requests to extradite Gülen so that he can answer the charges against him. Perhaps they do have a genuine concern for the poor man’s democratic rights – but they also have a long-standing record of backing regime changes where elected leaders don’t seem to be supporting American “interests”.
Two recent articles caught my eye giving credence to the theory that Washington could have played a part in last July’s insurrection. The first appeared on the Foreign Policy website, bearing the headline “Turkey’s Post-Coup Purge and Erdogan’s Private Army”. The article is an absurd mishmash of lies, distortions and internal contradictions that might seem convincing to a foreign reader – but to anyone who knows Turkey, is clearly working to a hidden agenda.
The writer, Leela Jacinto, nails her colours to the mast in her opening paragraph, expressing regret that “Turkey’s military — the once mighty pillar of a secular, Muslim-majority state with the second-largest standing force in NATO — has lost its Kemalist oomph.” Surely any true democrat would applaud the relegation of generals to their proper role as defenders of the state from outside threats. The “secular Kemalist” label is used to lend a veneer of legitimacy to their previous overthrowing of elected governments, ensuring that a small US-friendly elite continued to hold the reins of power. It is widely accepted that the CIA had a hand in all four successful coups in Turkey in 1960, 1971, 1980 and 1997.
Last year’s coup having failed, of course its supporters, overt and covert, are keen to imply that it wasn’t a “real” coup – that either it was staged from start to finish, or at least allowed to proceed and fail by President Erdoğan to cement his hold on power. Well, maybe George W Bush did orchestrate events of 9/11/2001 in the USA, and Maggie Thatcher certainly led her nation to war with Argentina for that reason – but I do not believe President Erdoğan is so evil. The evidence doesn’t stack up.
Jacinto contends that the Gülen organisation initially supported Erdoğan’s AK Party but the alliance fell apart when Gülenists exposed AK Party “corruption”. If it’s true, why would they do that to their ally? More likely is the scenario that Erdoğan used them to break the power of the army, but was subsequently unwilling to share power with an unelected shadowy cartel. The Gülenists got angry and decided to get rid of him – possibly/probably aligning themselves with the CIA, enemy of their new enemy.
Then there is Turkey’s “lovefest” with Russia. What’s that about, “lovefest”? Implying some kind of drug-crazed, bacchanalian, neo-hippy debauchery. Better to focus on America’s “HATEfest” with Russia, Communists, Muslims, Cuba, Venezuela, Iran, or any other group or country that doesn’t kowtow to their programme of world domination.
Jumping from one illusory accusation to another, Jacinto raises a bogey by the name of Doğu Perinçek to justify her suggestion of unholy alliances against the West taking place at “deep state” level involving the AK Party government, communists and ultra-nationalists. Somehow she manages to work in Armenian holocaust denialism and the heroine of the world’s oppressed and downtrodden masses, Amal Clooney. Well, Perinçek is an interesting character, having been incarcerated on several occasions by military regimes in the past for leftist activities. He does seem recently to have reincarnated as a kind of nationalist/socialist – but he continues to operate, as he always has, on the fringe of Turkish political circles, and his miniscule polling in the last general election suggests that he poses no threat to the United States empire, or anyone else.
Jacinto’s final shot is the assertion that President Erdoğan has a private army, a paramilitary “Praetorian Guard” that not only faced down the soldiers last July, but is working behind the scenes to foster some kind of global Islamic order aimed at bringing down the West.
Who is this woman? Who is pulling her strings?
The other article that caught my eye appeared in Time Magazine: Turkey’s ‘Iron Lady’ Meral Aksener Is Getting Ready to Challenge Erdogan. Like Doğu Perinçek, Ms Akşener is known in Turkey, but tends to lurk these days at the fringes of the political sphere. Like Nobel prize-winner Orhan Pamuk, she likes to present herself as one who has courageously stood against the corrupt power of a dictatorial state. In fact, her brief spell as Minister for Internal Affairs occurred during the unlikely and short-lived coalition of discredited “secular Kemalist” Tansu Çiller and Islamic firebrand Necmettin Erbakan. Journalist Jared Malsin portrays Akşener as a scary synthesis of Margaret Thatcher, Hillary Clinton and Marie le Pen. Try selling that to the Turkish electorate, Jared!
It does, however, strike me that something sinister could be going on here. Malsin acknowledges that one of the main problems with the current political scene in Turkey is the lack of a credible leader to oppose the charismatic Erdoğan. HDP leader, Selahattin Demirtaş provided a brief spark of hope before committing political suicide by throwing in his lot with the Kurdish separatists. Nationalist MHP leader Devlet Bahçeli seems to have decided that his best chance of achieving office is by working with the government; and Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, still hankering for the one-party state where Atatürk’s own party held sway, has lost so many elections the Guinness people are thinking of opening a category for him in their 2018 edition.
Clearly, then, if the movers and shakers of world capitalism are going to have another try at overthrowing Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, they’re going to need a figurehead to put in his place. Far-fetched theory? I don’t think so.
Venezuela’s long-term president Hugo Chavez was one of Washington’s most hated world leaders. A vocal socialist, Chavez utilised his country’s enormous oil resources to initiate domestic programmes aimed at a more equitable distribution of wealth. He lent support to Cuba and other Central and South American nations struggling to escape US hegemony, and committed probably the ultimate unpardonable sin: befriending Iran. In 2002 a CIA-sponsored military coup actually ousted Chavez, but the result was overturned by a huge outpouring of popular support for the President. When Chavez died in 2013, his protégé Nicholas Maduro took over his role. Now, in spite of having the world’s second-largest proven oil reserves, Venezuela’s economy is shattered – as a result of plummeting oil prices. Why did oil prices plummet? Because the United States, the world’s largest consumer, moved from being a buyer to a seller. How did they do that? They began to exploit previously uneconomic reserves using the expensive and environmentally disastrous fracking technique. Why would they do that? Surely not to destroy Venezuela’s economy, get rid of President Maduro and install a US-friendly right wing dictator . . . would they? Can they really be that evil?