By Yavuz Ramiz Colak
15th of July, 2016
“Happy Birthday Ramiz!”
I blow out the candles. It is around 7 pm. I feel bittersweet; overjoyed to have my friends on this special night but uneasy about my impending departure to Yale. Around the dinner table, we reminisce about high school years and promise to keep in touch. As laughter fills the dining room, my phone’s screen lights up: “Check out the news, NOW!”
All the channels are live-broadcasting the same thing: “Soldiers closed Bosphorus bridge and major autoroutes with tanks!” As I wonder what this means, I realize the laughter in the room has been replaced with deafening silence. All eyes are fixated on the news, which is calling it a possible coup attempt.
At last our family friend, a political science professor, breaks the silence. He explains that Turkey has faced many coups in its history; all took place at dawn, not during the day. He adds that, if it were a coup, it would happen all around Turkey instead of just in Istanbul and Ankara; and the majority of the army would take part in it, instead of a few thousand soldiers. For a moment, I’m reassured. Maybe this is just a terror notice, and the army closed the bridge because of an ISIS threat.
Around 9 pm, there is still no official explanation. Everything is blurry. As I comfort my little siblings, the state-owned news channel starts broadcasting a declaration: the army has taken control due to the government’s autocratic tendencies, breach of human rights and inadequate national defense against terror groups such as ISIS. Meanwhile, I hear jets start flying over my house. They go fast enough to make sonic booms.
Shocked, I ask my father, who lived through two previous coups himself, what will happen next. He sighs. He says that this coup will damage Turkey’s reputation both on the national and international levels, ending the hopes for a more democratic Turkey and a more stable Middle East.
As I grapple with the coup idea, President Erdogan – to everyone’s surprise – FaceTimes one of the popular TV channels. He urges people to take to the streets, and take back their country from the army! Within minutes, clamor starts coming from outside. People cry “Darbeye hayir” [No to military coup]. Just in my neighborhood, thousands fill the streets; in Istanbul, the number reaches millions. They start walking towards soldiers, and take over the tanks. Although it would normally be impossible for a group of civilians to defeat an army, that night is an exception; in most instances soldiers refuse to use their guns, saying that they did not know they were there for a coup. “We thought it was a sham battle,” says one soldier on TV. “We only followed the orders,” adds his friend. Despite soldier’s collaboration , many radical protesters attack soldiers, and brutally kill them. Pictures of a soldier’s severed head spread online. Following a three-hour-long turmoil, the coup fails.
That night, speculation swirled throughout Turkey. Some claimed that the coup was staged, arguing that President Erdogan himself had planned it to obtain legitimacy for supreme power. It is true that just days after the coup, the National Assembly expanded President Erdogan’s authority by declaring a state of emergency. The majority of the public, however, believed that the coup attempt was real. In fact, many citizens thought that it was supported by the US and other Western powers. The official explanation was that the coup had been orchestrated by a secret division within the army. “A ‘parallel state’ had been secretly built”, President Erdogan claimed.
Yet none of these claims have been proven. In fact, the truth may stay hidden for many years, given the limitations on freedom of speech and journalism. In lieu of arguing about the coup’s perpetrators, it is more essential to analyze the cracks it created in Turkey.
The first crack was in the Turkish bureaucracy. A purge started following the coup, and more than 105,000 governmental officials (soldiers, doctors, teachers, judges, professors) lost their jobs, with more than 30,000 of them imprisoned. Although the government filled the void with new college graduates, their inexperience has weakened the already inefficient bureaucratic system.
On the defense front, the military has been weakened following the widespread dismissals and arrests, which included 103 generals and admirals. Many NATO allies expressed concerns about military cooperation – Turkey lacked a contact person. Dismissals in the police force have only further enfeebled national security. In a time when ISIS is regularly organizing terror attacks in Turkey, the defense forces’ inability to prevent and counter this threat is worrisome. The latest attack, on a wedding in South Turkey, killed 90 innocent citizens.
The education system faces similar crisis. Within the first month following the coup attempt, President Erdogan forced all 1,577 deans in Turkish universities to resign. Along with them, 6,337 academics were expelled from universities, causing a shortage in qualified faculty and teaching staff. Beyond their practical implications, these dismissals put freedom of expression and scholarly integrity at risk; those who were not sacked were either partisans of the government, or had become afraid to publicly speak their minds.
The judicial system, too, has been hampered after more than 3,600 judges were sacked and detained. In the face of these arrests, many lawsuits could not be properly conducted for a long period. Although new judges were assigned after a while, as detained judges were replaced by those who supported the current government, any lawsuit against the government (or anyone affiliated with it) has been rejected or put on hold indefinitely. Simply put, the judicial system is no longer objective or transparent – incapable of protecting the rule of law in Turkey’s fragile democracy.
The second crack appeared in democracy and civil rights. Upon declaring a state of emergency, the ruling party had the opportunity to expand its power. Within weeks, they passed many new laws in the assembly – one of which, for example, changed the system for choosing university presidents. While previously the president of each university was chosen through the votes of affiliated faculty, with this new system, President Erdogan started to appoint whomever he wanted. (In fact, last week, President Erdogan chose a professor, who did not even run, as the new president of Turkey’s top-ranked Bogazici University, despite the fact that another candidate had received 90% of the faculty votes.)
Additionally, the government closed more than 2,000 universities and schools, shut down 195 news outlets and 54 hospitals, assigned new heads and CEOs to thousands of businesses, limited internet access and banned online newspapers and political blogs. Amnesty International also documented human rights abuses in prisons, whose populations have swelled since July.
The last crack opened in the society. Following the coup, the government and media targeted Gulenists, a religious group that they accused of being affiliated with the coup. Outraged and fueled by the media, citizens diverted their anger towards people they believed to be Gulenists. This gave rise to “social espionage,” where neighbors and even family members would report each other as ‘members of the religious group who attempted the coup.’
Soon, the government also started arresting secular journalists, businessmen, judges and professors. When the number exceeded 80,000 sacked or arrested citizens, it became clear that the targeted group comprised anyone critical of governmental misdeeds, not just Gulenists. This expanded the boundaries of massive public espionage to the level where people started reporting anyone who was criticizing the government verbally or online. Some, unbelievably, were detained for their critical Tweets and Facebook likes.
This issue was further complicated by the government’s attitude toward the Kurds; recently the leader and some deputies of the main pro-Kurdish party, HDP, were arrested. At this stage, the government was arresting Kurds, Gulenists, and opposing citizens under the same laws and charge: “Being a terrorist who tries to take down the government.” This fueled already angry Turkish citizens against the Kurds, and vice versa.
Learning about all these cracks, every day I feel more and more anxious about my country. Since the regrettable night of attempted coup, every day has become darker and darker for us. While the government’s assumption of full authority seemed comforting (to some) at first, it soon proved to be disastrous for civil rights, democracy, national security and social integration.
Right now, we must remain hopeful. No matter how dark the night is, the sun will rise in the morning. Until that time, however, our generation will keep standing and fighting.
Yavuz Ramiz Colak ‘20 is a prospective Ethics, Politics, and Economics major in Timothy Dwight College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.