15 October 2016
Since Turkey’s failed coup attempt in July of this year, a lot of attention has been given to the government’s crackdown on suspected supporters of the Gülen movement, presumed to be behind the attempt. The Turkish government has been heavily criticised for presiding over politically motivated purges, which use the coup as a pretence to clear our opponents. These purges have targeted Kurdish groups as well as simply Gülenist ones. But while opposition groups and journalists are feeling the heat, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government is still enjoying a post-coup wave of support amid a consensus among many parts of society which agree with the crackdowns.
There is a narrative to this consensus that does not get heard outside of Turkey so regularly and it is important to note that, while of course many are deeply concerned by the ongoing crackdown and the consequences for the rule of law and freedom of speech in Turkey, many others are in favour. To understand and engage with Turkey at the moment, we have to try and understand why many people are in favour of a man so heavily criticised internationally. As we understand, there is an alternative narrative, employed by pro-AKP talking heads, commentators and news outlets, that has played out since the 15 July coup attempt. CEFTUS believes that to understand contemporary Turkey, it is worth paying attention to this perspective.
The crux of this narrative is that since the coup there has been a societal consensus formed in favour of democracy, as understood by the AKP, an understanding that has evolved with recent events. The AKP, now seeing the light, is ensuring no religious groups can hold influence over government and state institutions. In short, Turkey is rediscovering secularism and the AKP is listening to this and responding in its own way.
Moreover, this perspective holds, the only element of society not respecting the new post-coup consensus that favours a political process is Kurdish political and armed groups. The anger in Turkish society, commentators claim, which is enjoying a moment of unity, has grown towards these groups with every attack. These attacks conflict with the sense of unity felt. And these pro-AKP commentators are in many ways not wrong.
Indeed, Turkey is enjoying a moment of self-satisfaction stemming from its citizen-led defence of its democracy. Erdogan’s dramatic late night call to arms only adds to his part in the mythology that has been carefully cultivated since the night of the coup. The PKK’s continued attacks on police, in this post-coup heightened sense of national self, are now more than ever inciting anger.
But pro-AKP talking heads have also drawn explicit links between the PKK and the Gülen movement; and they claim a crackdown on Kurdish groups is what a large portion of Turkish society wants. They are probably correct on the latter. However, that is by no means to say this is a healthy course of action for the government to take.
The anti-PKK rhetoric is transposed neatly across to the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP), which has also been caught up in the crackdown. Pro-AKP talking heads accuse the HDP of complicity with the PKK. In some cases they are right. But their other accusation, which is that the HDP has not gotten behind the post-coup pro-democracy consensus at all, is somewhat unfair. The reality is more complex.
A criticism often levelled is that Selahattin Demirtas, leader of the HDP, did not attend the post-coup pro-democracy rally, attended by all other major parties. In fact, he was not invited, unlike the heads of the other parties. The AKP is well aware that it can use existing anti-Kurdish public sentiment to shore up its position.
The AKP is positioning itself as the guardian of democracy. Pro-AKP commentators defend the government’s more extreme breaches of the rule of law and oppression of journalists by arguing that the Gülen movement, being a secretive organisation, means that conclusive evidence cannot always be found. In the crackdown on Kurdish groups, they point to violence from Kurdish armed groups and say that a crackdown is what Turkish society demands. Once again, this may be true but this does not mean it is healthy. The government should avoid inciting nationalist sentiment if it is interested in establishing genuinely pluralistic sustained post-coup unity.
While many support the crackdown, there is undeniably an atmosphere of uncertainty in Turkey currently, stemming arguably in part from the government’s actions. This sense of uncertainty is not limited to those critical of the government. We find that people across the political spectrum, including those close to the AKP, even if supportive of the government’s actions, are also troubled by the atmosphere in which they find themselves.
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