Bosphorus Straights

The Ongoing Collapse of Turkey’s Secular Democ­racy and… the Backstory to the Attempted Turkish Coup (part 2/3)

Off the keyboard of Allan Stromfeldt Christensen

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Published on From Filmers to Farmers on August 19th, 2016

Discuss this article at the Geopolitics Table inside the Diner

 


Mustafa Kemal Atatürk (photo courtesy of rene de paula jr)

So where did I leave off in part 1? Oh yeah. Erdoğan and Putin are now BFF-FAW (Best Friends Forever For A While), Erdoğan’s Turkey has quite possibly been helping ISIS unload its oil, the United States / Europe / NATO has purportedly been turning a blind eye to it all, and Turkey is trying to avoid joining its western neighbour for as long as it can before embarking on its journey to the endarkenment. But before I continue from where I left off and address whether or not a local supply of fossil fuels from the north could be enough to sway Erdoğan “from the bad guys to the bad guys,” a little bit of Turkish history is in order. And fortunately, having introduced my Turkish confidant to the Turkish (falafel) joint I frequent, in return I was introduced by him to the work of Turkish writer Efe Aydal, whose writings went a long way in clearing things up for me.

As Aydal explained it in May of 2016, when the AKP first came into power “The American media was calling Erdoğan ‘second Atatürk.'” Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, in case you aren’t aware, is sometimes described as Turkey’s George Washington. In the 1920s he became the first president of the country, and upon putting through various political, economic and cultural reforms meant to transform Turkey’s religiously-oriented Ottoman caliphate into a secular, democratic, and modern nation-state, he also went out of his way to make sure that the military would not be answerable to the government. The purpose behind the latter move was to ensure that above all else the military would uphold its mandate of protecting Turkey’s new constitutional principles of secularism. This is why Turkey has had six coups/attempted coups since 1960, the military moving in when it believes that civilian governments are violating its secular principles (although it’s possible that outside interests played some roles in those coups).

On top of that, Atatürk had thousands of new schools built, primary education was made free, taxation on peasants was reduced, the use of Western attire was promoted, and women were given equal civil and political rights. And contrary to what I initially thought, none of this is to say that Atatürk was some kind of Western stooge. Unbeknownst to me, and as my Turkish confidant filled me in, the ANZAC holiday which many Australians and Kiwis celebrate every year was originally in reference to Australia’s and New Zealand’s failed invasion of Constantinople (in what is now Turkey) back in World War I – and which Kiwi mates of mine see as a ridiculous thing to celebrate since ANZAC Day is essentially about glorifying the (attempted) invasion of another country and of sending our young men to needlessly fight and die in a banker’s war. But regardless of all that, it just so happens that the commander of the Turkish army that held back the Aussie and Kiwi minions of British bankers was none other than Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.

It’s been nearly a century since Atatürk’s time though, and while Atatürk’s image is currently being paraded around Turkey by the AKP – even though it’s been talking about abandoning the constitution’s tenet of secularism, and so is likely just jumping on the bandwagon because it now needs the support of the secularists after having split with the Gülenists – “democracy” also seems to have become a mostly-empty buzzword as well.


Where the world’s finest go to shine (photo by United Nations Photo)

First off there’s the president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who after supporters he was addressing outside his Istanbul residence began chanting for the death penalty to be restored, summarily stated that “We cannot ignore this demand… In democracies whatever the people say has to happen.” Or in other words, mob rules.

(As an aside to that, if Turkey reinstates the death penalty, which it scrapped in 2004 as a condition for eventually gaining admittance to the European Union, its chances for gaining passage onto the Titanic drop to zero. Furthermore, even if Turkey could squeeze its way in onto the lower decks of the EU, admittance to the club pales in comparison to the allure of a new imperial Turkey that could dominate the region. Granted, the EU is Turkey’s biggest trade partner, but with possibility of membership in the Moscow-led Eurasian Economic Union [EEU – a two-year-old, five-member free trade zone], and with the BRICS consortium a possible trading partner as well, a turn away from the EU may not actually be as bad as it sounds – as far as these things go, that is.)

Moving on in this darlings-of-democracy showcase (which is certainly giving the United States’ Democratic Party a run for its money – to the bottom), next in line is Fethullah Gülen, the Muslim cleric living in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania who the mainstream media likes to portray as a “staunch advocate of democracy,” who is then said to have “left Turkey in 1999 just ahead of a treason charge,” but from what I’ve strangely noticed hardly ever seems to get explained any further.

But according to an old BBC article I came across, it turns out that shortly after Gülen left to the United States in 1999 for what he claimed were medical reasons, Turkish television channels broadcast recordings of comments by Gülen “in which he urges his followers in the judiciary and public service to work patiently to take control of the state.” Gülen dismissed the allegations (from the United States) and said his comments were taken out of context. He was tried in absentia in 2000 by Turkey’s then-secular courts, but ultimately cleared in 2008 by Erdoğan’s more Islamic-leaning courts, his acquittal possibly a gesture of gratitude for his support of Erdoğan’s election to prime minister in 2003. Nonetheless, Gülen has remained in self-imposed exile ever since his initial departure.


Apparently not everyone is a fan of Fethullah Gülen
(photo courtesy of SHOTbySUSAN)

To make things even murkier, United States immigration authorities had planned to expel Gülen in 2006, but plans for such were rescinded following a letter of recommendation written to the FBI and the United States Department of Homeland Security by former Vice Chairman of the CIA’s National Intelligence Council, Graham Fuller (who openly admits to this, and which is part of the public record anyhow).

As it turns out, and as Aydal also states,

In Turkey, the governments come and go, the one thing which doesn’t change is every government had to get the approval of Fethullah Gülen until now. Because he had so much vote potential, if he didn’t approve a party, that party wouldn’t be able to win. When AKP came to lead [in 2003], it was made possible by the Gülen power again.

However, and as Aydal also states, “Something I never expected happened” (which an article in Foreign Policy delved into):

[In 2013] AKP and the Fethullah cult started fighting. And everything you see today in Turkey is the result of that. AKP has the government advantage, but Fethullah has the advantage that it’s backed by USA.

Moreover, and as Aydal put it a couple of months before the attempted coup shenanigans,

[I]n the future AKP will eventually lose. Because ever since they broke the bonds with USA based Fethullah cult, they’re not useful for USA anymore. And they will be replaced by one which is useful. That’s why in recent months the foreign press started attacking him [Erdoğan] and calling him a dictator, whereas they used to hail and love him.

“Love him”? And refer to him as the “second Atatürk”? Well sure, if – and contrary to the wishes of most of the world’s global Muslim population – you sign up as a full supporter of the 2003 Anglo-American invasion of Iraq, and even pen an article for the Wall Street Journal, you’re the United States’ latest BFF-FAW. (Just don’t get too uppity, lest you want to end up like the United States’ former BFF-FAW, Saddam Hussein.)

Regardless, that’s pretty much all changed now. For as Aydal concludes,

You guys have to understand, for Turkey this is HISTORY. It’s the day when USA lost total control over Turkey. I was always wondering how long can Erdoğan resist the Gülen cult, but he actually waged straight-up war. And every party who’s against Gülen is supporting Erdoğan in this.

And not just every party, but many – most – run-of-the-mill Turks. Although Erdoğan is generally a divisive figure, his recent purges of Gülenitsts from judiciaries, police forces, and other government sectors is being praised by Turks of all political stripes, even those who normally oppose him. Post coup, his approval ratings have shot up to 68% from 47% prior to the coup, and a recent rally saw more than two million Turks, of various political persuasions, join together in solidarity. As one attendee put it, “We came together to save our nation from outside forces, so we are here for the love of our country and flag.”

While the west generally sees Erdoğan’s purges as a witch hunt and Erdoğan as little more than an authoritarian, many Turks are frustrated that the West isn’t taking the Gülen network (FETO) seriously. As an article in the Intercept put it, for years Gülentists have been using “clandestine methods to sneak into the military schools” as well as recruit in the police, judicial, and other government agencies. (According to the article’s informant, military pilots who could fly the American-made F-16 fighter jets were the most prized of all.) Anybody who spoke up about what was going on was swiftly punished. And while it was (secular) Kemalists that were the first targets of the Gülen network due to their sought after positions in public offices, Erdoğan’s AKP became the most recent target after the fallout in 2012.

Granted, prior to 2012 the AKP had actually assisted the Gülenist take-over of the judiciary, and so in return had any laws it wanted passed done so. Likewise, the government also turned a blind eye to the Gülenist infiltration of the army. That being so, even though (secular) Kemalists are generally supportive of the purges, they are nonetheless concerned that after Erdoğan is finished with the Gülenists he will set his sights on them and it will be back to the old divisive ways, if not worse. As someone by the name of “actual turk” stated in the comment section of part 1 in this Turkey series, “Erdogan is no angel – he is a scumbag – but this purge is getting rid of an islamic cancer far worse than Erdogan.”

Having said all that, the West has not been all to happy with the outcome of the attempted coup. As the not-conspiracy-oriented Oil Price put it, “European leaders were not too enthusiastic when the attempted coup failed, despite official declarations in support of Erdogan’s government.” Taking it a bit further, others have even stated that “Only when it became clear the coup was in fact smashed President Obama and the ‘NATO allies’ officially proclaimed their ‘support for the democratically elected government’.” The Unites States’ government obviously denies this, and while some simply dismiss the United Statesian government’s retort as “damage control,” it’s perhaps not too hard to imagine who the United States was likely rooting for.

In the meantime, the Erdoğan/AKP government has been vehemently calling for the United States to extradite Gülen back to Turkey so he can face charges of treason (since they see him as the mastermind of the failed coup), but the United States is having no part in this. Following that, Western media sources have repeatedly reported that the United States’ government is demanding evidence of Gülen’s involvement before any judicial process can begin, full stop. But look outside the bubble, and you’ll see it stated that

According to Erdogan, “Documents have been sent to the U.S.” establishing Gulen’s guilt. But the Obama administration remains unmoved, even though Turkey has handed over terrorists to the US in the past without evidence.

And as Erdoğan has also apparently stated (and which I’ve never seen quoted in any Western mainstream media source),

Now I ask, does the West give support to terror or not? Is the West on the side of democracy or on the side of coups and terror? Unfortunately, the West gives support to terror and stands on the side of coups… We have not received the support we were expecting from our friends, neither during nor after the coup attempt.

Like the saying goes, “better the devil you know than the devil you don’t,” which is perhaps useful when you know which one of them you know better than the other.


Nearly everybody likes a good Ponzi scheme

Anyhow, what has now emerged following Erdoğan’s displeasure with the United States is an ultimatum over the delayed visa-free access for Turks to the European Union. That is, in return for Turkey stemming the flow of illegal migrants to Europe, Turks were to receive a free pass to the land of not-exactly-plenty. But despite Turkey working on its end of the bargain (five of seventy-two demands are still to be met), the visa-free access still eludes Turks, and the recent post-coup crackdowns have added a bit of a sore-spot to the whole thing. But as Turkey’s foreign minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu recently stated, Turkey could renege on its efforts to hold back said migrants. As Reuters put it,

Asked whether hundreds of thousands of refugees in Turkey would head to Europe if the EU did not grant Turks visa freedom from October, Çavuşoğlu told Bild: “I don’t want to talk about the worst case scenario – talks with the EU are continuing but it’s clear that we either apply all treaties at the same time or we put them all aside… It can’t be that we implement everything that is good for the EU but that Turkey gets nothing in return.”

To drive the point home even further, Çavuşoğlu has also stated that

We worked very hard to have good relations with Europe for 15 years. If the West one day loses Turkey – whatever our relations with Russia and China – it will be its own fault.”

Working off of a few things I mentioned in part 1, if Turkey’s demands aren’t met, this may very well mean Turkey will turn a blind eye to Syrians and other refugees flooding into Europe, some of which may very well be jihadi-wannabes from neighbouring countries. On the other hand, if Turkey does somehow get its way and its citizens are granted visa-free access to the European Union, the 2.7 million Syrians that Erdoğan plans on granting citizenship to may very well gain a form of access to Europe anyhow – and some of which, again, may be jihadi-wannabes from other countries. So the solution is…?

In other words, the story in Turkey is a whole lot messier than what those of us in the West are being led to believe. And when penultimate control of energy supplies is the hidden agenda, the devil you know is apt to partake in actions contrary to what might be expected. I’ll finish off the story in part 3.

EDIT 29/08/2016: Upon completion of the last part of this Turkish trilogy a few changes were made to better clarify things and improve its overall structure. In part 2 the only significant change was the addition of three paragraphs describing the rather favourable reaction Turks have had to Erdoğan’s purges, why that is so, and what some fear could transpire following said purges.

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