Wednesday, July 20, 2016
Turkey's Schizophrenic Civil War
By Burak Bekdil*
Turkey's July 15 coup, as cartoonist Assad Binakhahi suggests, was a gift for President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
It is amazing that the Crescent and Star never ceases to shock with the most unexpected insanity. The capacity to shock is a feature most observed at times of war. And Turkey is at war – a schizophrenic civil war.
The May 1960 coup was a conventional coup d'état but, like July 15, was outside the chain of command. So it was simply called a coup d'état.
March 1971 was called a "soft coup." September 1980 was a conventional coup – this time inside the chain of command. Some called it the "people's coup" after more than 90 percent of Turks approved its constitution and generals as their leaders.
Turkey had a "post-modern coup" in February 1997 and an "e-coup" (in reference to the anti-government, pro-secularist memorandum posted on the military's website) in April 2007.
If history will have to name the failed coup of July 15 the best way to recall it would be as the "absurd coup." The events of July 15 looked less like a coup and more like a Turkish opera buffa, a tragic one though, with the curtain closing with more than 200 people getting killed.
Fortunately, even an absurd coup can give an unruly nation a temporary sigh of unity. Pro- and anti-president Turks seem to have united - which is great - probably until they start firing at each other again, which is not so great.
With or without unity against any military intervention in the democratic system, absurd or not, the great Turkish divide is there and will probably deepen, exposing Turkey's hybrid democracy to further risks of "road accidents" of this or that kind.
Turkey's "war of religion" will not disappear just because the pro- and anti-president forces of the country have united against a coup attempt. It is a war of religion between the adherents of the same sect of the same religion.
It was not without a reason why the anti-coup crowds that bravely stood against the troops and their commanders did not mostly chant pro-democracy slogans when they took to the streets but rather passionately chanted "Allah-u Akbar" (God is the greatest).
They were there not to defend democracy in the word's liberal meaning. They were there to defend the man whom they view as the guardian of their faith, hence their readiness to kill or die, or to lynch the pro-coup troops, and a journalist who was just photographing the scene. Willing lynchers who defend democracy chanting Islamist slogans? Nice one.
Whether the perpetrators belong to the clandestine Gülenist terror organization or were a bizarre coalition of secularist and Gülenist officers, they were simply moronic thugs in military uniforms. Speaking to a "pro-democracy" crowd of fans who interrupted his speech with the slogan "we want the death penalty [back]," President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said that the Gülenists had been secretly – and illegally - trying to capture the state over the past 40 years. And now they finally staged a coup.
The president was probably right. But he did not explain why he allied with them during the 37.5 years of the Gülenist campaign to capture the state – until he and the Gülenists broke up in December 2013. Remember his famous complaint: "Whatever they [Gülenists] wanted, we gave them."
This is the last act in the hundreds-of-years-long opera buffa of in-house fighting between various Islamist factions, not just Turkish. Despite the bloodshed and tragic scenes, like in any other Turkish opera buffa, it often can be amusing, too.
Newswires dispatched a story that said Saudi King Salman congratulated President Erdoğan for the return to "normality" – normality here must mean the defeat of undemocratic forces and return to the democratic regime. Hybrid or not, Turkey at least features a ballot-box (head-count) democracy. Let's hope one day King Salman's Kingdom too returns to normality.
· * Burak Bekdil is an Ankara-based columnist for the Turkish newspaper Hürriyet Daily News.
· * This article was published first by Hürriyet Daily News on July 20, 2016