The night that allowed Erdogan to pose as a protector of democracy, while enhancing his autocratic clout over Turkey

My friend Yilmaz’s terrified voice was reflective of how appalling it was for him to behold the spectacle of tanks rolling the streets of Istanbul. He told me that he was stocking up on water and bread

At about 1:00am on Saturday I received a message from one of my class mates with whom I used to engage in long vivacious and perky discussions. He told me a coup has taken place in Turkey.

He knew that I was quite fervent and avid lover of Turkey as he usually got answers like this from me that:

“Turkey will be a major super power in future and it will one day reaffirm its sphere of influence to the valleys of the rivers Volga and Sava like it has reinstated its hegemony and predominance from the sweltering Syrian desert to evocative and garish orchards of Bukhara.”

My rejoinder to my friend's flabbergasting and astounding WhatsApp message was:

“Really, are you mad? Erdogan has been engaged in the process of curbing the power of Turkish Military since he has come to power in 2003. It can’t be possible.”

I was quite fretful and distressed at that time and called one of my friends in Istanbul Yilmaz through Facebook Messenger and enquired from him about the situation there. He told me in Turkish:

“Bu Isyancılar bizi oldurecek” [These mutineers will kill us]

Yilmaz’s terrified voice was reflective of how appalling it was for him to behold the spectacle of tanks rolling the streets of Istanbul. He told me that he was stocking up on water and bread.

Then an issue of poor internet signals emerged from his side which disrupted our call for a while and after five minutes I resumed with my call. Yilmaz told me how he spotted an army helicopter from the balcony of his apartment in Beyoglu. Yilmaz further added that:

“A jet has passed away which has shattered the windows of my apartment.”

At that moment I was full of dread.

After taking my sleeping pills, I slept splendidly and the night had escalated quickly. In retrospect, the attempted coup was a case of “blink and you’ll miss it” but at the time it was a lingering night of havoc, mayhem and ferocity as first the army and then police took control of TV stations and social media was throbbing with speculations.

As dawn broke, President Erdogan announced that the coup had failed. Few hours after soldiers fired their bullets on civilians on the iconic Bosphorus Bridge, they capitulated. Ferries and trams went back to life, and cabs drove people home with views of abandoned tanks on roads. Even at Istanbul’s Ataturk International airport everything was returning to normal after a night of explosions and gunfire.

When Erdogan flew in to Istanbul, he made a televised speech at first inside the airport at around 4:00 am in Turkey, whilst thousands gathered outside. He addressed a crowd of supporters in the airport, at about 6:30 am. He said:

"In Turkey, armed forces are not governing the state or leading the state. They cannot."

He blamed "those in Pennsylvania" (a reference to Fethullah Gülen, who lives in Saylorsburg, Pennsylvania and his Hizmet Movement) for the coup attempt. Equally significant to the coup's collapse was the ineptitude of the rebels to neutralize Erdogan and other high ranking government officials, either by killing or detaining them.

But if we examine the situation scrupulously, we can see how the coup attempt began in the early evening rather than at a more inconspicuous time – that the events were largely restricted to Ankara and İstanbul – that no members of the government or MPs were taken hostage – and that pro-government media outlets were not halted from broadcasting live during the events. This led to dubiety about the authenticity of the coup attempt, with many journalists and opposition politicians labelling it as a 'tragic comedy' and a 'theatre play'.

Proponents of such theorems pointed to how Erdogan stood to acquire absolutely from the coup attempt in terms of increasing his popularity and support for his calls for an executive presidency, while being able to legitimise further clampdowns on civil liberties, judicial independence and the opposition in general.

Opponents of Erdogan's regime claimed that very little stood in the way of his government eroding the founding principles of the Turkish Republic such as secularism, which the AKP has long been accused of wanting to abolish, and pursuing a more authoritarian agenda.

The swing between Turkey’s constitutional secularism on the one hand, and its religious identity, on the other, defined the founding of the Turkish Republic which was engineered by military officers, most famously Ataturk.

Throughout his tenure as Prime minister and now as President, Erdogan has distanced himself from Ataturk. He views himself as the father of a new Turkish identity, one aligned more closely with its Ottoman past, its Islamic heritage.

Turkish society has become deeply polarized between those who love and those who loathe Erdogan. Parallels have been drawn on social media between this attempted coup in Turkey and the Reichstag fire, which Adolf Hitler used as an excuse to suspend civil liberties and order mass arrests of his opponents.

Critics, including political correspondent Ryan Heath from Politico, have speculated that the coup was staged to give Erdogan an opportunity to purge the military of opponents and increase his grip on the country. Heath used Twitter to share comments from his Turkish source, who called the events of Friday night a “fake coup” which would help a “fake democracy warrior”, [referring to Erdogan].

The source noted:

“Probably we’ll see an early election [in] which he’ll try to guarantee an unbelievable majority of the votes. And this will probably guarantee another 10–15 years of authoritarian, elected dictatorship."

The New York Times reported that some Turkish citizens believed the coup attempt was staged by Erdogan to improve his public image and popularity, while cracking down on political opponents and expanding his power.

Certain theorists found it suspect that reportedly no government officials were arrested or harmed during the attempted coup, which—among other factors—raised the suspicion of a false flag event staged by the Turkish government itself to crack down on the opposition.

Fethullah Gülen, whom Erdogan had accused as being one of the principal conspirators, commented:

"I don’t believe that the world believes the accusations made by President Erdogan."

A banner depicting Erdogan alongside former Prime Minister Adnan Menderes (who was deposed and hanged following the 1960 Turkish coup d'état) was hung by AKP supporters outside the party's headquarters in Trabzon as the coup attempt unfolded, with the words:

'The Nation will never let this happen again!'

The banner was ridiculed on social media with several critics denouncing the poster as proof that prior preparations had been made by the AKP before the coup attempt began, citing the impossibility of such a poster being designed and printed in such a short space of time.

If we critically analyse the situation like I have done, we can see how Erdogan who is now trying to depict himself as a harmless victim or a popular politician who fell prey to a conspiracy hatched by so called anti-Islamic forces, which according to AKP supporters are USA, Israel and the Western powers and their Turkish assailants are the secular circles in Judiciary, Military and Police.

But why can’t we see that Turkey has recently reconciled with Israel in a rapprochement deal after a six year long standoff over Gaza flotilla raid? It has also allowed USA to use its Incirlik Air Base in Adana against ISIS in neighbouring Iraq and Syria.

After such moves which automatically incline his Turkey towards a strong bilateral relationship with the Western powers and Israel, there can be no reason behind a plot by Americans or Western forces through Gulen and secular circles against democratically elected Turkish Government.

To blame Gulen is futile too as he has been exerting and exercising political influence in Turkey through his so called “Parallel state”  in Police and Judiciary not in Military as Gulen was the one who previously cooperated with Erdogan in cleansing Turkish administrative circles of the secular comrades of Ataturk.

My viewpoint on this Turkish coup may differ from, and contradict, the viewpoint of many of my fellow countrymen and my Turkish brothers but it seem apparent that this case isn’t that straightforward as it has been shown on news channels and Social Media.

I hope Turkey will again enjoy days of prosperity and political peace as it did in initial years of Erdogan as prime minister. Yasasin Turkiye! (Long live Turkey)

Sarmad Iqbal is a writer, blogger, columnist and a student at FC College Lahore. He can be followed at Twitter @sarmadiqbal7.

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