03:41 GMT +308 December 2019
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    A damaged window is pictured at the police headquarters in Ankara, Turkey, July 18, 2016

    The End of Turkey as We Knew It

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    A failed military coup in Turkey sounds almost like a contradiction in terms, which is all the more reason to assess the implications of the one that nearly happened on July 15.

    In reality it was a desperate, last-ditch attempt of the army, the guardian of Turkey’s state and its secular order, to reclaim the nation from the clutches of the creeping Islamisation and return it to the path bequeathed by Ataturk. The consequences of the failure to do so will be profound.

    Paradoxically, it dealt a bad, one fears a mortal, blow to Turkish democracy. It was a desperate attempt to stop the real, ongoing coup d’etat being perpetrated by its ruling class for many years now.

    Now it seems the military has failed to stop the country’s slide into the dark ages, and emboldened president Erdogan will complete his work of dismantling the secular Turkey and its transformation into a religious state. There is little cause to celebrate Erdogan’s victory over the army.

    We can’t know for sure what would have happened had the army won, but we know what will happen now.

    To all who could see, a military coup was coming in Turkey. The one that took place might have been preventative in nature, with the army anticipating a final strike by Erdogan against itself, but the intervention's main goal was to right the capsizing ship of the Turkish state. Now it has come and failed. The reasons for that, among other things, were a fatal combination of miscalculations, a series of near misses and the dithering, if not cowardice, of some of the military’s top brass, who hid behind the backs of the rank and file to see how things would work out before they could join in.

    It’s not entirely right to call it a coup, since the term implies illegality. In the Kemalist constitutional tradition the military has a duty to protect Turkey’s secular state and the constitutional order against the country’s regressing to its centuries-old archetype. Military interventions in Turkey can hardly be compared to those in countries with different historical, religious and geographical backgrounds. It is more the case of the army stepping in to correct the excesses of politicians, a kind of checks and balances the Turkish way. Ataturk was wise to recognize that in a country like Turkey politicians and the masses cannot be fully trusted with power before the country completes modernization, as the two groups can easily manipulate each other to abuse and undermine the country's fledgling democracy.

    But things have changed. The army seems no longer up to the task laid down by Ataturk. The reasons for that are various. First, the army itself has been undermined by continuous purges undertaken by Erdogan since his assumption of power. The country has changed as well. A demographic explosion of the 20th century flooded Turkish cities with yesterday’s peasants who value Ataturk’s precepts less than their own tradition.

    Finally, the world has changed. Modern technology has made instant communication possible, allowing part of a population to be mobilized in the streets by their leaders at the push of a button for or against a cause. Erdogan’s supporters flooded the streets once they heard the message from their leader, while his opponents cheered the intervention from the open windows.   

    What awaits Turkey now? First, a crackdown and destruction by Erdogan of the remnants of the Turkish army in its traditional role of the guardian of the Kemalist revolution, and then the creation of a new army, totally subservient to Erdogan. That will be accompanied by a more general repression of the elements in the government and society still hostile to Erdogan's policies. Turkey will continue the slide towards Islamism. But because many Turks oppose such policies civil strife and resultant instability, if not a civil war, may engulf the country. Nor can it be ruled out that the army might still find it in itself to manage a comeback.

    The army’s intervention has handed Erdogan a perfect pretext to double down on his radical policies. But what would have happened had the intervention succeeded? We don’t know, but likely the same as before, when the army took over the government in 1960 and later. After an initial period of confusion and a purge of undesirables civilian rule would likely have been restored with the secular regime strengthened.   

    Was the failure of the coup a good or bad thing? The overthrow of legitimate authority, especially it involves loss of human life, is never a good thing. On the other hand, military intervention is part of Turkey’s constitutional tradition. In any event, both the fact of the intervention and its failure bode ill for the country. Yes, perhaps Turkey is now becoming a normal country, but more like your normal Middle East country, not the one envisioned by Ataturk. But who said that his republic was to last forever? Ataturk can’t rise from the grave to rally the Turks to stand up to those destroying his legacy, and it’s up to the Turks to decide whether they need it in the first place. At least the army can’t be blamed for standing idly by and watching Ataturk’s republic being dismantled by politicians paying lip service to him.

    But the crushing of the Darbe is also good in the sense that the pendulum must swing the whole way back. The Turks must take responsibility for themselves and their country, so that they would never again have the luxury of being able to say they had been prevented from building a better future by a military coup.

    The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of Sputnik.


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