Erdogan Moves to Consolidate Power After Failed Military Coup
Baris Karaagac and Ariel Salzmann discuss the July 15th coup attempt and say the Turkish president will use the crisis to eliminate all dissent from the judiciary and the military
SHARMINI PERIES, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, TRNN: It’s the Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries, coming to you from Baltimore.
Since the July 15 attempted military coup in Turkey that led to over 200 deaths, there have been mass arrests of thousands of citizens and military. About 2,700 judges have been sacked and thousands of police have been dismissed.
The mass arrests appeared so well coordinated and systemic that it prompted the EU commissioner Johannes Hahn to tell Reuters, and I quote, it looks at least as if something has been prepared. The lists are available, which indicates it was prepared and to be used at a certain time, end of quote.
President Erdogan also called for more than 3 million civil servants back to work from holiday, and presumably provided lots of bodies and people at the ministries.
The coup attempts also follows months of Erdogan’s attempts to expand his presidential powers through constitutional changes and incitement of violence against the pro-Kurdish HDP.
Joining me now to discuss these developments is Baris Karaagac and Ariel Salzman. Baris Karaagac is a lecturer in international development studies at Trent University in Ontario. He’s also the editor of the book “Accumulations, Crises and Struggles: Capital and Labor in Contemporary Capitalism.” And Ariel Salzman is an associate professor of Islamic and world history at Queens University in Kingston, Ontario, and she is called on by many media outlets to comment on the Middle East. Thank you both for joining me today.
ARIEL SALZMAN: Thank you, Sharmini, for inviting us.
BARIS KARAAGAC: Thanks for having us, Sharmini.
PERIES: So Ariel, let me start with you. The military coup, after it Erdogan is quoted as saying, this uprising is a gift from god to us, because this will be a reason to cleanse our army. In some media analysis the military is depicted as secular bastions against an authority, Islamic state. How would you explain this?
SALZMAN: Well, I think, you know, the very fact that he landed to much fanfare and had that speech just makes the whole situation ever more curious and ever more, you know, troubling for those of us who are watching what’s going on. Whether this is a Reichstag type of situation and whether it is, as the UN and others have suggested, something that was orchestrated or instigated by the AKP itself, or him, remains to be seen, because there are so many questions.
The questions abound. And clearly they’re compounded when you have these kind of very arrogant statements in the fact of mass uncertainty, trauma, death, you know, with the parliament being bombed. So it’s extremely disconcerting, his reaction, as well as all the questions that remain, including, who was the mastermind in the coup?
The person that’s been named is a former commander of the air force. He was commander of the the air force until last lear, Akin Ozturk, and it’s very clear, you know, as they put him through the line up, I mean, he’s been beaten up. He might have been tortured already. He claims he had nothing to do with it, and it seems very strange that he wouldn’t have done it last year when he was actually in total command of the air force. I mean that’s, after all, what you need.
PERIES: Right. And Baris, Erdogan is also blaming the influential cleric Fethullah Gulen for the coup. What role does he play or did he play in this movement, and do you think he had anything to do with it?
KARAAGAC: For our listeners, just a little piece of information as to who Fethullah Gulen is: Fethullah Gulen is the head of a congregation in Turkey who since 1999 has been residing in Pennsylvania. And for about 10 years his congregation was with the AKP government, and they together governed the country until 2013 when there was internal fighting. As a result of this internal fighting, or at the end of this internal fighting, Erdogan became victorious and started purging members of the Gulen congregations from the state and from his government.
When the coup attempt took place, the first reaction from both the prime minster of president of Turkey was that this, Fethullah Gulen was behind this attempt. So, the allegation was that it was orchestrated, it was organized by Fethullah Gulen. But then, Fethullah Gulen denied such allegations.
We still do not know who exactly is behind this coup attempt and who organized it. But it seems, this is one of the explanations, more plausible arguments or analysis that some people have come up with, is that there was going to be a purging of soldiers, members of the armed forces, right after July 15. So, in a preemptive act, the Gulen congregation, in collaboration with the other dissident groups, or dissident group, which is likely the Kemalist Nationlist group within the armed forces organized and then executed this coup attempt, which was very poorly organized and which was doomed to fail.
PERIES: Right. And President Erdogan has been seeking to expand his presidential powers for a long time now, and this sort of thing is exactly what he needs in order to consolidate his power. So do you think this will have a long-term effect over the state? Particularly since he’s, you know, now cleansing it as well as making sure that he has all kind of tools in place to assert his authority, like the death penalty?
SALZMAN: Well, you know, the Italians and the Spanish actually have invented a term. They call it Erdoganismo. And I think we should start using it, because all these other qualifications, Islamicists, like the Muslim Brotherhood, don’t get to the specificity of what’s happening with this cult of personality of someone who’s a demagogue, who can get people riled up on the streets. And clearly this was a moment in which he unleashed the mobs, and they’re still going, unfortunately. They’re still mobilized. Both across the political spectrum in defense of democracy and against [inaud.]. But specifically, his followers.
So the pillars are sectarianization of the state, and I don’t use the word Islam, because [inaud.] are Muslims, too, and they are not wanted in the state of Erdogan, and crony capitalism, in which he distributes contracts to those of his followers and loyalists. So yes, everything that happened now, we will see Erdoganismo on steroids. Clamp down of media, clamp down from, as you said, sacked, thrown out, arrested wholesale, members of the judiciary, which had already been muscled, to a great extent, and cowed into shying away from making controversial decisions. Now they’ve just gotten rid of them. 6,000 police are going. And it’s not clear what he will do to civil service in terms of actually banning them from traveling abroad. I mean, that’s also going on.
So there is to be a massive purge, and then a real movement forward quickly to try to secure this super-presidency which requires constitutional amendment in addition to, of course, the call for the death [penalty] to be reinstated after–since the 1980s. The abolition of the death penalty was a precondition, and remains a precondition, for EU membership from any state seeking entrance into the EU.
But I think the larger state transformations, I think Baris can answer better than I.
PERIES: So, Baris, now, what do you make of what the EU commissioner Johannes Hahn had suggested here? Also, please do comment on the restructuring of the state that could be underway as a result of this coup.
KARAAGAC: The EU made it very clear that if Turkey reinstates a capital penalty it would never be able to become part of the European Union.
In response to this, Tayyip Erdogan, you can see an interview on CNN Turk today, said if the parliament passes a law reinstating capital penalty, I will approve it. Well, maybe this was a message to his domestic followers, supporters, within Turkey, who don’t know how he’s going to act on that issue. We will see. Hopefully it won’t be reinstated, of course. It will lead to tragedy in this context, with no checks on presidential power.
As regards restructuring of the state, after the failed coup attempt, the country has basically two options. One of them is democratization, focusing on tolerance, establishing social pieces and so forth. And the other one is the consolidation of Erdogan’s power. Concentration of power in his hands, and a furthering of this. And getting rid of all democratic rights, and repressing civil society and social opposition even further, et cetera.
I’m almost certain, I’m almost certain that the latter will take place. Erdogan, as Ariel made it very clear, during his speech said that this coup attempt was a gift from God. Imagine, a head of the state being pleased about a coup attempt against himself. Because he knows very well that now, in the eyes of tens of millions of people in Turkey, he is the victim. His party is the victim, his regime is the victim. Or they have been presented as the victim, they have been rendered victims.
And they will use this excuse to consolidate his power even further. In addition to what we’ve seen, for example, the removal of 2,700 prosecutors and judges from office. More than 7,000 police officers from [duty], and 30 governors of provinces around the country. In addition to all these moves, I think there will be more and more repression, and there will be more efforts which will succeed, more likely, to silence the entire social opposition. Therefore, I am really worried. And this will also entail, this process, a restructuring of the state. The state will be, the regime, will become more authoritarian.
And it’s, in a way it reminds me of–it has some of the characteristics of a fascist regime, actually. The leadership cult, same form of nationalism. And in this case, combined with the religion as an important factor. And attempts to mobilize the regime’s supporters in the streets, et cetera, et cetera. So I am really worried about the near future in Turkey.
PERIES: All right. Ariel, last words in terms of what you think is next, and what should we be looking out for here?
SALZMAN: I completely agree with Baris. The high road would be to use this moment as a moment to consolidate democcracy, to have a peace branch to all the other parties, to absolutely rethink what’s going on in the Southeast, where the massive human rights violation is going on all the time, and whole cities and villages are being destroyed, and people are being uprooted.
To rethink all these policies. But I’m afraid that Erdogan, given his performance up to this point, and given the cult of personality that surrounds him, and his goals in consolidating power at any cost, will not be the politician to do that.
PERIES: All right. Ariel Salzman and Baris Karaagac, I thank you both for joining us today.
SALZMAN: Thank you, Sharmini.
KARAAGAC: Thank you so much.
PERIES: And thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.
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