Not too long ago, the answer to the question above would be: “Yes, a military takeover, of the kind frequently experienced in Turkey in the past, is no longer an option.” This would be the answer, not only because the country is now fully integrated to the wider world in untold forms, a possible disruption in civilian politics being thus likely to lead to truly catastrophic consequences, turning some such attempt into nothing but a suicide mission by the military, but also because the democratic alliance spearheaded by the ruling Party for Justice and Development (AKP) in the last decade overthrew the old bureaucratic order notably by befriending, and relying on, the globalising forces of the wider world.
PM Erdoğan and President Obama
The political opposition against the AKP, especially the neo-nationalist fringe, became anti-Europe, anti-US, anti-NATO, and anti-Semitic during the AKP rule in the last decade not without a reason. The reforms achieved by the AKP, successfully translated into a trendy global discourse for the world public opinion by democratic and liberal intellectuals unconditionally supportive of the AKP, almost to the level of exhaustion, could hardly have come about without the strong and crucial international backing at various levels.
In other words, the real deterrence taking the coup off the cards as an option has been neither the new political climate brought about by the anti-coup trials in the country from the mid-2007, nor the recent symbolic amendment, in July 2013, as a token “democratising” act in the immediate aftermath of the Gezi protests, in the Law of Active Duty (İç Hizmet Yasası) of the Turkish Armed Forces, which has been claimed by military juntas to authorise the army for a takeover in its notorious Article 35, making it part of the overall duty of the armed forces “to protect and watch for the land.”
General Büyükanıt, Chief of Staff (2006-2008), and admittedly the author of the memo in April 2007 against the government
In April 2007, when a military coup seemed to be imminent, with a clear and thunderous threat issued by the military on its website, the anti-coup trials had not yet started. As for the amendment in the normative framework in order to block a possible coup, this was not something even thought about at the time.
Yet, as known, the coup boldly threatened by the military would never come, despite the clear defiance of the military by the government, urged, once again, by democratic and liberal intellectuals, at the cost of considerable personal risk, not to bow down under pressure, and supported instantly in this act of defiance by a multitude of global forces.
What happened since, then? How did a military coup once again, and mysteriously, become an option?
What has happened primarily is the increasingly deep contempt blatantly displayed by the government of the Prime Minister (PM) Erdoğan for the life-styles and preferences of secular, urban masses. This new turn in the mental outlook of the government seems to have started from the last quarter of 2010, following the ultimate blow to the old regime through a heated referendum, which became a momentous victory for the government, celebrated ironically on that day by democrats and liberals as a huge step forward in the long awaited democratisation of the country.
“Could be better, but OK” (literally: “Not enough, but yes”)
The democratic support for the AKP from sections of the far-from-religious-or-conservative intelligentsia, as reflected in the slogan “Not quite right (or ‘could be better’), but OK (Yetmez ama evet),” ostracized since by the Kemalist political opposition as the naïve democratic complicity (if not a case of plain sell-out for material gains) in the forthcoming AKP despotism, was in fact, without any doubt whatsoever, a step forward, a glorious jump even, freeing politics for the first time from the yoke of the bureaucracy, military and judicial.
To be sure, the extent of the contempt to be shown by the PM to secular life styles in the society after this silent revolution has shocked most of these former supporters; there has been no doubt, however, that it was a necessary step for normalisation. For the first time in recent history, genuine political struggle, uninterrupted by a vicious, partisan bureaucracy, became possible.
Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the leader of the main opposition party CHP
Indeed, part of the reason for the audacious excesses of the AKP rule presently is the almost total lack of dexterity and finesse for ordinary democratic struggle on the part of the Kemalist political opposition, which, having felt no need to acquire these skills in the past, is simply unable to steal votes from the AKP. It is almost a joke that the AKP, with all its despotism, sounds still more progressive and democratic at times than the Kemalist opposition, which is yet to adopt itself to the new Turkey.
“We want the government to resign!”
Political struggle, not only for the People’s Republican Party (CHP), the main opposition, but also self-styled Kemalist “socialists” or “leftists” of Turkey, is nothing more presently than a kind of psychological relief for the benefit of those who are already in the same camp through an old, bitter and inflexible discourse, as opposed to seeking realistically to defeat the AKP at the ballot box through labour intensive politicking and patience. They can be seen to chant at every opportunity: “We want the government to resign!” But what would happen, really, if the government of PM Erdoğan did actually resign? Chances are that, in the absence of a genuinely democratic opposition, the present government would return to power at the very first elections possibly with increased votes.
Protesters at Gezi
The unusual wit and skill displayed by a younger generation of activists against the government at the celebrated Gezi protests in the late May and the early June, 2013, which sent the government into a state of panic, from which the government has not yet fully recovered, is yet to be adopted by the older generation of “leftists” and the institutional political opposition.
The Gezi protests have been described by Ahmet İnsel, a Turkish intellectual, as a “revolt for self-respect.” It is probably the most apt description of what happened, because the blend of fury and humour that defined Gezi was a direct response to the deep contempt increasingly displayed by the PM for others.
What sort of contempt? In introducing the new regulations on the sale of alcoholic drinks, for instance, which are not necessarily out of line with those in European democracies, despite the perception to the contrary, Erdoğan addressed those who take alcohol, whom he would later go so far as to describe as “alcoholics,” even if they took only one glass, stating: “You can still drink, don’t worry. You can drink till you bust and spew!”
Graffiti: Erdoğan watching
Later, referring to the way women whom the PM apparently saw at the quay from the windows of his nearby office at the Dolmabahçe Palace, arriving on a frequent steamer from Kadıköy, a district of Istanbul that is a stronghold of the opposition, the PM revealed his unease at the way those women dressed. “What I see,” he stated, “is not anything that I can reconcile with my values.”
The latest in a long line of outbursts by the PM, targeting mercilessly the self-respect of secular people, especially the young people, is about the mixed-sex student flats, which the PM apparently finds abominable.
The government amended a building bylaw in last September and banned the so-called studio flats on the grounds that flats of this type are simply heedless of the “values” of the Turkish society for encouraging young people to live on their own, demanding in the revised regulation therefore that a flat should have at least one separate bedroom.
Obviously in a calculated series of steps, the statement on mixed-sex accommodations came yesterday, on November 5. In the thick of a nation-wide debate presently, the PM declared that he was not happy with these accommodations, where “boys and girls mix,” and that he had therefore instructed local governors to be watchful. No one knows what exactly this means, but his exact words have been: “Neighbours get in touch with the authorities and tell on the mixed-sex flats occupied by students, and the local governors do what is necessary. Since we are a ‘conservative’ democratic political party, naturally we take an interest in this.”
As it is hardly possible for local governors or the law enforcement agencies to intervene legally, as the right to privacy, enshrined in Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, binding on Turkey, extends absolute protection to personal and family life, home and correspondence, it is a mystery how the PM is going to have the state apparatus spy on peoples’ homes and bring them into line with the “values” in his head. Knowing how slavish and zealous the local governors can be, mostly handpicked during more than a decade-long rule of the AKP, this possibly means extra-legal harassment of the students via the police, unless, of course, the situation is more serious and the PM plans to leave the European regime of human rights altogether, in which Turkey has been participating since 1954.
When the concern expressed by the PM on the issue first became news, it was declared by both the deputy PM Bülent Arınç and the chief political advisor Yalçın Akdoğan as “total fabrication.” Arınç, who is also the government spokesperson, stated: “How is it possible for the government to interfere in people’s homes? We don’t have such authority!”
Yet, only the day after (yesterday), the PM took the floor and, being the fearless and straight-forward person that he is, owned up what had been articulated in the news the day before, without of course the slightest concern, as is his wont, about the earlier, corrective statements by Arınç and his closest aide.
The fact that the government newspapers Yeni Şafak and Sabah practically censured the PM the day after, omitting this statement in their respective reports, while it was in the headlines in most of the other national dailies (plus, in Star, an extraordinarily hot-headed government newspaper), is an indication, I suppose, that a lot of people within the ranks of the AKP do think, just as Arınç, that the PM has now become something of a loose cannon, having once more put his foot in it. (For the “government media,” see Media Independence in the New Turkey.)
Nazlı Ilıcak, a veteran columnist for Sabah, and a former deputy of the Erbakanist Virtue Party, out of which the AKP emerged, stated on a TV show on the day of the statement by Erdoğan (November 5): “This is neither conservative, nor democratic. This is something else. Actually I’m ashamed I voted for this political party.” It is dubious that Ilıcak, being lynched as of now, as I type these words, will be allowed to serve much longer on the staff of Sabah.
The Gezi protests of the last May and June have not only been a revolt for self-respect, signalling a new and promising way of doing politics for the opposition, but it has also rekindled the old relationship of the political opposition with Europe and the north America. As Erdoğan has ruined in days the image he built for a decade in the wider world, the political opposition, by contrast, is increasingly warming up to universal values long forgotten within the Kemalist tradition.
To go back, finally, to the question in the title above, sadly things are getting serious in Turkey and a military coup may son become an option à la the latest military takeover in Egypt. The main deterrence that has kept a possible coup away from Turkey for some time is no longer in the way: the AKP, increasingly isolated internationally, has lost the trust of the wider world and the military staging a coup may readily receive a helping hand, or at least a generous understanding, from various global actors, vital for the success of the takeover.
Tahrir Square, July 2013
As for the collective political perception in Turkey presently against military takeovers, as well reflected in the virtually unified stance during the coup in Egypt, let us recall that this perception, greatly shaped by democratic and liberal intellectuals, rather than the AKP, was formed only recently, and in a very short time. It may just as quickly fade away. Justifying a military coup may indeed be easier than defending the democratic credentials, or the love of ballot box, of a government that is becoming more and more brazenly oblivious to basic rights and freedoms. That the present Chief of Staff was appointed by the AKP, or that the recent anti-coup cases should be intimidating and deterring to the military, are details that are hardly going to be in the way when the “conditions are ripe,” namely, when a Gezi-like chain of protests is accompanied by a sudden withdrawal of “hot money” from Turkey by online speculators, to which the country has become quite addictive over the years, and which may leave the economy shaken with a sudden jolt.
This may happen. And, in not so distant future if this happens, ten years from now perhaps, we will be talking a good deal about these days, trying to work out just what happened, how the AKP under Erdoğan let a successful democratic revolution transform into a downright blunder that will set the political normalisation in the country back for years to come.