The failed military coup in Turkey has been widely hailed as a triumph of democracy. The courage that thousands of Turks have shown to thwart an effort by a section of the armed forces to oust a democratically elected government and president is commendable. Has their protection protected the democratic values in the country? The answer is “no”.
Though this is not to suggest that the situation would have been better otherwise, there is hardly any doubt that the survival of the Erodogan government has led to a further deterioration democracy, human rights and the rule of law in Turkey.
About 15,200 education ministry employees, 8,000 policemen, 3,000 judges, 3,500 soldiers, and 100 generals and admirals have been sacked or detained within a few days on charges of plotting the coup.
This swiftness suggests mala fide intentions. If the government is competent enough to identify such a large number of coup plotters within days, how did it have no idea whatsoever of their planning? Or if the government knew that these officials were planning a coup, why was no action taken to pre-empt it?
This is not the first time the Turkish government is purging officials of their positions. Over the past three years, thousands of government officials have been relieved of their duties and arrested on charges of being members or sympathisers of what the government calls a “parallel state” (the name it has given to the Gulen movement).
Twenty independent news websites have also been shut down in the immediate aftermath of the coup attempt. It has banned dozens of online portals, including social media websites like Twitter, Facebook and YouTube many times in the past.
In other words, almost all those institutions, establishments and professionals who keep a check on the power of the executive were already being targeted and their independence had long been substantially eroded.
Now with this failed coup attempt, Ankara is trying to further muzzle opposing voices.
A blanket ban on all academicians from travelling abroad has been enforced and the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) has been suspended.
Following the declaration of a state of Emergency, 15 universities, 934 schools, 104 foundations, 109 dormitories, 35 hospitals, 1,125 associations and 19 unions have been shut down. The government is also mulling reintroducing the death penalty in the country.
The properties of the sympathisers of the Gulen movement have been vandalised, a school belonging to the movement has been set on fire, and many restaurants have displayed banners saying “parallel state” sympathisers are not allowed.
All of these are happening despite the fact that the leader of the movement, Fethullah Gulen, condemning the coup attempt and rejecting the government’s accusation. The government has produced no hard evidence yet to corroborate its allegations. Gulen is a Turkish Islamic scholar living in the US since 1999.
The Turkish government started openly targeting him and his sympathisers since a huge corruption scandal implicating President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s inner circle became public in 2013.
The government had then accused Gulen’s supporters in the judiciary and police of attempting a “judicial coup” and now it is accusing them of attempting a military coup. However, in both the cases the government’s allegations have hardly stood scrutiny.
What has survived in Turkey is a deeply authoritarian government, not democratic values.
Mohammad Behzad Fatmi is an associate fellow at Turkey Institute, London. The views expressed are personal.