Perspectives

  • Issue 2017 / Special 2017



    Turkey’s Coup That Was Never a Coup

    Prof. Ori Z. Soltes

    Note: I first wrote most of the
    words that follow these in August, 2016, a month after the “coup” in Turkey.
    Between then and now, things in that splendid country have only gotten worse,
    and there are places in the following paragraphs where I note such developments…

    It is hard to believe that anyone
    who is astute—and certainly anyone who has been watching Recep Tayyip Erdoğan
    degenerate into a tyrant over the last several years—could take the story he has
    been presenting about the recent so-called “coup” attempt seriously. It’s just
    as difficult to imagine any serious observer believing Fethullah Gülen was in any
    way, shape, or form behind the failed “coup.”

    Mr. Erdoğan first came to power
    as Prime Minister nearly a decade and a half ago, following a very successful
    tenure as the mayor of Istanbul—a magnificent, ancient city that he revitalized
    in many ways. He was elected after a succession of inept and/or corrupt leaders
    had pushed Turkey toward social and economic oblivion. He gained the support of
    Fethullah Gülen, who saw in Erdoğan someone who could help pull the country
    into the modern era while restoring its sense of an Islamic-based identity.

    As Mr. Erdoğan became more
    comfortable and confident, he saw less and less need for the support of Mr. Gülen
    and his thousands, perhaps millions, of followers. By the end of the Prime
    Minister’s third term a clear schism had opened between the two. One of two
    things seems to have occurred. Either Erdoğan had been clever enough to mask
    his true intentions and ambitions all along, so that not only was Turkey duped,
    but so was Gülen—and most of the world, including the United States
    government—or the power that he achieved gradually corrupted him, breeding an
    unslakable thirst for more power and
    an increasing distaste for anyone who might stand in the way of its
    acquisition.

    The growing split has led Erdoğan
    to attack the Hizmet movement
    in a manner reminiscent of how Hitler targeted the Jews in Germany in 1933-35.
    He has gone so far as to accuse the group, which he has come to see as the most
    serious threat to his demagoguery, of seeking to shape a “government within the
    government.” Among the ironies in this is the fact that Gülen has consistently,
    for five decades, advocated for social Islam, and never for an Islam to be
    abused in politics—on the contrary, arguing that his followers should support
    the government, but if it is lacking, seek to shape societal improvements through
    education and good works, rather than by attacking the government—which is part
    of why he had supported Erdoğan in the first place.

    At the same time as he began
    leveling anti-Hizmet accusations, Erdoğan initiated a succession of acts that
    demonstrate how desperate he had become to assert and maintain his authority. I
    offer a few instances, large and small. Consider the 2013 corruption scandal—in
    which he spirited hundreds of millions of dollars into his own pockets, and during
    which his son was recorded asking his father, by telephone, where to place
    several million that couldn’t be hidden away quickly enough. (Did the funds for
    the enormous, multi-million-dollar palace that he has built for himself fall
    from heaven?) Consider the 2014 mining disaster in Eastern Turkey, in which Erdoğan
    hurried to the area, proceeded not to commiserate with but to lambast the
    miners. When a relative of one of the deceased miners objected to the
    then-Prime Minister’s cruel rhetoric, Erdoğan slapped the man in the face—a
    simple but highly symbolic act, accompanied as it was by his assertion that
    nobody dare criticize the national leader.

    In a different arena, President Erdoğan
    is also known to have played a major role in the Mavi Marmara Gaza flotilla
    catastrophe of May, 2010, which left ten people dead and relations between
    Turkey and Israel in tatters. Indeed, when he reached the end of the
    permissible term limit (three) for a Prime Minister, Erdoğan manipulated the
    political system not only to become president, but to elevate that role so that
    he functionally continues as Prime Minister—a page out of Vladimir Putin’s
    book.

    All along the way, while he has
    subverted the rights of Turkish citizens on the one hand and all but destroyed
    Turkey’s relationship with every country with which it had decent relations in
    the Middle East on the other, he has very publicly tried to look the part of a
    pious man, praying where he can be seen, (such displays of false public piety
    would be labelled shirk in Islam) and
    he has with increasing vehemence continued to attack Fethullah Gülen and anyone
    believed to be associated with Gülen. He has abrogated Turkish law in order to
    shut down Hizmet’s
    schools—secular schools, that have always followed government guidelines with
    regard to curricula and conduct—as well as its newspaper and other media
    outlets. His government has also, periodically, arrested members of the
    professional Turkish world who support Hizmet.

    Nothing but extermination,
    however, will apparently satisfy Erdoğan’s animosity for a man and a movement
    that stand for everything he is not. So along comes this “failed coup.” Except
    that there was apparently no leadership behind it, no organization to it, no
    substantial numbers who were part of it—the oddest coup in Turkish history (a country
    with a history of skilled military coups, nearly one a decade until the advent
    of Erdoğan) or any other country’s history. Surprise! Erdoğan has accused the Hizmet movement of fomenting it!

    Hizmet’s inspiration, Fethullah Gülen, has been living in eastern
    Pennsylvania since 1999. He came to the United States to deal with a heart
    ailment, and also because he was accused of trying to foment a coup against the
    Turkish government at that time. (Erdoğan was similarly accused at that time!) He
    was exonerated of all charges by the Turkish courts.

    And what is it that Gülen is all
    about? He believes that Turkey lost its soul when it became emphatically
    secular under Ataturk—but he also believes that the way forward is for a Muslim
    Turkey to be completely open to other faiths, (including atheism); and that a
    better future for a more perfect world will come through members of diverse faiths,
    cultures, and ethnicities engaging in dialogue. He has steadfastly asserted
    that one must work with and through governments, and must never try to
    undermine them.

    Why do I assert this? I have read
    most of what Gülen has written and have seen the kinds of prior thinkers who
    have most strongly influenced him—such as Rumi, the thirteenth-century Sufi
    poet who, although unequivocally a Muslim, nonetheless wrote eloquently of
    God’s embrace of all faiths; and such as Said Nursi, the early
    twentieth-century thinker who steadfastly refused a place in Ataturk’s
    government, because of his belief in the need to shape a more effective social,
    not political Islam. I have met Gülen and spoken with him. The need for the
    mystic to eliminate his ego in order to be filled with God could not be more
    evident than in his bearing and his being. I have, by now, met scores of
    individuals affiliated with Hizmet—and
    unless they are all going to the same acting school, they invariably walk the real
    walk and don’t just talk the talk of seeking a better world, by working across
    sectarian lines with not merely tolerance but love, and through a consistent stream
    of projects that serve others.

    Simply put: these people are the
    opposite of everything that Erdoğan has come to stand for in his ego-ridden,
    tyrannical, crush-anyone-who-disagrees-with-me manner of
    being-in-the-world. The Hizmet members I know are far less likely to have had
    anything to do with the so-called coup attempt than he, who will do anything to
    expand his control and to destroy those who don’t agree with him. All roads
    point to this as an action shaped by Erdoğan himself to give him the excuse to
    arrest Hizmet members and demand Mr. Gülen’s extradition from the United
    States. It is perfect, if we allow ourselves to be duped or blackmailed by him.

    Erdoğan arrived too quickly on
    the scene of the “coup” with too large a list all ready, too soon, of those who
    needed to be arrested for his assertion to smell of anything less than Hitler’s
    actions after the burning of the Reichstag in 1933, which was accomplished by
    Hitler’s followers so that he could accuse his political opponents of having set
    the blaze and arrest them. Since July, 2016, Erdoğan has cleaned out the army,
    the judiciary, the educational system, and the media, of anybody he deems
    oppositional—and regardless of their politics, (in other words, including
    secularists hostile to Mr Gülen) the nearly 200,000 people (and still counting)
    stripped of jobs and/or in prison are accused of association with the Hizmet
    movement. As in the darkest days of Stalin’s Russia, people disappear into
    prisons from which they do not return—or return, marked by the torture to which
    they have been subject—and someone safe today may suddenly find him or herself
    in danger tomorrow.

    Erdoğan has reached beyond his
    own borders, feuding with Germany, insulting the EU, and providing economic assistance
    to organizations he claims to be fighting. Conversely, he has blackmailed poor
    countries from Nigeria to Pakistan where Hizmet has provided schools and
    hospitals, all but forcing them to eliminate the very people and institutions
    such countries so desperately need.
















































    I understand why we may need to pretend—still, a year later?—that Mr. Erdoğan
    saved the democracy that he has steadily subverted—another famous autocrat, Augustus
    Caesar, claimed in his Last Will and
    Testament
    that he had saved the Republic of Rome as he drove the last nails
    into its coffin (and indeed, the Roman senate still existed—as a rubber stamp
    for the will of the Emperor). Turkey is, it is true, an essential ally, due to
    geography and our ongoing struggle with the likes of ISIS. But surely we are
    clever enough not to believe the tale that is—still—being told, or to succumb
    to Erdoğan’s attempted blackmail of Mr. Gülen and his followers. The assertions
    of someone who emulates a quadrumvirate of Hitler, Putin, Stalin, and Augustus Caesar
    should hardly govern our response to this moment in history.
        

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