Late on Saturday night, just 24 hours after the attempted coup, hundreds of supporters of President Erdogan swarmed into Taksim Square – the pulsating heart of secular, modern Turkey – to celebrate their victory with shouts of Takbir – ‘Allahu Akbar’, meaning ‘God is Great’.
Already the story – so hard to piece together – was being put in stone by the AKP mob. ‘We are here to tell the world that we won, and we are the real Turkey. This is a victory against those traitor Gulenists.’ Fethullah Gülen, an Islamic cleric based in Pennsylvania, was once a key ally of Erdogan but relations have been fraught for several years. Erdogan has accused Gulen of being behind the coup. Considering the Turkish military have long been defenders of the secular Kemalist tradition, such an accusation is unlikely. In reality, Gulenists has simply become a useful word for Erdogan to use against anyone who dares to disagree with him.
Turks believe everything and nothing. Their divisions make those between Leavers and Remainers look like a flirtation. But it was very clear very quickly that ‘the people’ were not going to support the military and this may explain why all the opposition parties came out in support of Erdogan. The leader of HDP, the pro-Kurdish parliamentary party that Erdogan has accused of terrorism, and the CHP – the Kemalist party traditionally closest to the military – denounced the coup.
Now, looking back, questions abound. Whose coup was it anyway and were ‘the people’ in fact organised mobs of Erdogan supporters, pre-warned and ready to take control of the streets? Why did the junta take control of the bridges and airports of Istanbul and various government institutions in Ankara while leaving the President free to call for supporters to fill the public squares to defy the tanks and defend democracy?
The would-be junta faced a choice – massive bloodshed or surrender. Although dozens of civilians were killed in clashes in Ankara – and Istanbul – the military did not shoot into the crowds en masse. They seemed to accept that Erdogan had overwhelming public support, and they did not.
Turks know their history, and all will remember the military coup of 1960 when the Islamist-leaning Adnan Menderes was arrested. Menderes was popular among the Anatolian, conservative base of Turkey, but was swiftly hanged after being tried by the coup’s court. Unlike today, the conservative masses did not pour out onto the streets. The military created fear, and everyone duly obeyed.
And now we have The President’s Revenge for Whose Coup Is It Anyway? Erdogan will use this episode to shift public debate away from his authoritarian policies as he reinvents himself as the voice of the people, the man who stood up to the army. He can now fix the democratic deficit that has been mounting against his rule. The Kemalist beast has dared to rear its head again – Erdogan will cut it off. Speaking to his followers in the Conservative district of Uskudar, a suburb of Istanbul – the President responded to demands for the death penalty by saying ‘we cannot ignore this demand’.
On Saturday, the Ministry of Education sent an order to school Principals in one district of Istanbul. ‘If teachers use social media to claim this coup is a theatre, send us their names and we will act accordingly.’ Yesterday, two-and-a-half thousand judges were sacked. Judges sacked because of a failed putsch by soldiers disowned by the military high command? No wonder all the Turks who aren’t celebrating the victory of democracy in the streets are hunched inside, over their telephones, sending encrypted messages to one another about an inside job and a ‘false flag’ coup. But the mood among my Turkish friends is much more desperate than mocking. Fearful of the armed gangs now rampaging through the cities, they see their Turkey being stripped away from them.
A soldier has been decapitated, a known Alevi neighbourhood attacked. Erdogan has unleashed the Islamist mobs, who know that this is their moment.