When Turkey’s children returned to school in September, there was something new on the curriculum: a week-by-week syllabus, mandated by the minister of education, celebrating what many call Turkey’s “second revolution.” Course materials included two slickly produced patriotic videos laced with references to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s success in putting down the attempted coup on July 15, The FT reports:
- The first opens with an image of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey, superimposed over the nation’s red flag as Mr Erdogan’s sonorous voice recites the national anthem, the “Independence March”.
- The second is perhaps more telling. A cinematic recreation of Ataturk’s triumph at Gallipoli in 1915 — a victory that set the stage for the creation of Turkey — segues into images of the violence of last year’s coup and Mr Erdogan’s moves to quash it. The message is clear: Ataturk was the creator, Mr Erdogan the protector.But Mr Erdogan’s homage to Ataturk goes further than imagery. While rejecting many of Ataturk’s ideas — from denying Islam a role in government to his embrace of the west — Mr Erdogan has adopted his approach to governance. Like Ataturk, Mr Erdogan presents himself both as an iron-fisted leader whose power stems from his popular support and a social engineer reshaping society to mirror his ideals.
“This was a gradualist process which got blessed after the failed coup, which is now being presented as a second revolution or as the second war of independence,” says Soner Cagaptay, director of the Turkish research progra at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “This is a top-down, Ataturk-ian societal engineering. It doesn’t share the same values but it shares the method. The Ataturk who defeated the Christians and the outsiders, he continues to live on, but not the one who liberated women and created secularism.”
Erdogan blames the followers of Fetullah Gulen (right) for the coup, and in its aftermath thousands of Gulenists were arrested and tens of thousands lost their jobs. Jails spilled over and detainees were tied up in school gyms, conference halls and army barracks, the FT adds.
“After the coup, there was some ground for cleaning up in the state . . . even the main opposition was understanding of a limited purge,” says Mustafa Akyol, a Turkish writer who is now a visiting fellow at Wellesley College in Massachusetts. “But soon it turned out that the government is using the coup as a pretext to build an authoritarian regime, by purging and taming every institution in the country, from the bureaucracy to the universities.” RTWT
An increasingly dire human rights record has weakened the country’s international standing and diluted the sympathy which the government might have expected as victim of an attempted coup. As its influence wanes, Turkey has become a breeding ground for conjecture and conspiracy theories – where everyone else is to blame, former NED Reagan-Fascell fellow Andrew Finkel writes for The Guardian.
“These are times when investors look for a strong policy response, but the political environment means that this is proving hard to deliver,” says Murat Üçer, economist at consultancy Global Source Partners.