Failed coup promotes Erdogan’s ‘narrative of an Islamist defense of democracy’


President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has always had ambitions of surpassing Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey, as the country’s most consequential figure. Now, a failed coup may allow him finally to do that, The New York Times reports:

Pro-government news media outlets have published thick volumes about the coup, celebrating the victims as national heroes, and the state broadcaster is making a documentary. Statues and monuments are planned, and next July 15, the first anniversary of the failed coup, will be a national holiday…..Kerem Oktem, a Turkish historian at the University of Graz in Austria, described it as “a narrative of an Islamist defense of democracy.”…

Erdogan’s purpose is to ensure not only that nothing is lost to history, but also that this latest chapter in Turkey’s history will be largely owned by his Islamist supporters, The Times adds:

In doing so, historians and analysts say, he has found an opportunity to celebrate what he has long called the “New Turkey” — a modern nation that emphasizes Islam and is a break from the country’s secular past….

“We’re getting stories, just like the war of independence,” said Asli Aydintasbas, a Turkish columnist and analyst. …“In terms of myth making, these stories are very important in the imagination of a nation,” Ms. Aydintasbas said. ….She said it often seemed that the entire founding narrative of her country had been rewritten in a matter of weeks. …She called the quick efforts by the government and its media outlets an exercise in building a new “national mythology.”……She added, “The nation has been redefined as the people out in the streets resisting the coup on the night of July 15.”

Immediately following the coup, Turkey’s government began a massive purge of state, military, business and civil society institutions, one observer notes, in an attempt to remove alleged plotters from the ranks of social power.

The combination of nationalism and religiosity is like nothing I have seen in twenty years of following Turkish politics, and it is supposed to climax in a huge, government-sponsored “democracy vigil” in Istanbul on August 7, Christopher de Bellaigue writes for The New York Review of Books:

On July 25, Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European Commission, commented that Turkey, “in its current state…is not in a position to become a member any time soon.“ But the feeling may be mutual. Only ten years ago there was overwhelming support among Turks for entry in the European Union. No longer. For most Turks, who have long given up all hope, or ambition, of joining a club that is itself in dire trouble, Europe’s verbal interventions in their national emergency are little more than an irritation. The failed coup of July 15 may indeed usher in a more vindictive and authoritarian Turkey, but for the moment people seem willing to accept the Erdogan version of democracy if it preserves them from military rule under the Gulenists.

The potential role that civil society groups can play in holding the state accountable and advancing/protecting democracy is well-documented, notes Jessica Doyle, a Postdoctoral Research Associate in the Transitional Justice Institute at Ulster University. So also are the myriad of ways in which powerful states can effectively dismantle the demands of independent CSOs, and manipulate civil society in a way that upholds state power and undermines democracy, she writes for Open Democracy:

The question is what effect will the state have on the roles of CSOs in Turkey? While not detailed here, CSOs in Turkey play/have played numerous progressive roles in society, crucially in protecting women’s rights, minority rights and human rights. Yet, in a context where CSOs are seemingly caught between control and co-option by an increasingly illiberal state, the future role of civil society is far from certain.

The alliance between Erdogan and Gulen came apart because it’s impossible to reconcile their rival interpretations of Islam — and Islamism, argues Edward Luttwak, a senior associate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and the author of Strategy: The Logic of War and Peace.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email