|Power’s always swung between mosques and military. But the brutality of
this clampdown is at a new level – and I’ve been jailed before. We need
| Armed forces in Taksim Square, Istanbul, after the coup attempt. Photograph: Sedat Suna/EPA |
The coup attempt
took place on a Friday night. By Sunday evening a list of 73
journalists to be arrested had been leaked by a pro-government social
media account. My name was at the top.
Within three days, 20 news portals were inaccessible, and the
licences of 24 news and radio stations cancelled. Meydan newspaper was
raided, and its two editors detained. (They were released 24 hours
later.) Yesterday the journalist Orhan Kemal Cengiz, also on the list,
was arrested at the airport with his wife. It is almost impossible to hear dissident voices now, in a media already largely controlled by the government. The European convention on human rights has been suspended until further notice. A cloud of fear hangs over the country.
When, this week, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan declared a three-month state of emergency,
I thought: “Nothing has changed.” As a journalist who has produced
documentaries on all the past coups in the country, and has lived
through the past three, I knew all too well how terrifying a regime the
coup could have brought about. However, I also saw how its failure would
empower Erdoğan, quickly turning him into an oppressor too.
Turkey’s politics has always functioned like a pendulum: it swings
from mosque to barracks, and back again. When it sways too near the
mosque, soldiers step in and try to take it to the barracks. And when
the pressure for secularism from the barracks becomes too great, the
power of the mosques grows. And educated democrats, sitting in between
these extremes, are always the ones to take a beating.
Why can’t we escape this dilemma? It’s easy to explain, yet hard to
resolve. The Turkish military has, unfortunately, been the only powerful
“guardian” of secularism – in a country where civil society has not
matured, opposition parties are weak, the media are censored, and
unions, universities and local authorities are neutralised. The armed
forces have always claimed to be the sole protectors of the country’s
modernity. Paradoxically, however, every coup the army has plotted has
not only hurt democracy but also fuelled radical Islam. A recent scene
at the funeral of a coup protester symbolised the situation perfectly.
The president was there. The imam prayed: “Protect us, lord, from all
malice, especially that of the educated.” “Amin!” (“Amen”) the crowd roared.
So last week’s attempted coup is only the latest example of a
centuries-old oscillation. But it is also shaping up to be one of the
worst. During the attempt on 15 July, crowds answered hourly calls from
mosques. They yelled “Allahu Akbar” while lynching soldiers; they flew Turkish flags and the green flags of Islam, and shouted: “We want executions!”
Lists of all sorts of “dissenters”, not just journalists, circulated
immediately. Nearly 60,000 people – including 10,000 police officers,
3,000 judges and prosecutors, more than 15,000 educationists, and all
the university deans in the country – have either been detained or
fired, and the numbers are growing daily. Torture, banned since the
military coup of 1980, has resurfaced. A campaign has been launched to revive the death penalty, which was abolished in 2002. It is the biggest witch-hunt in the history of the republic.
What does this mean? Along with the state of emergency, this means
that legislative authority will shortly be neutralised on a grand scale
and redirected towards executive authority; access to fair trial will be
obstructed; and greater restrictions on the media will be imposed.
Erdoğan has already declared that if parliament decides in favour of the
death penalty, he will approve it. If he is not bluffing, this may
cause a total rift with the European family from which Turkey already feels excluded.
reasons we still can’t understand, the soldiers who attempted to seize
control on Friday night blocked only the road heading from Asia into
Europe; passage to Russia, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Iran was unhampered. I
find the decision symbolic, for Turkey now appears to be trapped in
Asia. The door to Europe is closing.
And the problems we are left with are these. Fine, we are rid of a
military coup, but who is to shelter us from a police state? Fine, we
are safe from the “malice of the educated” (whatever that is), but how
will we defend ourselves from ignorance? Fine, we sent the military back
to their barracks, but how are we to save a politics lodged in the
And the last question goes to a Europe preoccupied with its own
troubles: will you turn a blind eye yet again and co-operate because “Erdoğan holds the keys to the refugees”? Or will you be ashamed of the outcome of your support, and stand with modern Turkey?
Source: The Guardian