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Turkey’s Failed Coup May Dismantle Its Democracy

As the fallout from Turkey’s failed coup d’état continues to unfold, it is clear that a significant portion of the judiciary and military were involved. According to Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag, 6,000 people have so far been detained over the failed coup, which also caused the deaths of 265 people, with many more being wounded.

Of those detained, 2,700 were judiciary officials — including 10 members of the High Council of Judges and Prosecutors and 2 members of the Constitutional Court — 3,000 military personnel, with 50 being senior military officials from the Denizli Garrison, including the base Commander, Major General Ozhan Ozbakir.

Other top ranking personnel arrested included General Erdal Ozturk, commander of the Third Army, General Adem Huduti commander of the Second Army, Akin Ozturk, the former Chief of the Air Staff, and one of Turkey’s most senior judges, Alparslan Altan.

On July 23, President Recep Erdogan ordered the closing down of 1,043 private schools, 1,229 charities and foundations, 19 trade unions, 15 universities, and 35 medical institutions, reported state news agency Anadolu. These organizations had alleged connections to Fethullah Gulen, a U.S.-based Muslim cleric who Erdogan blames for the military coup. Gulen denies the accusation.

Coup d’état or protecting freedom

The individuals involved in July 15’s uprising were dissatisfied with the rule of Erdogan’s government. The military in Turkey have long considered themselves to be the protectors of the secular traditions established by the country’s first president, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.

Atatürk is considered the founder of modern Turkey, and as the video below from Ryan O’Donnell describes, Ataturk’s moves towards secularization of Turkey’s state and society changed it into a modern nation where education was state controlled, women were given equal civil and political rights, and poverty was reduced.

Erdogan’s commitment to Atatürk’s legacy and to democracy has often been questioned.

Erdogan is a political Islamist who has divided the country with his rejection of Turkey’s secular history and his desire to exchange Turkey’s secular constitution for a more Islamic-based authoritarian one, with a strong emphasis on an executive presidency and Islam.

His political party, the Justice and Development Party or AKP, despite being popular, has also had a controversial few years. In 2014, the AKP announced a raft of plans to revise the role Islam has within Turkey’s state and society.

There were announcements that religious education would now be extended to children as young as six, and that there would be new policies implemented to allow children in grades four and above to take up to two years off from school to memorize the Koran.

Furthermore, all high school students would start to learn Ottoman Turkish, an Arabic and Persian-based language developed and utilized by the more elite sections of society during the Ottoman Empire. This language has little in common with modern Turkish.

Each of these measures and policies were met with significant opposition from adversaries. There have been numerous efforts to censure the party, with accusations of corruption leveled against senior members in the past two years and the AKP being the subject of two closure cases in an effort to disband the political group. These attempts to moderate Erdogan and the AKP have achieved little.

Empowering Erdogan

Each failed attempt to discredit Erdogan and the AKP has strengthened their appeal. Erdogan’s successful FaceTime mobilisation of the Turkish people clearly illustrates his popularity as a leader. His interview on CNN TURK below, during which he called for his supporters to go out onto the streets, was the turning point for the coup, which faced significant civilian opposition. Watch Erdogan’s impassioned plea.


Erdogan supporters are reported to have made civilian arrests and assisted police in restoring order, while repelling the military who were trying to seize major roads and infrastructure.

One day on from the cessation of hostilities, Erdogan continued his call for people to gather in public squares, stating: “This is not a 12-hour affair.”

Opposition removed

Many believe that Erdogan’s swift response to the coup indicates that the arrests are more about decimating his political opponents. The move against such large numbers of judges and members of the bureaucracy indicates President Erdogan had previously drawn up a list of opponents and was utilizing this opportunity to secure his position.

Tthe president’s recent call for all academics to return to Turkey immediately is highly worrisome. As the European Union Commissioner overseeing Turkey application for membership, Johannes Hahn, stated:

Dr. Victoria Kelly-Clark received her doctorate in political science and international relations from the Australian National University. She has lived in Central Asia and specializes in the Middle East, Russia, and its former Soviet territories. For more information, go to Central Asia and Beyond.

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