Izzet Celasin was born in Turkey in 1958. As a left-wing activist, he was arrested and spend several years in prison after the military coup in 1980. He moved to Norway in 1988, where he later published Black Sky, Black Sea, a novel based on his experiences in Turkey, translated into English by Charlotte Barslund in 2012. Here he writes about the recent coup attempt in Turkey, its political origins and its consequences for a divided nation.
Those of us who have experienced several military coups in Turkey have the questionable privilege of guessing the outcome. When I first heard the news on Danish T.V. in a North Jutland village, my first question was if this attempt of July 15 was done in accordance with the chain of command. It was not. Few military coups lacking the support of the whole army succeed. It is tempting to conclude that this was a desperate uprising hastily organised by a group of officers in the armed forces. Rumours has it that the Government – meaning Erdogan’s political party A.K.P. – was planning to arrest several officials related to the Gülen Movement the day after the coup attempt and that this triggered the premature uprising. There can be no doubt that this is the latest round of a power struggle between the two Islamic factions that goes back to 2013.
On September 12, 1980, following the politically turbulent ’70s, Turkey woke up to the sound of tanks on the streets. The Turkish Armed Forces had seized power. They swiftly did what they came to do: the political left was crushed in no time. But that was not all. Both the Gülen Movement (an Islamic organisation lead by a former imam, Fetullah Gülen) and the organising of the A.K.P. (Justice and Development Party lead by Recep Tayyip Erdogan) were founded with the blessing of the generals who oversaw 1980 coup and whose official ideology was “Turkish–Islam synthesis”. Thus the unstoppable rise of the Islamic movement in Turkey actually gained momentum from a military coup.
Native communists – The Soviet Union and The Wall long gone – the former Cold War warriors of N.A.T.O. and the so-called secular officers (Kemalist right-nationalists) tried to stop this progress of Islamists by “post-modern” means in the 90s. Too late – the snowball had already become an avalanche.
Erdogan’s A.K.P. came to power with substantial support from the Gülen Movement in 2003. The next decade witnessed the purge of secular public employees from the armed forces, the police and the offices of justice. They were replaced mostly by the loyal elements of the Gülen Movement and by A.K.P. supporters.
The alliance between the Gülen Movement and Erdogan’s A.K.P. broke off some time after 2013, probably because of Gülen’s increasingly unacceptable requests for power from Erdogan. Unacceptable from Erdogan’s point of view, of course. Brothers became enemies and tried to get rid of each other by any means possible. Syria, the Kurds, corruption, Russia, and the capture of state institutions – these were all battlegrounds of the struggle between former allies, Gülen and Erdogan.
Erdogan gained the upper hand. The final purge was imminent. The Gülen Movement had to act. They gambled with a poor hand and lost. United forces of the main body of the Turkish army, the police, opposition parties and the people – meaning Erdogan supporters – quite easily stopped the coup attempt. “Only” 250 dead was a kind of comfort to all who had feared a terrible civil war.
If the attempt had been successful, Turkey would undoubtedly have been cast into a very dangerous adventure in the direction of Islamic fascism or fascism in general as a consequence. But the same danger is still present with today’s administration. The A.K.P. government has declared state of emergency, a coup against coup or contra-revolution in contra-revolution, which is entirely in conflict with their rhetoric: “democracy prevailed against the coup-makers”. What kind of democracy is a state of emergency? The figures speak for themselves. Almost 60,000 public employees have been suspended or have lost their jobs (20,000 of them teachers), several thousands were arrested (4,000 members of armed forces and police) and there is said to be an arrest order for 42 journalists. Amnesty International has accused Turkish officials of torturing and mistreating the arrested coup-makers. Many left-wing opposition figures are reported to be suspended or arrested, the latest being Asli Erdogan, a well-known author and journalist for the newspaper Özgür Gündem which were recently closed down by the authorities.
Turkey is at a crossroads. Time will soon show whether the democratic forces of the country, in the aftermath of an unsuccessful coup, will win a crucial victory or the reactionary forces will manage to consolidate their power.