This is a catalog of recent posts to Facebook that come of my concern for Turkey and the people of Turkey in light of recent events there, beginning with the failed coup attempt and leading up to the post-coup purges that, according to the sources available to me, are being carried out by the Turkish government against those it has labelled coup-conspirators. I write, not only because I am concerned with the fate of people I know who are being gravely affected by the government’s post-coup response, but also because about 10 years ago, because of my association with several individuals who are Turkish citizens, began to study Turkey as a nation moving toward the formation of a vibrant democracy, as a place where democracy, frayed and diminished in nations that considered themselves to be democracies, might be revived and improved upon.
Turkey! So interesting and so complex. The history is fascinating and the coup underway could have been predicted considering the Turkish military’s role in the affairs of the country, doggedly fighting to keep in force the constitution created when the modern Turkish state was established after WWI. The man considered to be the father of modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk who fought to keep Turkey from becoming an appendage of western powers. Every time a government has come into power that is seen by the military to violate that constitution (worth reading), the military has stepped in and then, eventually restored constitutional rule, never ruling for very long before elections take place. A most contentious aspect of the Turkish Constitution is that it requires secular government, this problematic to many, the current president being one, he, in fact, very much involved in writing a new constitution, one that would, it can be assumed, write out the secular requirement.
The current president, who has ruled the country for at least the past decade,
Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is seen by many Turks to be an autocratic ruler and many of his actions in the recent past support that concern; he has imposed severe restrictions on the media and the social media, for example.
I was in Nigeria several years ago, about the time Erdogan was elected, doing some work at a Turkish school there. I said to my Turkish colleague who was at the school with me that it seemed to me that a coup was eminent in that Erdogan was an anti-constitutionalist intent on bringing the religious element back into government. What surprised me, has surprised me over the years is the failure of the military to respond. A decade later, they have responded.
I am not sure, and no one else seems to be sure, as to exactly what is happening there but I am listening to our media with interest and skepticism. The will of the people? I am think there is a rush to draw conclusions that most likely will have to be substantially revised in the days ahead.
Interesting and ever so complex! What is the will of the people? Are most really in support of the president? Possibly but, as possibly, not.
Stephen Lafer /react-text I see that some Turkish friends have read this. If possible, amend, correct, refute, confirm what I said in the previous post. But only if there is no risk in doing so. Again, I care deeply for your safety.
Friends in Turkey! Stay safe and, if you can safely do so, help us understand sentiments.
(from correspondent) The reference is to a self-exiled Imam who is living in PA.
Like · Reply · July 15 at 6:25pm
His name is Gulen and I know many of his followers. Galen, because he is an Iman who supported Erdogan at the onset of his administration before Erdogan turned against Gulen, took over Gulen movement media (very potent in Turkey) and declared him an enemy of the state. As I said, a very complex situation, Erdogan hardly a sympathetic figure especially considering his actions over the past few years.
Erdogan: “This country is not going to be ruled from Pennsylvania.” To whom can he be referring? He is now back in Ankara? “Coup attempt is a gift from God.” What is going on???
Erdogan has been working diligently at consolidating power, making the presidency the more powerful element of the Turkish government after he won election following his terms as prime minister, in modern Turkey, the position that has been the primary one in the federal government system. He has, as some commentators have begun to discuss, not been favorable to democracy and, as president has been trying to replace the current constitution with one he is writing.
My sense is that if the military, the whole of the military, were in support of the coup, Erdogan would be gone. Now I have to think that, given twhat Erdogan is saying, there could be a purge of those who are supporters of Gulen and several of them i consider to be my good friends. Again, stay safe and get in touch if you can, please. I am worried.
Possibly linked to what just happened in Turkey?
July 16 at 10:30 A.M.
“21st century autocrats like Erdogan are smarter and more agile than their predecessors. In order to avoid pressure from the international community and to push back against groups defending civil rights and democracy, they no longer murder or even imprison as much as they used to. Instead, they data-mine, manipulate information, control the traditional media, and inundate the social media with disinformation. Even the smallest autocrats have more means at their disposal to control their constituents than ever before in history. (From the Foreign Affairs article I just posted).”
And for some reason, American politicians and media continue to repeat the phrase “democratically elected” to get around the fact that manipulated elections are not really democratic elections. The lesson for this country goes beyond teaching us how we should think about what is going on in Turkey and other countries labelled and labelling themselves as democracies. We should reflect on how we go about electing leaders and whether or not our elections are undemocratically manipulated–the money, corporate media, suppression of voting rights, access to information and polling places–and consider if we need to do something more to give democracy a chance.
Too long, of course, but Facebook asked me what I was thinking. Blame the platform: Article referenced–http://www.newyorker.com/…/ataturk-versus-erdogan-turkeys-l…
Though I am not as much a fan of the Gulen movement as Tom, I am very much interested in what happens in Turkey as I have made many friends there since my visit to a Gulen school in Nigeria several years ago, right when Mr. Erdogan was taking office as PM. At that time, Erdogan was on rather good terms with Gulen because, I believe, there was some agreement between the two on the goodness of scraping that part of the Turkish Constitution that required that government be a secular operation in the country. I did make mention to Turkish friends of the danger of going along on the basis of a single issue. I thought that the secular clause was something that was helping the Turkish nation move toward real democracy and was rather excited by what I understood to be going on there through the reading I was doing in preparation for my visit to the Turkish school in Nigeria. Erdogan made it clear, right off the bat, that he wanted to do away with the constitution, written by the first leader of the modern Turkish state, Atatürk. And my Turkish friends and acquaintances, many of them Gulen supporters, were in support of Erdogan because of his promise to do away with the constitution’s restrictions on religion in government.
So, while he may have been democratically elected, he was elected in good part to do away with the constitution that brought into being the democracy that was the Turkish state. On several occasions, in conversations and in presentations at conferences in Turkey, I made the case for constitutional government and for the separation of religion and government and made reference to my belief that religion, by its very nature, was anti-democratic because it handed people a belief system and demanded that they accept that belief system without questioning it. This, I said, made religion anti-human, inhumane because it interfered, by its nature, with the individual’s quest for discovering for him or herself what is true and what is right. That sense of what is true and right is basic to who one is as a human being and for government to be truly humane and, thus, fully democratic, it must recognize that individuality, the growth of individuals toward full realization of themselves as human beings, as independent thinkers, is what good and democratic government exists to serve and protect. The writers of the American Constitution, in fact, give as reason for revolution King George’s unwillingness to recognize the most natural and basic of human rights, the right to independence of mind. He did not “respect the opinions of men.”
Giving up the right to independence of mind should be understood to be an unnatural act for it means giving up what is basic to one is and becomes more fully living a truly human life. The Founders of the American democracy realized this, and so did Ataturk, I have to think. And, when the religious fight for the right to bring religion into government, they fight against democracy, against what is humane IF what they call for is the right to make prescription of belief a legitimate governmental function. No one can prevent another from being influenced by religion or any other system of belief but a true democrat must make sure that he or she is not governed by religion, religion, in most of its iterations, demanding unquestioned allegiance to a system of belief that is not to be honestly examined for its real truth value.
The Gulen people fell behind Erdogan because they wanted religion in government. His popularity is based in single issue politics and, in this case, the issue, religious “rights,” made people blind to what an Erdogan government would mean and how it would treat what are, by nature, basic human rights.
It is difficult—it has certainly been difficult for me—to accept the notion of a military that inserts itself into the politics of a nation in order to preserve democracy and with it, basic human rights. But, as the New Yorker article attached implies, this has been the role of the Turkish military since the days of Ataturk, since constitutional democracy was instituted in Turkey. There are, of course, ever so many problems with military deciding what is right within a society but there is also something seemingly right about military existing to ensure that democratic government survive. What better purpose can it serve?
And, the military as a force in preserving democracy has certainly been a principle espoused in the USA and other democratic countries. Unelected, the military cannot truly represent the will of the people. But it can and maybe should exist to uphold a nation’s principles and, in constitutional democracies, those principles are embodied in their constitutions. When constitutional principles are threatened, be it by a rogue individual or by the expressed will of a nation’s people, what force exists to insure that constitutional law prevails?
I am not offering an answer to that question because I am truly terrified by the notion of a military taking on the role of arbiter of right and wrong in any society, what is constitutional and what is not. In the USA we have a supreme court in which the power to do so is vested. But what if that court is filled, through the prescribed process, with individuals who decide in favor of that that undermines democratic process?
Again, I am not going to attempt to answer the question I, myself, just asked. I do not want military to exist as a decision making force. And nor do I wish for there to be no mechanisms within democracy to correct a path being taken that is anti-democratic.
I probably over-think such matters, but I do think that it is absolutely necessary that we, as human beings, work to fully understand the issues and the meaning of the events that transpire in this world in which we live. Gulen good; Erdogan bad or vice versa is not good enough a result of our attempts to made sense enough of what is going on upon which to base our opinions or take action. The role of religion in the world is something that every human being in the world should be contemplating and contemplating with bold honesty, a kind of honest religion and demigods try to prevent through their various methods. Whatever one thinks is not necessarily good for the fate of human beings or the world in which they live. The meaningful conversation, the conversation with really potential for leading us to what is true and right needs to take place right now and for it to take place we have to trust in ourselves, as individuals, that we can, with others find sensible ways to move toward improvement, toward that more perfect union mentioned as important in the Constitution of the United States of America.
A misconception one my part? It does seem to me, based on my understanding or modern history, that the USA is considerably more likely to accept, even support coups that come from the right than it is coups from the left. We certainly did not like much the revolution in Cuba but we did, our government did, make the effort to support the Contras in Nicaragua. We openly supported the Shah of Iran when he overthrew the democratically elected Mossadeq in 1952 (“The CIA has publicly admitted for the first time that it was behind the notorious 1953 coup against Iran’s democratically elected prime minister Mohammad Mosaddeq”—The Guardian, August 19, 2013). We stood by (probably not the proper characterization) when an attempt was made to overthrow the democratically elected president of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez and we were complicit in the coup in which Salvador Allende, also democratically elected, was deposed and murdered. These are but a few of the many instances in which American foreign policy worked to put into power, keep in power, governments of the right, often terribly undemocratic, often brutal, and undermine governments from the left, democratically elected governments, some of which truly served in the best interests of the people of their nations.
Of course our opposition to the coup in Turkey is proper and correct, of course. We value democracy and we respect the will of those who elect their leaders through the democratic process. That is, unless…