Turkey: The journey so far
On June 15, news of an attempted coup in Turkey wavered through the global community.
There were terrifying scenes on the streets of that country as a faction within the Turkish Armed Forces that organised itself into what it called the Peace at Home Council, tried to overthrow the government of President Tayyip Erdogan.
Resistance to the failed coup was massive. Over 300 people lost their lives and more than 2,100 were injured. Many government buildings, including the Turkish Parliament and the Presidential Palace, were damaged.
The government’s reaction was ruthless. A crackdown described as “institutional purging” saw the detention, suspension and dismissal of over 35,000 public servants. More than 15,000 employees at the country’s education ministry were fired, with 257 officials at the prime minister’s office sacked. Staff members of the directorate for religious affairs were not spared as 492 clerics were shown the exit. University deans, policemen, judges, prosecutors, governors and many others were either suspended or dismissed. A total of 89 warrants have been issued for the arrest of journalists in the country to date. The crackdown is still on.
There was a wave of patriotism in the country and both the government and opposition parties rallied in unity to tell the world that Turkey embraces democracy despite its challenges. The international community, particularly Turkey’s partners, the United States, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) and the European Union (EU), have all condemned the move and called for the restoration of "respect for the democratic institutions in Turkey and its elected officials.
The name Turkey is derived from the Middle Ages Latin word, Turchia, that is, the "land of the Turks”. Historically it refers to an entirely different territory of Eastern Europe and Central Asia, which fell under the control of Turkic people (a collection of ethnic groups that lived in central, eastern, northern, and western Asia as well as parts of eastern Europe in the early medieval period.
Turkey occupies a unique geographical position, lying partly in Asia and partly in Europe. Throughout its history it has acted as both a barrier and a bridge between the two continents. With a population of 74.5 million, the Republic of Turkey consists of Asia Minor, or Anatolia (Anadolu). Comparatively, the area occupied by Turkey is slightly larger than the state of Texas. Of the overall area, 97 per cent is in Asia, and three per cent in Europe.
Turkish Republic and coups
The Republic is based on a secular democratic, pluralist and parliamentary system. The country later saw a steady process of secular Westernisation through Atatürk's reforms.
Turkey is not new to military coups. The first coup in that country took place in 1960, during a time of heightened tensions between the Turkish government and the opposition. The coup was staged by a group of 38 young Turkish military officers.
The then ruling Democratic Party, headed by Prime Minister Adnan Menderes and President Celal Bayar, began to loosen some of the toughest Ataturk-era rules by allowing thousands of mosques to reopen, legalised the call to prayer in Arabic instead of Turkish, and opened new schools for religious personnel, among other reforms.
At the same time, it further alienated the opposition by imposing restrictive new press laws and occasionally barring critical newspapers from publishing. Growing tensions caused the Menderes government to impose martial law in early 1960. The army stepped in and eventually toppled the government on on May 27, 1960.
The president, prime minister and several cabinet members were arrested and quickly tried for treason and other offences. Menderes was executed.
1971 ‘Coup by memorandum’
Eleven years after its 1960 predecessor coup, the second coup was launched. A group of military leaders handed a radio newscaster a memorandum to read out, telling the people of Turkey that the government had once again “pushed our country into anarchy, fratricide and social and economic unrest” and thus “the Turkish armed forces, fulfilling their legal duty to protect the republic, will take power.”
That technique, used successfully, came to be known as “coup by memorandum.”
Prime Minister Suleyman Demirel resigned hours later. The fundamental reasons for the intervention was the economic stagnation and the recession that caused widespread unrest as workers groups staged demonstrations and right-wing groups carried out attacks of their own.
Instability continued even after the 1971 coup. Turkey changed prime ministers 11 times in the 1970s as the economy continued to stagnate with left and right-wing groups continuing their violent clashes in the streets.Thousands of people lost their lives. A report by the military on the situation recommended a preparation for coup which was eventually staged on September 12, 1980.
Six hundred and fifty thousand people were taken into custody, 230,000 people were put on trial, 1,683,000 people were blacklisted, military prosecutors demanded the death penalty for 7,000 people, 517 people received the death penalty, 50 people were hanged and the military rule revoked the citizenships of more than 14,000 among other actions.
1997 ‘soft coup’
Two years later, after the Islamist Workers Party won the 1995 election the military issued a series of "recommendations", which the government had no choice but to accept. Then Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan agreed to a compulsory eight-year education programme which included the prevention of pupils from enrolling in religious schools in addition to a headscarf ban at universities, and many other measures. The military’s suspicion was that Prime Minister Erbakan was trying to change the basic nature of Turkish politics and governance by turning the country into an Islamic state. The military then forced the Prime Minister out of power. This was later called a ‘soft coup’, as the military did not actually take over, but got what it wanted through threats. The army then handed over the government to more secular politicians.
Some former members of the Islamist Workers Party, including current prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, would eventually go on to found the Justice and Development Party.
Turkey’s internal problems
A major internal problem for Turkey has been the prolonged insurgency by the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK). The group which has been a thorn in the internal affairs of the country was formed in the late 1970s and launched an armed struggle against the Turkish government in 1984, demanding an independent Kurdish state. Kurds in Turkey comprise between 18 to 25 per cent of the population and have been subjected to repression for decades. It was founded by a group of Kurdish students led by Abdullah Ocalan (in jail for treason since 1999).
Since its first insurgency in 1984 till date, over 40,000 people have lost their lives. The government has branded the group as a terrorist organisation and has for many years waged a military campaign to quell the insurgency even though there had been an attempt for a peaceful negotiation.
Further, Turkey has become a major target for the so-called Islamic State in the Levant (ISIL) as part of the spillover of the Syrian war. Turkey joined a US-led coalition to fight ISIL and the group has consistently launched attacks in many parts of the country.
In addition, Turkey has become the host of the largest number of Syrian refugees with a figure as high as 2.2 million refugees. So far, it has spent over $8.5 billion to house and feed these people and this has no doubt put a serious strain on Ankara’s finances.
Turkey and the global community
Republic of Turkey’s relationship with the global community has heavily placed emphasis on Turkish relationship with the Western world, especially with the United States, NATO and the EU.
Turkey has remained a close ally of the US, supporting it in the war on terror after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack on USA. It has also been the custodian of US tactical nuclear weapons. During the Cold War, Washington positioned intermediate-range nuclear missiles and bombers there to serve as a bulwark against the Soviet Union. Today, Turkey hosts an estimated 90 B61 gravity bombs at Incirlik Air Base.
NATO is one of the essential dimensions of Turkish foreign and defence policy after Turkey became a member of the alliance in 1952.
The Turkish Armed Forces are rank as the second largest standing military force in NATO, after the U.S. Armed Forces, with an estimated strength in 2015 of 639,551 military, civilian and paramilitary personnel.
On the EU, Turkey continues to struggle with passive-aggressive rejection from the EU. Its application to accede to the EU was made in 1987. It has been associate member of the EU predecessor European Economic Community since 1963 and was also a founding member of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
Current relationships between Ankara and African nations is the continuation of efforts that were first undertaken in 1998, when Turkey decided to increase its trade volume with African countries in the aftermath of the Cold War.
What Turkey needs
Turkey’s attempted coup is largely seen as a failure because of the of lack of public support and organisation. The unanimous military support and the international backing for Erdogan's democratically elected government, in spite of the widespread misgivings over his increasingly autocratic rule is among many reason why a destabilised Turkey, could be a global disaster.
What Turkey needs now is national unity, the promotion of the rights of minorities (particularly the Kurds), the strengthening of government and the rule of law.