A year after Erdogan defeated the coup


Almost exactly a year ago, when troops marched onto the streets of Turkish cities at the start of the failed coup, the reaction of the populace was remarkable. Ordinary people were furious and marched up to heavily-armed soldiers and yelled at them; one old lady screaming into a young soldier’s face that he should be ashamed of himself.

As the coup crumbled, these young soldiers, nearly all of them conscripts, were stripped and beaten. It was hard not to feel sorry for them. Turkish army basic training is brutal and absolute obedience is demanded. Moreover, the armed forces have troops serve their six or 12 month conscription well away from where they live. These young men blindly obeying orders were arguably the saddest victims of the coup.

But Turkey, too, has suffered from this attempted military takeover. By no means everyone in the angry crowds who took to the streets were diehard Erdogan supporters. Middle-class liberals who fear their president’s increasingly autocratic rule were also appalled that the military had once again marched out of its barracks.

Many of those same liberals, including journalists and lawyers, have since been caught up in the extraordinary purge that followed. Beside the mass arrests of at least 40,000 military personnel, more than 100,000 people have been fired from their jobs. Only a few of these can have been in on the plot itself. But Erdogan clearly took the view that anyone sympathetic to the views of his former political ally Fethullah Gulen was automatically suspect. This mass weeding out of political opponents may seem more characteristic of a dictatorship than of the highly-successful and still extremely popular democratically-elected politician that Erdogan has proved himself to be during his remarkable career.

His people argue that the mass arrests were a proportionate response to the attempted return of the military for the fourth time in the Turkish republic’s history. But they were also a self-inflicted wound. Among those who were fired were some of the country’s brightest and best. Turkey’s strong economic growth over the last 30 years has been underpinned by an innovative, can-do approach. Turkish engineers are building major construction projects around the world. Its automotive factories are turning out cars and agricultural machinery. Its white goods products are on sale all over Europe and the Middle East. Its textile industry is still prospering despite increasing competition from Asia.

It is clear that this Saturday, the first anniversary of the failed coup, Erdogan is going to strike a note of triumph. In that Turkish democracy has survived, in part at least, was indeed a victory. But the lunatic attempt by the generals to interfere once more in politics was also a defeat for Turkey. Turks can no longer think of themselves as a freewheeling, vibrant society that is winning itself a strong economic position in the world. This is now a country where many decent people, including those who support the values embraced by Erdogan, are nevertheless nervous because of the clampdown on civil liberties and restrictions on the country’s once free and diverse press. Maybe a year on from his victory, it is time for the president to demonstrate his strength by easing some of the measures he has taken.