Turkey | The purge of liberalism?

Turkish protesters in Istanbul. Maurice Flesier/ CC-BY SA 4.0

Flag_of_TurkeyMany have commented that the failed coup d’état in Turkey has perfectly demonstrated two sides of a divided nation. That Turks rallied to Erdogan’s call for public action and took back the streets of major cities with defiant protest is typical of the way the citizens of Turkey react when pressed. Except the profile of Erdogan’s supporters who defeated the coup is completely at odds with the Turks who protested against his authoritarianism in the Gezi Park demonstrations of 2013.

Look at footage of the faces of the crowds last week and of those 3 years earlier. What do we see? Moustaches and veils in support of Erdogan and none on those who opposed him. A moustache on a man and a veil on a woman is simplistic, yes, but a clear sign of where Erdogan’s power base comes from and a signal to where Turkey is now heading. Since his Islamist-rooted party came to power in 2002, the number of children educated in segregated religious schools known as ‘Imam-Hatip’ has increased by 90%. He has repeatedly said he wants to raise a pious generation and has reformed state education accordingly.

As soon as it became clear that the coup had failed, the purges began – first with the security forces, then spreading to Turkey’s entire civilian infrastructure. In a matter of only days more than 58,000 people have been rounded up, sacked or suspended including an estimated 21,000 teachers working predominantly in private education and over 1500 university professors. These sweeping purges carried out by Mr Erdogan and his administration are being interpreted by many Turks and foreign governments as an opportunistic attempt to get rid of everybody not obedient to his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) or his conservative outlook. Although it’s very early days the purges look certain to continue and increase in scope.

Human rights group Amnesty International has already warned that these purges are being extended to censor media outlets and journalists, targeting those critical of government policy in a climate that was already restrictive prior to the attempted coup. Within weeks it may not be possible to get any information out of Turkey that isn’t closely monitored for its content about the AKP or at worst, manufactured to suit a specific agenda for Erdogan.

With expectations growing of heavy measures against dissent, European politicians have warned Mr Erdogan that the coup attempt did not give him the right to disregard the rule of law or not to ensure that due process and protection is afforded to those accused of crimes. These warnings from the Council of Europe come in context of Erdogan hinting that Turkey may reintroduce the death penalty which was abolished in 2004, in line with its bid to join the European Union.

Google have noted that the search term ‘what is a coup d’état?’ is one of its most popular and trending requests; even more so now that Erdogan is in the throes of a counter-coup d’état. So what exactly is a coup? Well, if you’re Turkish then the answer depends on which side you’re on.

Alan Hilditch/ CC BY 2.0