Berfu Kızıltan (SSP ‘10) is a PhD candidate in International Relations/Political Science at The Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies and Visiting Fellow at University of Oxford.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan continues to take extreme measures in reaction to the coup attempt on July 15, 2016. Even if the premature coup lasted only a few hours, it surely triggered Erdogan’s existing fears and paranoias and served as a perfect opportunity for him to make the government more authoritarian.
About 6,000 soldiers, 85 generals and admirals are estimated to have been detained; thousands prosecutors and judges have been dismissed or suspended. So have academics, teachers and civil servants, though there is little sign they had anything to do with the coup. The worst may be yet to come but so far the education sector seems to be at the center of Erdogan’s vengeance.
Targeting the Turkish academia, the government has banned all academics from leaving the country, and has ordered all those who are abroad to return immediately. To give a few numbers, 21,000 licenses of school teachers are cancelled followed by the forced resignation of 1,577 university deans. To add, 6,500 employees at the Ministry of Education are suspended and under investigation. Firings are not backed by evidence so far and everyone is terrified to be next since the government doesn’t seem to differentiate between whether you’re a supporter of Pennsylvania-based Muslim cleric Gulen or not.
Meanwhile, keeping in mind that over 290 people are killed in the attempted coup, several government officials shamefully declared this as a “democracy festival”. Since then, thousands of loyalists are demonstrating at the main squares 24/7. While, it’s true that secular people in Turkey were against the coup and declared their loyalty to the democracy and its values immediately, the crowds that keep mobilizing for this ”democracy vigil” does not represent the diverse groups in Turkey but the AKP-supporters. Minority groups, especially Kurds, Alawis, and Syrian refugees, feel threatened by the polarization while there were instances where mobilized loyalists were calling “We are here for our nation, not for trees” or “Citizens are here, where are the Çapulcu?” recalling to the Gezi park protests in 2013  and provoking the ‘other’ %50 per cent of the country that did not vote for Erdogan.
There is an increasing evidence that the coup attempt came from a Gulenist fraction within the Army while the rest of it refused to be a part of it, more is yet to unfold. However, it is no breaking news that the Gulen movement infiltrated the army, justice and education system. In fact, the old secular elite has been warning about the dangers of his network for decades. Therefore, one also needs to question this vivid strife between Erdogan and Gulen which only became visible a few years ago.
Currently, the democracy is further suspended under state of emergency. In this “democracy festival” somehow human rights is not the priority. The rule of law, freedom of speech, political equality, separation of powers, fair elections, among many others, were indeed not the priorities of the Turkish government for a long time. Therefore, when people say “democracy” won in Turkey, excuse my skepticism.
Witnessing masses opposing a coup is indeed a victory for a country with a long past of military takeovers. Yet, it seems that not the coup attempt but the ferocious reactions of AKP government against it will make the country more fragile and weaker than ever. It’s not hard to predict that Erdogan will utilize all his power to combat foes, real and imagined. Cleansing the state not only from Gulenists but also from all dissident voices in this chaos will be killing two birds with one stone for the President and nobody in their right mind can claim that this is the way forward for democracy. Gezi protests began as a demonstration to save green spaces at the heart of Istanbul, but became an immense reflection of anger over police brutality, corruption, and the abuse of governmental power.