Strength and resilience of Turkish democracy

Turkey’s pluralistic democracy is emerging intact and reinforced from the savage attack it had just been subjected to.

By CEM UTKAN
August 2, 2016 22:18
3 minute read.
turkey coup

Supporters of Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan shout slogans on the back of a truck during a pro-government demonstration on Taksim square in Istanbul, Turkey, July 16, 2016. (photo credit: REUTERS)

 
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On Friday, July 15, as the week was winding down into a warm summer night, the people of Turkey suddenly and unexpectedly found themselves facing tanks, helicopter gunships and fighter jets. Rogue elements within the Turkish armed forces, outside the legitimate chain of command, were attempting to usurp power by imposing martial law and suspending the constitution.

For the first time in history, the Turkish Parliament, representing the sacred will of the people, was bombed by hijacked fighter jets. Elected representatives of the Turkish people were inside.

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Government buildings, including the Presidential Palace, were being assaulted.

People watched in horror as TV stations were being stormed by armed gangs.

At about the same time, an assassination squad was sent to a sea-side hotel where Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was vacationing with his family.

The president and his family barely managed to escape the attackers and flew to Istanbul. Security forces took back the control tower at Istanbul Atatürk Airport, which was being held by coup-plotters, allowing his plane to land safely.

President Erdogan appeared on live television through a mobile phone and called on to the people to resist the coup.



The prime minister and other government officials echoed his appeal. Amplified by social media, this call was heeded by millions. Coup-plotters did not hesitate to brutally kill unarmed civilians in their murderous zeal. However, all segments of Turkish society united to face this lethal threat. Political parties across the spectrum took their rightful places at democracy’s side. Police forces and army units outside the control of the coup-plotters quickly mobilized. By Saturday morning, more than 240 civilians and police officers had lost their lives.

But the coup-attempt was thwarted.

Many countries, including Israel, voiced their support for Turkish democracy.

Turkish civil society fully mobilized to show their dedication to the preservation of the democratic order. At a commemoration event held in Istanbul, Turkish faith leaders, including Chief Rabbi Ishak Haleva, united to mourn the fallen and voice their support. Turkish Jews, both in Israel and in Turkey, took firm positions on the need to defend democratic freedoms. The ruling party and the main opposition stood together during a rally on Taksim Square to condemn the coup attempt. Turkey’s pluralistic democracy was emerging intact and reinforced from the savage attack it had just been subjected to.

It became almost immediately evident that Fethullah Gulen, a leader of a religious sect residing in Pennsylvania, together with his followers, was responsible for the coup attempt. Testimony from captured plotters showed a clear pattern of followers in the army executing orders form their Gulenist superiors.

Rogue generals who were holding captive the chief of staff of the Turkish armed forces, General Hulusi Akar, tried to convince him to talk to Gulen on the phone when he refused to align himself with the plotters.

The Turkish state and society at large already knew that the Gulenists, who hide behind the façade of a benevolent religious movement but are in reality a secretive terrorist organization, were trying to infiltrate state institutions, including the judiciary and security forces, in a covert attempt to pursue their hidden agendas. Efforts were already under way to identify and remove Gulenist cells within state structures. The army was next. Indeed, the Supreme Military Council, due to meet in August, was about to officially suspend Gulenist officers. Their time was running out. It has become clear now that this is what pushed the clandestine Gulenist structures within the army to finally enact their bloody plans.

Unfortunately, this stark reality is sometimes overlooked in the international media. Instead, hard-to-believe conspiracy theories propagated by the Gulenists are offered as the only plausible explanation. This is akin to repeating the lie that the 9/11 terrorist attacks were an inside job. But we have no doubt that, as time passes and facts emerge, the truth will find a stronger voice in opinions.

Turkey has again requested from the United States to extradite Fethullah Gulen back to Turkey. He has the blood of innocent people on his hands. His apocalyptic vision for Turkey should find no backers in the United States or elsewhere.

In the meanwhile, we urge Turkey’s friends to keep joining us in our vigilant watch against any future attempts to undermine our hard-earned democracy.

As the history of the world shows, the path to a true democracy is not always a smooth one. Turkish democracy went through one of its toughest trials and came out as strong and resilient as ever.

The author is chargé d’affaires of the Turkish Embassy in Tel Aviv.

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