Erdoğan’s decision to use that coup to legitimize his long-lasting desire to control every bits of the Turkish society is the penultimate proof of his illegitimacy as a European Union’s ally or partner. To counterbalance his growing strength and influence, the European leaders must for once show some initiative: it is time for the Union to strike hard and fast in order to isolate him on the international scene. Blood, if not, will definitely have blood.
For the past 13 years, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been the leader of the Republic of Turkey, turning a shaky but progressive state into a terrifying synthesis of retrograde ultra-nationalism and Islamic conservatism, which, slowly but surely, made the possibility of Turkey joining the European Union at best illusionary. Though displaying an increasingly authoritarian figure, he managed to make himself essential for the West by presenting his country as an eastern outpost for democracy and stability, far from Syria’s oblivion, Lebanon’s quagmire and Iraq’s chaos, whilst discreetly silencing the opposition, the progressive parts of the Turkish society and, last but not least, the Kurdish movements. Yet, in a country known to be a secular and militaristic republic – somehow similar to Nasser’s Egypt or Reza Pahlavi’s Iran – pushing officers away from the arcanes of power, officers who felt like having to defend Mustafa Kemal Ataturk’s legacy, was nothing but the best way to start a countdown before another military coup. One thing, thus, is certain: The coup which failed in the night of July 15th was predictable. In order to counter Erdoğan’s next step towards undisputable exercise of power, the European Union must ponder about one question and one question only: what was that man hoping to achieve by, if not letting the coup happen, creating an environment in which a part of the army had no choice but to rebel against his power?
Ever since he was elected as mayor of Istanbul, Erdoğan has strengthened his power by relying on two major forces: moderate – and more dangerously, immoderate – Islamists, once led by his current nemesis Fethullah Gülen who is now considered a terrorist by the Justice and Development Party (AKP) and lives in exile in the United States; and the military, somehow seduced by his steadfast opposition to any concessions for ethnic minorities in Turkey. Though such a contre-nature alliance would have been judged impossible twenty years ago, considering that Kemalism, an ideology advocating the establishment of democracy, secularism, state support of the sciences and free education, is still being regarded as the Turkish military backbone, Erdoğan smartly made it possible to alternatively use those forces, sometimes even against each other, to insure his very own advent, gathering around him a dedicated and almost fanatic praetorian guard dedicated to the protection of his interests only. Erdoğan’s political intelligence lies in his ability to exhaust his opponent’s forces vives by sowing discord between them; for instance, his decision to intensify the fight against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) served two purposes: by presenting itself as Turkey’s peacemaker and custodian, he subjugated the Turkish military and implanted in the people’s mind that however questionable, his reign was the sine qua non condition to stability and order. Opposing him, his vision or his party was therefore nothing more than pernicious anarchism, an unpatriotic and odious conduct, a betrayal of the Turkish people.
Such a rhetoric shouldn’t surprise the European leaders though: we treated our very own pacifists and anti-war activists the same way at the dawn of the Great War, which made the assassination of great, passionate man such as Jean Jaurès possible. Besides, displaying bellicosity always made a strong impression on people in dire moments, as Shakespeare’s Coriolanus or Jean Giraudoux’s La guerre de Troie n’aura pas lieu keeps on reminding us. Erdoğan’s ambiguous role in Syria, moreover, resorted to the same twisted logic: by providing some of the most radical rebels and according to viable sources ISIS itself with logistic support, by turning a blind-eye on what we could call “blood oil trade”, by backstabbing Rojava’s Syrian Kurds who are engaged in a fierce and bloody war against the so-called caliphate during the battle for Kobane, he allowed terrorist cells to get implemented on the Turkish territory for the sole purpose of damaging his opponents’ positions, even it if meant relying on the loyalty of people whose only landmarks are a brutal and wicked interpretation of a divided faith. Abroad, Erdoğan’s policy is based on ruthless opportunism, short-term achievements and shaky alliances and thus, relies on two things and two things only: boldness and swiftness, both trapping his opponents, rivals or worried partners in an endless cycle of time-wasting reactions. To neutralize Erdoğan’s desire to establish a dictatorship, the world will have to realize that the first thing it needs to claim back is the initiative. The European Union, in its desire to see the rise of a stable, democratic Turkey, must dictate its terms, impose its tempo, to serve the progressive movements’ interests and deprive Erdoğan of his only asset: our do-nothingness.
At home and as we already said, Erdoğan relies on two things that are almost mythological for the common people: religion, seen as the backbone of the Ottoman Empire’s glory – even if a quick look at an history book is enough to realise that it wasn’t – and the military, whose members are still considered Mustafa Kemal Atatürk’s heirs. If so, what is the failed coup showing of the internal equilibrium of the Turkish society? First, that the institution of reference in Turkey is not a barrack anymore, nor a mosque, but rather Erdoğan’s palace, for he has deprived both generals and imams from their ability to influence the people. Second, that the military is more divided than it ever was, for it failed at three of the main aspects of a successful coup: neutralizing the body’s head – that is to say the president and the loyalist leaders – hampering the body’s movements – this being the control of communication centres – and topping the heart – meaning the rebels’ ability to win the people’s support. Last but not least, that the war officially declared against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), far from inspiring loyalty from the army, has polarised the Turkish army between those the war waged in Kurdistan pleased – for it galvanises their vision of a neo-Ottoman Empire – and those who, watered with Mustafa Kemal Atatürk’s legacy, are frightened by Erdoğan’s conservatism and sceptical of the war’s rightfulness. The coup, therefore, is a result of a few different things: the military’s discomfort regarding Erdoğan’s tendency to mingle his own interests with the republic’s ones, his sensitive shift towards conservatism and Islamism – which is a shame, considering that Turkish women used to be amongst Middle East’s freest – and his will to inexorably silence the opposition by cleansing Turkey’s institutions from all his potential opponents, which started with the republican police forces and intelligence services, both of their headquarters having been bombed by the rebels during the night of July 15th.
Still, let’s make no mistake on one point: even if a dispassionate, logical look at Turkey’s constitution is enough to realise that Erdoğan is by all means illegitimate when it comes to embodying liberty, the rebels had very little in common with Mustafa Kemal Atatürk’s Young Ottomans, who were mostly petit-bourgeois officers fascinated by Auguste Comte’s ordre et progrès and unified by a common hatred of the sultan’s despotism. As the praetorian of the days of yore, those rebels, who once swore to insure the plebs’ protection as well as the patrician’s prosperity, were there driven by an abominable and astounding desire to safeguard their own misbegotten privileges. The European Union, during that dire night, had no choice but to display a minimalist support to Erdoğan’s despicable and yet legitimate regime – which it did – even if it meant condemning in the following days the mad man’s will to purge the country not only from the putschists but from all the individuals who once displeased Turkey’s master or were considered potential threats to him. As many European’s regimes in the past, Erdoğan’s one is not only built on a fanatic army and a people plagued by the most infertile kind of obscurantism, but also on systematic opposition to the figure of the critical and rational intellectual. By all means unable to make Erdoğan disappear, the European Union should therefore focus on one thing: giving a hand to his opponents and making sure that they’ll have an emergency exit to go far from the madding crowd. What is at stake is again nothing else but our community’s reputation, though already damaged by decades of despicable compromises.
Hugo Decis graduated from a French classe préparatoire a few months ago. He is now a student of the Strategic and International Relations Institute (IRIS) located in Paris.
Disclaimer: This Post reflects solely the author’s opinion and do not represent the platform as a whole