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Turkey Still Traumatized Two Weeks After Failed Coup

Turkish journalist Nazli Ilicak (center), a well-known commentator and former parliament deputy, is escorted by a police officer and relatives after being detained in Bodrum days after the failed coup in Turkey on July 15.
Turkish journalist Nazli Ilicak (center), a well-known commentator and former parliament deputy, is escorted by a police officer and relatives after being detained in Bodrum days after the failed coup in Turkey on July 15.

I have been watching Turkey 24/7 since July 15, the day that a coup attempt shattered the country for about 20 hours, failed, and dragged the entire Turkish nation through a trauma that is still continuing in various ways.

Close to 300 people were killed, mostly while resisting the coup attempt, but plotting officers -- or soldiers under their command who were unaware what was going on -- also lost their lives.

The U.S.-based Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen was immediately declared by the government as the mastermind of the coup attempt.

In the first 48 hours, around 7,000 people were detained, arrested, or dismissed from their jobs. That number has been rising constantly, reaching around 66,000 people from all layers of society, but consisting mostly of government employees.

Add to that the family members of those arrested and dismissed and you will reach a number of 250,000-300,000 potential new opponents, most of whom were not involved with the "other" side or had no direct links with it. The memory of the killings, the hatred, and violence, the split in the army and government agencies about who was on which side -- all of this is truly traumatic for the Turkish nation.

Many people from different political parties and media joined forces with the government, led by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, to defend democracy against the coup.

The detentions and dismissals have not stopped. But two weeks after the coup attempt, the Gulen movement with all its real or suspected supporters, and sympathizing soldiers and security men, government employees, teachers and journalists or businessmen can generally be considered to have been "cleansed" in its entirety.

Nonetheless, the air of crisis, division, political hostility, alarmism, rumors, the race to declare allegiance with the government, and blaming enemies is overwhelming.

I will try to summarize for you my personal impressions about how I perceive the Turkish public's mood and feeling now -- two weeks after the "worst national conflict" since the founding of the Turkish Republic in 1923:

-- A large majority, including supporters and opponents of the government, seems to be convinced that coups, regardless of who is behind them, are a disaster and must be rejected and prevented by the government, even through the use of force. The idea that elections should be the only way to change the government is something that even the fiercest political adversaries of Erdogan believe.

-- Many people, regardless of their political inclination, think that Erdogan needed to be defended from the coup plotters.

-- Still, it seems that the fear generated by the overwhelming government and media campaign against the Gulen movement prevents people from expressing their opinion freely in public. Most media outlets compete in bashing the Gulen movement. Occasionally, this campaign and media reporting on public shaming go far beyond ethical standards. The state agency for religious affairs has denied the dead coup plotters the usual religious burial rites. A university professor was fired because she didn't want to use the term "martyr" for the dead on the government side.

-- A majority of people and media seem convinced that Gulen is the main and primary mastermind of the coup attempt. It is not clear how much of this is genuine or simply being said out of fear.

-- Yes, Erdogan has even strengthened his popular base and support by uniting the people against the coup and crushing it.

-- A race has begun to fill the tens of thousands of job vacancies caused by the dismissals and arrests, mainly in the army, the justice system, the department of education, and other state agencies. There are not enough qualified people to replace those who have lost their jobs. These positions will have to be filled by people who are less educated or who even have no training whatsoever. A similar situation was reportedly caused by Gulenist prosecutors, judges, and other higher government employees in the years leading up to 2010. They initiated the firing of thousands of military personnel, government employees, and military commanders. These people were then apparently replaced by their own supporters who were less prepared for the new jobs. At least half of the coup officers were reportedly promoted at that time by Gulenist conspiracies. This was tolerated by the Erdogan government since Gulen and Erdogan were then allies against the secular Turkish establishment and pro-republican army and justice system.

-- Most media and political figures, including the opposition, and obviously the government believe that the West has left them alone. A prominent liberal columnist, Murat Yetkin, said: "What would happen in the West if the U.S. Congress or the German Bundestag were bombed, the White House bombed, the Brooklyn Bridge and Champs-Elysees blocked, civilians there shot dead, and attempts made to kill the presidents, prime ministers and chiefs of staff?"

-- Unlike the West, where there are mixed views on Gulen, in today's Turkey it seems that the majority is on the same anticoup, anti-Gulen side. Most of his supporters have now switched sides (mostly to the government), or they have been arrested or gone on the run.

-- The request of the Turkish government to the United States to extradite the Pennsylvania-based Gulen has turned into the main point of contention between Ankara and Washington, as if everything depends on that decision by the Obama administration. The Turks believe that Washington can do it, but is reluctant to do so for political reasons, while Washington says they would consider it after reviewing the evidence of Gulen's alleged masterminding of the coup and other legal considerations.

-- The overwhelming feeling I observe is that the West did not demonstrate any empathy, let alone sympathy, with Turkey in those dramatic days. Everybody was rather focused on how authoritarian Erdogan is and they were even mulling the scenario of the coup's success and thinking "Actually, why not?"

-- On top of this, some rather radical and Islamist-minded political and media figures have been circulating or even creating rumors or rumor-based claims that the United States ("the Americans"), and primarily the CIA or Pentagon, were behind the coup; that they granted Gulen a visa back in 1999 and they helped him organize the coup. For example, Abdurrahman Dilipak of the Yeni Akit daily says that the insurrection was conducted by the United States and was not limited to Turkey, but directed against Islam in general. At the same time, the Vatican, Britain, France, Germany, and "obviously Israel" had their own interests in this scenario.

-- So far, I have seen no solid evidence supporting these claims and rumors -- just murky reports without sourcing or statements and writings by a selected group of a few former CIA or State Department officials discussing the Gulen movement from different perspectives. Interestingly enough, Turkish government officials have not been reacting to these unsubstantiated accusations against their NATO ally.

-- The "black PR" against the West and specifically the United States is so persistent that even statements and comments by U.S. officials, including President Barack Obama, the State Department spokesmen, or the U.S. ambassador in Ankara have not succeeded in setting things right. They have repeatedly stated that they condemn the coup attempt, that accusations of U.S. involvement in it are "absurd," and that they are ready to look into Turkish requests for Gulen's extradition.

-- Meanwhile, the Russian media, including Sputnik, is campaigning with rumors that Gulen "will not be extradited by the U.S. because he is a CIA agent." Many people in Turkey seem to have bought into this. Also, in Iran, a Revolutionary Guard commander has said that the coup attempt in Turkey "could not be crushed without a foreign country's assistance." That Iran offered immediate and strong support for Erdogan's government in thwarting the coup attempt seems to have been welcomed in Turkey.

About This Blog

Turkey Notebook is a blog written by Abbas Djavadi, regional director of programming at RFE/RL and a longtime Turkey specialist. The blog presents Djavadi’s personal take on events and is designed for Turkey-watchers and all who want to get the most relevant news, views, issues, and insights on the country that you might not find in the daily news stream. Also check out Turkey Notebook on Facebook or Twitter.