I used to want chaos and anarchy in Turkey. This was early on in my life. Most of my adult life, I have been looking and hoping for any and all changes that might be favorable to the Armenian Cause of admission of the Genocide, neighborly relations with the Republic of Armenia, and ultimately restitution. Admittedly, the probability of these things happening was always on the rather on the very low side.
The point of this letter is really the current state of affairs in Turkey. It all seems to revolve, even orbit around, their enigmatic President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Plain and simple, I think he is a bad character. All of his actions in the past year have been to consolidate power in a most dictatorial manner while garbed in the rhetoric of being legally and democratically elected. Erdoğan is following the play book of Russia’s Putin and Venezuela’s Chavez.
Oddly, I am probably aligned with many of my Turkish friends and acquaintences in this country on this view of Erdoğan. They tend to believe in the secular state created by Kemal Attaturk. We may agree or not agree on the Armenian Genocide. But, I sense that we agree that Erdoğan is a bad character.
I did not always think he was a bad character. From an Armenian perspective, we saw the restoration of the Aghtamar Church. We saw the Republic not thwart the restoration of the St. Garabed Church in Diyarbekir and the generally embracing of the Armenian heritage of the city by the city government. How much of this was due to Erdoğan? That is certainly debatable now, but when these events were unfolding, I was giving him the benefit of the doubt. We did see Erdoğan extend an olive branch of sorts to the Armenians in April of 2014. We mostly rejected it as a ploy to undermine the significance of the impending 100th Anniversary of the Genocide.
And let us not forget that Hrant Dink was assassinated during the early days of Erdoğan’s regime.
There was an eletion in June 2015. In that election Erdoğan’s party, the Justice and Development Part lost seats in parliament to a Kurdish based reform party. This election gave hope to liberal minded folks in Turkey as well as Kurds, and Armenians around the world that maybe the country was headed in a better direction. But, sadly, it was just a “Turkish Spring.” The hope was soon dashed as a government could not be cobbled and another election was called. Immediately, there was terrorism in Turkey and Erdoğan blamed the Kurds. The second election in November 2015 put Erdoğan’s party firmly in control again and he lauded this victory “as a return to stability.”
I was pretty certain he and his party loyalists had allowed and maybe even planned the terror events to separate the Kurds from the real Turks. Recreate a threat that fires up old animosities and fears and win the election. Sadly, it worked. Even more sadly, no other countries, like the United States, or press seemed to see what seemed so very obvious.
Maybe, deals had been cut behind the scenes. That is the only possible explanation. An entire US government of bright people could not have missed what seemed so obvious. Is the “alliance” with Turkey that important. Is the Incirlik Air Base so critical to our strategy in that part of the world that we are willing to overlook Erdoğan’s actions and believe only his rhetoric?
We Armenians have our own rhetoric. We tend to believe that we are superior to Turks in most regards. We think we are smarter, more honest, harder working, and, oddly, better fighters… we only lost everything because of duplicity and overwhelming force strength.
I have to give the variousTurkish governments from Ottoman days to today their due on two fronts. They are great and clandestine planners of whatever it is they do to hold power. Secondly, they are consummate diplomats. This explanation is the only thing that helps me make sense of it all. With regard to the United States, it goes back to at least the early days of the Republic when the Turkish government so deftly engaged Admiral Mark Bristol into their camp. That hoodwinking has lasted policywise to these times. There seems to be no end in sight either.
In the war against ISIS (ISIL, Dash, or the Devil Incarnate take your pick), Turkey is our ally. They have taken in refugees. They have fought with us to defeat this very real and very scary threat.
Sure they have. No really, they have.
Yet, early on in their engagement, all they did was attack the Kurds who were valiantly fighting ISIS in Syria and Iraq. It was horrible and the only folks that really called them on this in the West were political cartoonists. Again, maybe our diplomats dressed them down behind closed doors. But maybe, a deal was cut behind those closed doors. The United States and allies can keep bases in Turkey (ah… Incirlik again) and Turkey helps us fight ISIS while also teaching the Kurds a lesson. While they were teaching the Kurds a lesson, amid all the chaos in Syria, they could allow ISIS or Turks pretending to be ISIS to freely attack the last Western Armenian village, Kessab. The force that attacked Kessab originated in Turkey and picked a most convenient night when the border crossing they used was left unattended.
So, while I was having some positive thoughts about Erdoğan before 2014, they have all been dashed (DASHed perhaps) since the election that signaled the famed “return to stability.”
At the time of this writing, July 31st, there was an Op-Ed in the New York Times. It was written by Michael A. McFaul, a Hoover Institution Fellow, a Director of the Freeman Spogli Institute at Stanford, and was, from 2012 – 2014) Ambassador from the United States to the Russian Federation. In his Op-Ed, he stated:
Since… 2012, Mr. Putin has consolidated his hold on power in Russia. With renewed vigor, he’s weakened civil society, undermined independent media, supressed any opposition and scared off big business from supporting government critics. And he made the United States and its senior officials unwitting elements of his malign strategy.Change the year from 2012 to 2015 or 2016, replace Putin’s name with Erdoğan’s, and try tell me that the statement doesn’t ring equally true!
To this point in this letter, I have not even addressed the elephant in the living room: The July 15th coup attempt in Turkey. It was gripping news. It seemed the military, or as it turned out a faction within the military, tried to take overthrow the government. The military has done this in Turkey several times in the history of the Republic of Turkey. They had traditionally done so to protect the tenets of the Republic created by the much revered Kemal Attaturk. Attaturk created a secular and democratic Republic. When the military perceived either the deomocrocy or secular state threatened they would take over for awhile and restore order… return the country to stability.
Erdoğan and his party have been more Islamist than most followers and adherents of Attaturk are comfortable with. Erdoğan cleaned house at the top of the military to, no matter what excuse was used, prevent the military from taking over his government when the country was beginning to look less secular. He replaced the top brass with generals and admirals loyal to him. The newcasters kept pointing this out during the coup and stressing that this coup was different and less effective because it was only “a faction” of the military leadership.
Erdoğan called on the people, the loyal people of the Republic, by facebook mind you, to hit the streets and thwart the coup. They did. They won. Erdoğan said it was an uprising of the people to protect democracy in Turkey. I was kind of disheartened that he did not use the words “return to stability” at all. That’s OK, because I have no problem facetiously quoting his words over and over again in this letter.
Erdoğan was praised in the reports the evening of the coup for his bold and most successful action in support of the democratically elected government. And then…
Then he gave his first speech. It was a firebrand speech in which he vowed that all perpetrators would be brought to swift justice. He accused Fetulah Gulen, a cleric based in the United States who has set up Islamic schools all over this country, as being the perpetrator of the coup. He said he would be asking the United States to extradite Gulen (he said nothing about Incirlik… that must only be brought up behind those closed doors I keep referring to). He talked about restoring the death penalty for these traitors… maybe they can have public hangings like they did to Armenian citizens… err traitors… I mean enemies in 1915. Heck, the perpetrators of the coup might even have Armenian blood! Why not disgrace and denegrate their heritage before hanging them.
I must apolgize. I was doing so well avoiding hyperbole until that last paragraph. Let’s get back to the facts... well the facts as I think I see them.
Al-Monitor.com claims that 124 Generals and Admirals have been arrested. Half of these were promoted after the 2013 purge of the military leadership. So, basically, half of those arrested were Erdoğan’s appointees. Appointing and annointing people only to arrest them later is right out of Stalin’s playbook to drive both fear of and allegiance to a megalomaniac.
In an article on TheConversation.com, Professor Fatma Müge Göçek of the University of Michigan reported that:
In a crackdown that rapidly spread across civil and military services, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan ordered the closure of thousands of private schools and many universities. Some 15,000 employees at the education ministry were fired, while more than 1,500 university deans were asked to resign.“Asked to resign,” indeed.
It really has become a purge after the putsch. Erdoğan immediately blamed it on his old ally turned nemisis Fethullah Gülen. Gülen and Erdoğan teamed up during the Justice and Development Party’s rise to power. They were both working toward making Turkey less secular. When the party and Erdoğan ascended to lead the government, Gülen became the odd man out, a Trotsky to Erdoğan’s Stalin to continue a tenuous analogy. Gülen exiled himself to the United States, a much better choice so far than Trotsky going to Mexico, and lives the life of a “humble” cleric whose Hizmet (Service) Movement sponsors around 1,000 schools around the world.
Erdoğan is blaming Gülen for, well, everything related to the putsch. He wants the United States to extradite him. Needless to say, the United States is probably not going to do that without some hard evidence. I read the following in a blog of Dani Rodrik, the Ford Foundation Professor of International Political Economy at Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government:
…is the CIA behind Gulen? In fact for most Turks this is a rather rhetorical question, with an incontrovertible answer. The belief that Gulen and his activities are orchestrated by the U.S. is as strongly held as it is widespread among Turks of all political coloration – secular or Islamist.Dang, if only the CIA were that good.
Gülen on the other hand has an opposite point of view. In a July 16th article in the Daily Mail, Gulen basically accuses Erdoğan of staging the coup as an excuse to crush all opposition and consolidate power. Basically, most Armenians I know probably have the same perspective.
Speaking from his home, Gulen claimed democracy in Turkey could not be achieved through military action.I do stand corrected, Gülen only said there was a “slight chance” a mere “probability” that it was all staged. And if he did, it was only in a heartfelt effort to maintain stability.
He condemned the plot, although authorities in Ankara are not convinced.
He said: 'There is a slight chance, there is a possibility that it could be a staged coup. It could be meant for court accusations and associations.'
He added: 'It appears that they have no tolerance for any movement, any group, any organisation that is not under their total control.'
I am not sure where Turkey will end up. I feel confident in saying the following however. Erdoğan will come out of this with a greater grip on power and he will hold on to that power for the rest of his life. Turkey will be less secular and a democratic republic in name only. The United States policy towards Turkey will proably not change much (WTF is wrong with us?). Life will be more difficult for the Kurds in Turkey. Even though his image is everywhereAttaturk will continue to be downplayed. Erdoğan is the new father of the country… in his own mind.
Next? Trying to figure out what the heck is happening across the Ararat border in Armenia.