Under the ongoing state of emergency, Turkey has issued yet another controversial decree on December 24, 2017, granting immunity to civilians who were part of the mobs which suppressed the 2016 failed coup attempt against the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) government. Authorities say such a measure was necessary to protect those civilians who risked their lives to shield their elected government - on the night of July 15 and the early hours of July 16, 2016 - from putschists.
But the decree is so vaguely worded that it is possible for one to interpret it as granting immunity from prosecution for actions that one may have taken post-July 15 or may take in the future against a government critic on the pretext of suppressing the continuation of events on the night of the coup.
Regardless of its gravity and profound detrimental effect on the rule of law in the country, such a step by the AKP government hardly took anyone by surprise. Over the past couple of years, there have been multiple reports of the AKP government establishing private militias loyal to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
One of the such prominent groups is SADAT which allegedly had dozens of its men armed with semi-automatic rifles on the streets of Ankara and Istanbul, assaulting and killing many of the renegade soldiers on the night of July 15, 2016.
Interestingly, SADAT also stands accused of killing a number of innocent civilians on that fateful night in order to boost public anger and help the government create a victim narrative.
The newly issued decree practically means that not only SADAT and a number of other shadowy outfits like it will not be punished for these crimes, but they will also not be brought to justice should they take law in their own hands in the future, in circumstances they argue were similar to that of July 15, 2016.
This move has led many to believe that the government is preparing for an imminent clash between President Erdogan’s Islamist and Dogu Perincek’s ultranationalist camp who despite being contemptuous of each other formed an alliance in the aftermath of the coup attempt to purge state institutions of pro-western officials.
Dogu Perincek was jailed in 2008 during the Ergenekon trials for plotting to overthrow the AKP government, but his conviction was annulled in 2014 when Erdogan started to target the Movement of Islamic scholar Fethullah Gulen. On stepping out of the prison complex he talked to the media waiting for him and thundered that he will dismantle the “regime of Tayyip Erdogans, Abdullah Guls, Fethullah Gulens”, referring to the perceived alliance between the AKP and the US-based cleric.
Since then Perincek has been back in business growing the influence of his tiny far-left Patriotic Party on important state institutions, especially on the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK). The “Perincek group”, as the ultranationalist pro-Russian companions of Dogu Perincek are often referred to in the Turkish policy chattering circle, has been the biggest beneficiary of the massive purge of pro-Western officials from the TSK following the coup attempt in 2016.
The meteoric growth in influence of an ultranationalist group which has always despised the Islamist-rooted AKP poses an existential threat to the Erdogan regime - and Erdogan knows it very well.
On the other hand, many analysts see this move as Erdogan’s preparation for another “false flag operation” which will justify crackdown on the remaining few voices of dissent in the country - the way the July 15 events justified suppression of the Gulen Movement.
Even though there is no effective opposition in the country, there are still pockets of resistance and/or potential rivals which Erdogan would like to neutralise. The likes of former president Abdullah Gul, a few defiant MPs from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), and of course the Perincek group are certainly not the type of forces Erdogan wants to accommodate in his vision of a totalitarian regime in Turkey.
Regardless of whether Erdogan had the former or the later motive in his mind while drafting this decree, the situation that it may lead to cannot be peace and order - which Turkey needs desperately. It will certainly push the country towards chaos and instability, perhaps even towards a civil war.