Today marks the first anniversary of the July 15, 2016, coup attempt in Turkey in which at least 260 people were killed. The government of Turkey is holding events nationwide to commemorate the dreadful events of last year and to eulogise those who braved the tanks and fighter jets to defend Turkish democracy. However, the state of affairs in the country is pretty much pitiable.
Last week, the leader of the main opposition CHP party, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, concluded his month-long “Justice March” in Istanbul addressed over 1.5 million people. It was quite a remarkable show of strength and many rejoiced at the sign of Turkish opposition regaining a voice in the country. However, his speech at the rally was deeply disappointing. Despite being supported by millions of Turks, Kilicdaroglu failed to take the bull by the horns.
Since July 15, 2016, the rule of law in the country has degraded at an alarming speed and scale. More than 1,25,000 public officials, including thousands of judges and prosecutors, have been purged from state institutions and over 50,000 people, including 13 opposition MPs, have been jailed with little or no evidence against them.
The government’s justification for such sweeping measures is that the coup attempt was masterminded by US-based Islamic scholar Fethullah Gulen and he has followers in almost every corner of Turkish society who act on his orders, and therefore it is necessary to purge them all.
There are two points to be noted here: firstly, the number of purge victims is so high and the victims are from such diverse backgrounds that it is preposterous to link them all to Gulen; secondly and more importantly, not only Gulen himself emphatically denies any involvement in the coup attempt, but various investigations conducted by international bodies and foreign governments have found the Turkish allegation against him to be totally baseless.
In fact, judging by the huge gap between facts and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s narrative, and how he has manipulated the unfortunate events of July 15, 2016, for his own benefit, the international community is slowly but decisively accepting that the facts smack of something sinister.
A damning report in Sweden prepared by the Stockholm Center for Freedom (SCF) concludes that the coup attempt was nothing but a false flag event staged by Erdogan to gain more power.
Opposition CHP party leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu failed to take the bull by the horns. Photo: Reuters
The report, which is titled July 15: Erdogan’s Coup, says: “The July 15 failed coup attempt in Turkey was a false flag operation orchestrated by Erdogan in partnership with a cadre of military and intelligence officials to consolidate his power, secure an imperial-style presidency, smother all opposition, and pave the way for the launch of a military incursion into Syria.”
Yet, though Kilicdaroglu raised slogans demanding rule of law, fundamental rights and justice at the rally, he couldn’t muster courage to challenge the government on its narrative of the events of July 15, 2016, using which it deprived the nation of all of these.
Instead of exhorting the government to either produce credible evidence incriminating Gulen and to satisfactorily refute the evidences that point towards their own culpability, or to stop Gulen-vilification and punishing political opponents in his name, Kilicdaroglu wasted a historic moment telling the government that his party and his supporters are not linked to Gulen!
His cowardice in asking what is wrong in being linked to Gulen when there is hardly any evidence against him of any wrongdoing is taking a heavy toll on Turkish democracy.
Until the government’s narrative is challenged, the prospect for a return to the rule of law is meek - and there is absolutely no sign of that happening now.