By Mustafa Akyol
The military coup plot of June 15 was arguably the biggest threat the Turkish Republic has ever faced. Of course there have been coups and failed coup attempts before. But in none of these plots did the nation see civilians shot dead by their own soldiers, its parliament bombed by its own fighter jets, or its president barely surviving an assassination squad.
It is even fair to say that this threat is much more severe than that presented by the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) or the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). What do those terror groups do? They kill people with terror attacks, which is horrible enough. But they don’t aim, and have no capacity, to take over the state and establish a brutal military regime all over the country. The PKK, at its best, can claim a small territory in the southeast, and ISIL can have sporadic attacks while its lunatic “caliphate” is collapsing in Syria and Iraq.
When I read the Western media these days, however, I really don’t get a sense of this severe threat being realized. With some exceptions, most stories about Turkey still are focused on one theme: President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s authoritarianism. People only seem to worry that this authoritarianism may increase after the coup, which is of course a grim possibility. Some even try to explain the coup as an Erdoğan conspiracy, or at least seem suspicious of that.
Yet as someone who has been very critical of Erdoğan’s authoritarianism in the past three years, let me tell you something: Erdoğan is not the only reality in Turkey with which every single phenomenon can be explained. As the coup attempt made clear, there is also a specific anti-Erdoğan reality, which is actually far more dangerous. I am still very critical of Erdoğan and his populist rule, but I am with him against this burning threat, as everybody should be.
What is the nature of this threat? In other words, who was behind the coup? Well, it is no secret that there are many people in Turkey who dislike Erdoğan for various reasons, and they may all have their reflections within the Turkish military. The institution has traditionally been staunchly secular, and therefore it may seem plausible to think of “the secularists” in uniform as the culprit.
However, the ferocity of the attempt and the suicidal fanaticism behind it makes one suspect something more than the secularists. Moreover, one should recall that most secularist officers in Turkey have been actually supportive of Erdoğan lately, for they worried about something else more than him: The Gülen community, which the secularists rightly saw as the main culprit behind the ruthless witch-hunts of secular officers between 2007 and 2013.
In other words, I do agree with the government that the Gülen community is the prime suspect here. First of all, the mere political history and context of the past decade, along with the nature and ambitions of the Gülenists, makes this theory very plausible. Moreover, there is evidence. The chief of general staff, which resisted the coup plotters, declared them as Gülenists. One of the plotters, the very assistant of the chief of general staff who arrested him on the coup night, also confessed to being a Gülenist and acting on the orders of his appointed “imam” in the group.
All this should explain to you why there is now a major anti-Gülenist purge within almost every official institution in Turkey (call it “de-Gülenification”). The government is trying to wipe out a cult that has secretly infiltrated the state, in order to impose its own agenda by using every possible dirty method against its enemies.
Of course, by nature, this is a very risky and in fact a scary process. Innocent people can be purged, detained and demonized. So, the government must be very careful and never sacrifice the rule of law and human rights to emergency. Meanwhile, Western media, NGOs and governments should monitor, warn and criticize the Turkish government. However, to be factually right and also effectively helpful, they should first understand what is really going on.