In an earlier post I speculated a “what-if” that perhaps Erdoğan himself had a hand in staging the military coup that transpired in Turkey last Friday night and into Saturday. My reasoning was one of conflict theory, that perhaps it was intended to bring cohesion to a nation becoming more divided in light of Erdoğan’s recent authoritarian moves. I was not alone in my musings. Others suggested it might be Erdoğan’s motive to provide justification for taking down some of his opposition, and to further diminish democratic freedoms without censure from the international community. It would appear, at this point, that the latter reasoning may well be true.
On Wednesday night, Turkey’s President Erdoğan announced a three-month state of emergency which was approved by parliament on Thursday, in response to last week’s failed coup. “Article 121 of the Turkish constitution, which regulates the state of emergency, allows the cabinet under the chairmanship of the president to issue decrees having the force of law on matters related to the state of emergency.” What does this mean? Pretty much that President Erdoğan and his cabinet will be able to bypass parliament in passing new laws and to limit or suspend rights and freedoms as they deem necessary. For the next three months. Think about that.
Also on Thursday, the Turkish government announced that “Turkey will suspend the European convention on human rights insofar as it does not conflict with its international obligations.” Article 15 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), allows contracting states to partially and temporarily set aside certain rights guaranteed by the Convention in time of “war or other public emergency threatening the life of the nation”. Article 15 allows governments to restrict certain rights, including freedom of movement, expression and association during states of emergency.In November 2015, France invoked Article 15 after massive terrorist attacks in Paris. Turkey, however, along with Russia, is one of the countries most frequently found by the European court of human rights to have violated the convention. There is growing concern, as expressed by Can Dündar, the editor of the opposition newspaper Cumhuriyet, that the result will be “an oppressive regime where the law and liberties will be suspended, press will be censored, and the parliament eliminated”.
Even before the state of emergency was declared, some 60,000 bureaucrats, soldiers, policemen, prosecutors and academic staff have either been arrested or fired from their positions:
- 7,500 soldiers have been detained, including 118 generals and admirals
- 8,000 police have been removed from their posts and 1,000 arrested
- 3,000 members of the judiciary, including 1,481 judges, have been suspended
- 15,200 education ministry officials have lost their jobs
- 21,000 private school teachers have had their licences revoked
- 1,577 university deans (faculty heads) have been asked to resign
- 1,500 finance ministry staff have been removed
- 492 clerics, preachers and religious teachers have been fired
- 393 social policy ministry staff have been dismissed
- 257 prime minister’s office staff have been removed
- 100 intelligence officials have been suspended
Even more disconcerting is the talk of restoring the death penalty. Turkey abolished the death penalty in 2004 hoping to gain membership in the European Union (EU). But today, Erdogan says “The people now have the idea, after so many terrorist incidents, that these terrorists should be killed, that’s where they are, they don’t see any other outcome to it. Why should I keep them and feed them in prisons, for years to come? That’s what the people say,” he said. “They want a swift end to it, because people lost relatives, lost neighbors, lost children … they’re suffering, so the people are very sensitive and we have to act very sensibly and sensitively.”
European Union officials had warned that long-stalled talks on Turkey’s bid to join the EU would end if Ankara restores the death penalty. “Today, is there no capital punishment in America? In Russia? In China? In countries around the world? Only in European Union countries is there no capital punishment,” Erdoğan responded. The likelihood of Turkey being invited to join the EU has been growing slimmer over the past two years, as Erdoğan has become more authoritarian, while diminishing the freedom of the press within Turkey to the point that the country is beginning to look less like a democracy and appears to be leaning more toward an autocracy.
“State of emergency is not against democracy, the rule of law and freedom,” Erdoğan said, adding that the country would not compromise on democracy. I am not so sure about that. What if Erdoğan uses this three-month ‘state of emergency’ to re-instate the death penalty and execute a large portion of those who are currently being ‘detained’ as having a role in plotting last week’s coup without a fair trial?
Meanwhile, back at the ranch … Erdoğan is placing the blame on long-exiled moderate cleric Fethullah Gülen, who has been in exile in the United States since 1999, and his followers. He has demanded that the U.S. extradite Gülen, but John Kerry has indicated that we would do so if and only if Turkey could provide credible evidence that Gülen was, in fact, directly linked to the attempted coup. Gülen denies any involvement, and wishes to stay in the United States, in what he calls ‘the final days of his life.’ “I’m not seriously concerned about the request for extradition as it was mentioned this is not a formal request, anyway,” Gülen says. Since then, Turkey has, in fact, issued a formal request and Presidents Obama and Erdogan have discussed the request via phone call. Technically, the U.S. is under no obligation to extradite Gülen. Under the U.S.-Turkey extradition agreement, Washington can only extradite a person if he or she has committed an “extraditable act.” Treason — such as that implied by Erdogan’s demand for Gülen’s extradition — is not listed as such an act in the countries’ treaty. When asked what evidence the government had that Gülen was behind the coup, Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus said Tuesday that the attempt itself was the biggest piece of evidence, and that Turkey would provide thousands of pieces of evidence to the United States of Gülen’s involvement. He compared the coup attempt to the September 11, 2001, terror attacks, saying it was clear Gulen was behind it, just as the United States knew al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was behind 9/11.
I find this to be an incongruous comparison on at least two levels. The attacks on the U.S. on 11 September 2001 were brutal attacks on civilians with no motive other than to murder as many innocent people as possible, while the attempted coup in Turkey was supposedly an attempt to overthrow a government. And al Qaeda claimed responsibility … we did not have to guess. Gülen denies responsibility for the Turkish coup. In the event that the death penalty is restored in Turkey, the U.S. will not consider extradition, based on humanitarian factors.
Events in Turkey will bear watching over the next three months. I question the reason for the ‘state of emergency’, and the derogation of human rights, as the government, ie. Erdoğan, claims that the coup has been put down and order restored. Perhaps it is merely my suspicious nature, but I still wonder if Erdoğan himself had at least one hand in plotting the coup for just this reason. And if so, I wonder if Turkish democracy will still exist at the end of three months.