The Grim Truth of an Attempted Coup and its Aftermath

Turkish military stand guard in the Taksim Square in Istanbul
Turkish military stand guard in the Taksim Square in Istanbul, Turkey, July 15, 2016. Reuters/Murad Sezer

| After Turkey’s Coup Attempt, the Real Battles Begin | Global Voices |

Given the relentless nature of government attacks on media, protesters and opposition figures in the last year or more, the democracy narrative promoted by the government appeared deeply ironic to some that disputed the characterisation of those that repulsed the coup as heroic civilians confronting traitors.

Based on his personal observations in the streets of Istanbul on the night of the failed coup attempt, journalist Ali Ergin Demirhan from described the scenes on the street following the government’s call:

Allegations about a soldier’s throat being cut by civilians are yet to be confirmed. Although extremely graphic footage of a crowd celebrating the soldier’s lynching was widely shared and even praised by some, there is still no concrete evidence of the soldier being executed, and no official cause of his death.

In their testimonies, arrested soldiers said they had no information about the coup attempt as they were allegedly briefed by their commanders that they were being deployed in a military exercise.

Turkey enforces compulsory military duty on every male citizen after the age of 20.

National fractures

Demirhan’s parting shot warns of the government’s future attempts to mobilize its mostly conservative religious base to legitimise a fundamentally anti-democratic agenda:

His account is symptomatic of the fears that many secular Turks harbour as Erdogan begins the inevitable process of strengthening control following the coup.

Typically they sense in the massive counter-reaction to the coup a collective rage on the part of AKP supporters that can be misdirected towards any target that is perceived as anti-Erdogan.

On the same night Turkish democracy was supposedly saved, for instance, there were reports of groups attempting to invade and attack Gazi in Istanbul and Armutlu in Antakya, two neighbourhoods with secular and left-wing identities.

Pasakosku neighborhood in Malatya, predominantly inhabited by Alevi minorities, was another venue of social tension, while a protestant church in Malatya and a Catholic church in Trabzon were reportedly damaged.

There were also unconfirmed anecdotes that spread from the rallies of women facing harassment from AKP supporters on account of their “inappropriate outfits”.

But the greatest risk inherent in the massive top-down mobilization of supporters of a divisive government is that it triggers a counter-mobilization, and potentially a sustained cycle of antagonism and violence.

On the night of the coup attempt in Diyarbakir, the administrative capital of the embattled Kurdish-populated region in Turkey’s east, an unidentified person reportedly attacked the pro-AKP crowd with home-made explosives thrown from a car.

Luckily, no causalities resulted but pro-Kurdish law maker Ertugrul Kurkcu from the opposition HDP People’s Democratic Party warned that tensions were high: “People are now setting up self-defence units to protect against AKP mobs,” he told Al Jazeera.

And in Hopa, nine youth were arrested on the grounds of “interfering with coup-opponents and supporting the coup”, after getting into a physical standoff with the AKP supporters.

Youth arrested for preventing jihadists from attacking their neighborhood #Hopa. Erdogan accuses them of a coup !

In his analysis on the aftermath of the coup attempt, Cihan Tugal, professor of sociology at University of California, depicted the escalation of tensions as part of a conscious government effort implemented in recent years:

This new ‘anti-militarist’ mass mobilization in Turkey has been building up (as a counter-revolt) ever since the anti-government Gezi protests in 2013 and is targeting minorities, alcohol consumers, and all kinds of opposition, as well as military personnel. In October 2015, close to 100 pro-Kurdish activists in Ankara were massacred in an ISIS-linked bombing. Witnesses saw police deploying tear-gas against survivors, and blocking ambulances trying to reach the injured. That tragedy is now coupled with mass action against the dead: during the recent anti-coup celebrations, ‘pro-democracy’ masses destroyed a monument to the Ankara victims. There is no question about where the sympathy of these masses lie.

Not long after government  supporters in the streets were cheerfully celebrating “democracy”, Erdogan announced a three-month state of emergency giving the government broad extra-constitutional powers to the latest challenge to its authority and vision for the country, and also suspended Turkey’s commitment to the European Convention on Human Rights.

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