Ever since the attempted coup in Turkey on 15th July where at least 208 people were killed and more than 1400 injured, I have been meaning to contribute a blog that reflects my thoughts on the dramatic events in Istanbul and Ankara as well as the still evolving situation in this important geostrategic and NATO-allied country.
However, I hesitated for almost two weeks before putting 'pen to paper' not because I had nothing to say about the topic itself but rather because I am Armenian. And it is my experience that when an Armenian - almost any Armenian, with very few exceptions - writes about Turkey, the reaction is prickly at best and virulent at worst.
Why, the more naïve reader might well ask me? Well, it is simply a case of history gone sour since WWI when the Ottoman Empire committed acts of genocide against Armenians across the country. So any commentary by an Armenian - such as I - would alas be prone to close scrutiny, carping comments or dismissive asides no matter how objective or tempered the analysis. But never mind, let me plough on!
I am long enough in the tooth to recall the early 1900's when AKP came into power and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan became prime minister. For a country that had lived through so many military putsches let alone financial meltdowns, I quite quickly opined that this man might perhaps stabilise the country. Coming from a devout Muslim background, it was my belief - and of many Western pundits - that he would prove to a sceptical world that Islam and democracy could exist side-by-side. Not only so, but he would also be a positive challenge to the Arab World to get their own sordid act together. On an ethnocentric level, I genuinely thought that relations between Armenia and Turkey - therefore between Armenians and Turks - would improve considerably too.
So convinced was I of my worldview then that I made it a point to visit the Consul-General of Turkey in Jerusalem on a monthly basis in the Nineties in order to brief him on the Oslo second-track negotiations between Palestinians and Israelis that I was involved with on behalf of the Churches of Jerusalem. And when the Marmara / Izmit earthquake devastated Turkey on 17 August 1999, I used the authority of my office (then) to collect a substantial contribution toward the humanitarian efforts in the country. I recall that the Consul-General and I met at the famed American Colony for a meal one evening and I then went to the Consulate-General the following day with a delegation of 7 church hierarchs that - wait for it - included an Armenian archbishop too.
But that was then and this is now! The maxim by Lord Acton that "power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely" has seemingly exercised its nefarious grip on AKP and its erstwhile prime minister - now president. Over those 20 odd years, President Erdoğan has veered away from his initial trajectory and has become a dictator and a sultan wrapped into one.
Doubtless he has improved many aspects of life in the country - not least a failing economy - and has given the poorer and weaker constituencies a voice. Talk to any Turk living in the rural areas and you would realise that most are loyal to him in a way that the more critical Western mind-set or the more liberal intelligentsia fail to understand fully. I recently talked to a Turkish cabbie in Germany who picked me up from the airport and it was clear to me that Erdoğan was far more important for him than Atatürk.
The attempted coup was an affront to democracy. Mind you, a lot of countries might have wished for its success, but I think this would have led to a civil war that neither Turkey nor the region could afford these days. However, Erdoğan's reaction was swift and unyielding. This was no Gezi Park or Taksim Square demonstrations that were quelled with some brutish force. Rather, and according to a report by Amnesty International dated 26th July, the Turkish authorities have detained more than 10,000 people, suspended or removed 45,000 men and women from their jobs (including police, judges, prosecutors and teachers). Besides, #TurkeyPurge suggests that the rising number of critical media outlets shut down in Turkey include 45 newspapers, 29 publishing houses, 23 radio stations, 16 TV channels, 15 magazines and 3 news agencies. 42 arrest warrants have been issued against journalists and dozens had their press cards cancelled too.
Such draconian purges continue unabated across all walks of life on the assumption that they are Gülenist fifth columns or coup supporters. Furthermore, Erdoğan's implicit threat that capital punishment (never applied since 1984 and abolished by law in 1992) might be reinstated if Parliament approves it is totally unacceptable to Europe.
But let me put to rest this old canard about Turkish accession to the EU. As Boris Johnson, our current FM in the UK, said albeit disingenuously during the campaign leading up to the EU Referendum, such accession will not happen soon - certainly not in my lifetime and possibly not for a long time if ever.
So what next for Turkey? The answer to this puzzling - and critical - conundrum depends somewhat on whether President Erdoğan will draw the right conclusions from the latest events and correct his political pathway. Or will he catapult himself into further extremes and amass more influence, power and self-aggrandisement? In a sense, I am conscious that the European Convention of Human Rights is incorporated into the Turkish Constitution and that it cannot easily be repealed although derogatory powers can be applied too.
In a nutshell, will Erdoğan re-awaken his democratic credentials and become the inclusive father of a whole nation? Or will he become aligned to the exclusive but ever-growing retinue of leaders worldwide who pretend that they are the sole address for stability and willingly subscribe to Benito Mussolini's platform of uno duce, una voce or one leader, one voice dictatorship?
I suppose that time will tell: I keep my fingers crossed, but I frankly dread the answer!
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