Anatomy of the Coup in Turkey

Edit: The coup has failed, the first coup since Ataturk that, having gone active, has failed. The inevitable trials will follow the pattern of the Ergenekon trials, serving a stern warning to those who may secretly harbor Ataturk’s secular sentiments.  Erdoğan’s authoritarian traits, serving the preferences of a majority of the electorate, will grow.  As Ataturk’s secular creed is in diametrical opposition to Islamism, it may be relegated to the same status as the founders of Communism in modern Russia and China.

Even liberals in Turkey who despise Erdoğan oppose rescue by a military coup. Nevertheless, it is tempting to think that, after some period of dislocation, Turkish democracy might have been reconstituted along the lines of western respect for the rights and opinions of the minority. This is my personal opinion, the opinion of a private citizen.

The original post follows.

An art museum is not an ideal place to write, but I thought there might be a particular interest in the whys and hows of Turkish coups. Perhaps uniquely, the cycle of Turkish government, between military and civilian dominance, is not random. The advent of a coup might have been predictable to intelligence with sufficiently deep hooks into the military.

Since the time of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the military have had the status of special protectors of the Turkish state. While this kind of relationship has not been durable elsewhere, Turkey’s military assume another mantle as well, protectors of Ataturk’s legacy of a secular state. This was Ataturk’s “will”, of which the military are the executors.

In Turkey, more so that in more developed countries, the military represent a substantial portion of the national elite, in education and outlook. By contrast, the majority are the body politic are poor, religious, and desirous to be lead. T.E. Lawrence, writing about British operations in Palestine and Hejaz during World War I, remarks on the instantaneously changeable character of Turkish soldiers. When ordered to be kind, they were kind. Yet when ordered to commit atrocities, they were obedient. This account, of an ego subjugated to authority producing an interchangeable moral framework, became exploitable when Turkey became a country of pluralistic politics.

The existence of a “deep state” rooted in the military has been the nightmare of Turkish politicians. The trials of the past decade instigated by the Islamists but widely supported have had the goal of decapitating the deep state. But what the Islamists did not realize is that the deep state keeps reforming from the bottom up. It does so because the current “Young Turks”, the younger military of every generation, look to the West.  The recent concentration of power in Erdoğan’s office, with his Islamist leanings, is intolerable to them. And there is at least the possibility that they are right. Erdoğan may be a crypto-Morsi.

The history of military coups in Turkey suggests that it may be the ultimate act of patriotism for those involved, who may well know that their eventual fate is vilification.  The perpetual cycle, with variations:

  • The secular state becomes dysfunctional in one of several possible ways: paralysis, drift to a political extreme, or in this case, an Islamist agenda.
  • A coup occurs, with the “young Turks” invoking Ataturk’s legacy.
  • There is a purge. People go to jail.
  • A period of relative stability.
  • The political equivalent of an insurgency develops, as grass root politicians dig their way into the body politic, organize it, and draw resources out of it.
  • The military government finds the country becomes ungovernable.
  • A period of power sharing occurs.
  • The politicians unite to expel the military from positions of power.
  • The newly pure ship of state gradually lists in a populist direction.  This time, the direction was Islamist, and this bias is likely to remain.
  • When the list becomes intolerable to Ataturk’s legacy, there is another coup.

Turkish politics since Ataturk comes as close to rhyme as history offers.

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