The dramatic events in Turkey tonight have culminated in a military coup against President Erdogan. Low flying jets and gunfire were heard in the Turkish capital. Both of Istanbul’s bridges across the Bosphorus have been closed. Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim has reiterated his support for democracy tonight and reassured Turkish citizens that ‘nothing will harm Turkish democracy.’ Yet there are rumours spreading throughout Turkey that martial law has already been implemented. The Turkish military has confirmed that the ‘rule of law will be upheld.’ With these mixed messages coming from military and government sources combined with the state of Turkey’s politics prior to the coup, it is unclear what impact tonight’s events will have on Turkey’s already fragile democracy.
The truth is that the impact upon the Turkish political system remains unclear at this time. Prior to these events taking place, it was clear that the state of democracy in Turkey was never ideal. We remember David Cameron bragging during the events that led up to the EU Referendum that Turkey would be unlikely to join the European Union until the year 3000. Firstly, this is because Turkey possesses an atrocious human rights record. For example, Amnesty International reported last year that after Erdogan’s election in June last year, there was an outbreak of violence between the Kurdistan Workers’ Party and Turkish armed forces in July last year. The media faced relentless pressure from the government at the time as freedom of expression both online and offline were curtailed significantly. The right to freedom of assembly was banished. There were reports of excessive use of force by the police and ill-treatment in detention only increased. The independence of the judiciary was destroyed by the government.
Furthermore, the rights of asylum seekers had been badly affected as a result of terrorist atrocities and the deteriorating conflict in Syria. Much of the government’s attacks on the rights of asylum seekers were motivated by revenge as Islamic State targeted left-wing and pro-Kurdish activists and demonstrators killed 139 people. Even though Turkey accommodated 2.5 million refugees, many individuals faced arbitrary detention and deportation as a result of Turkey’s shambolic deal with the European Union. Therefore, given that the future of democracy seems uncertain under the direction of the military that have successfully organised this coup, the situation prior to this coup should not fill people with much hope.
Yet one thing is certain; the military claim that they have taken organised this coup in the name of democracy and the Prime Minister intends to ensure democracy continues as normal. But the demands of the military leaders consist of a reinstatement of constitutional order, democracy and human rights. But how do they intend to implement these demands? Removing Erdogan was only the first step. The Prime Minister insists the coup will not succeed, but in such dramatic circumstances, something needs to be done to prevent this from happening again.
There are many key questions that need to be answered about this coup. Firstly, what positions do these coup leaders hold inside the military? How much of the military is on their side as opposed to the government’s? What faction is currently managing to win the struggle for control over Turkey’s institutions? Even though the military has already issued a statement regarding their aims in this coup, it remains unclear what their true aims are.
The last coup Turkey had in 1980 failed to guarantee the safety of Turkish citizens. The military detained thousands of people. Many were tortured, executed, or simply disappeared. The Turkish people overwhelmingly approved of a new constitution in 1982. Yet in 1997, a postmodern coup was carried out. And now, the same thing has happened almost twenty years later.
The state of democracy was far from perfect prior to this coup. Given Turkey’s history of coups and human rights abuse, there is no doubt that the government needs to negotiate with the military radical steps to implement democracy faster, otherwise history will continue to repeat itself.