Vernuccio’s View: Coup in Turkey vs. Islamic Dictatorship

Atatürk’s Secular Democracy vs. Erdogan’s Islamic Dictatorship 

by Frank Vernuccio, Esq.

The wrong side may have won in the attempted coup against the increasingly authoritarian rule of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey.  Erdogan’s concept of political freedom is best symbolized by his saying that 

“Democracy is a bus ride…once I get to my stop, I’m getting off.”

Over 160 people had been killed during the fighting, with many additional injuries. Prime Minister Benali Yildirim announced the arrest of  2,839 people.

Since his controversial re-election in 2014, (he first came to power in 2002) Erdogan has run roughshod over the rights of Turkish citizens and pursued a course of turning the formerly secular Turkish nation into one that more closely resembled a strong-man government with theocratic overtones. Despite 10% unemployment, he recently built a palatial presidential estate.

His background is heavily Islamist, joining the religious movement as a college student. In 1999, he spent four months in jail for “religious incitement.” The BBC  notes that he has also publicly read a poem stating: “The mosques are our barracks, the domes our helmets, the minarets our bayonets and the faithful our soldiers.”

Erdogan’s 2014 re-election itself raised a number of issues. There were significant indications that the results were predetermined. Examples of foul play included a lack of coverage of opposition candidates by the state media, ballots pre-printed with Erdogan’s name, suppression of opposition campaigns, and internet bias issues.

Since gaining power, Erdogan has tried and imprisoned Turkish journalists, as well as harassing and deporting foreign reporters. In a rather telling incident, Turkish security personnel even roughed-up reporters during Erdogan’s recent visit to Washington. Business Insider   reported that “During a televised appearance at the Brookings Institution …Erdogan’s security detail roughed up reporters waiting to get inside. Brookings reportedly threatened to cancel Erdogan’s invitation in response to his security guards’ behavior, which evidently began before Erdogan even arrived at the think tank.”

He has brutally moved to put down protests, including a large event in Istanbul three years ago. The BBC reported that Erdogan vowed to “wipe out” independent sources that were critical of his actions, including Twitter.

Does Erdogan seek to turn his nation into another radical Islamic state? The Middle East journalAl-Monitor provides this analysis: “The more likely future for Turkey is not a Sharia-imposing Islamic state, but a more conservative state re-designed in the image of the AKP. [Erdogan’s political party.] Keep in mind that the latter-day ideology of the party is not simply ‘Islamism’ after all, but ‘Erdoganism,’ in which Islamism is indeed an important theme, but not the only theme. This would not put Turkey on the path to becoming another Iran or Saudi Arabia, as Turkey’s secularists fear, but it could lead in the direction of another Russia, where a similar ideology, ‘Putinism,’ rules. As the journalist Fareed Zakaria astutely observed, Putinism consists of five fundamentals: religion, nationalism, social conservatism, state capitalism and government media control. ‘Returning to the values of religion’ — in particular Orthodox Christianity — is a powerful theme in Putin’s agenda, with a global vision of ‘protecting persecuted Christians all over the world.’ Replace ‘Christian’ with ‘Muslim,’ and one has Turkey’s ruling ideology.”

A National Post review notes: “Erdogan is turning his country into an Islam-tilted dictatorship. Eight years ago, 300,000 secularist Turks waved banners showing Atatürk’s picture [Atatürk was the first president of Turkey, who established a secular state that made his nation perhaps the most successful government in the Moslem world] as they demonstrated against Erdogan’s increasingly Islamic agenda. Nevertheless, Erdogan has remained popular.”

Although Turkey is a member of NATO, under Erdogan the nations’ formerly pro-western foreign policy has changed. He has been a harsh critic of Israel, and has, noted Fox commentator Ralph Peters, engaged in actions which hampered American activities in the Middle East. Although officially in opposition to ISIS, much of the resources ostensibly devoted to anti-ISIS action are actually devoted to combatting Kurds, a significant ally of the west in the fight against ISIS.

The Turkish army has traditionally been the guardian of the nation’s secular constitution, and has been seen as check on Erdogan’s power.  Some analysts have speculated that the failed coup, which was curiously poorly planned and organized, may have actually been instituted by Erdogan himself as a means to justify the arrest of military leaders–and arrest them he has. Various news reports indicate that many thousands of anti-Erdogan Turkish citizens have been detained.

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