Understanding and explaining a failed coup attempt

image by Neha Viswanathan, via Flickr (licence CC 2.0)

baris-100x100by Baris Celik

Summary: A group with striking resemblances to ancient secret organisations is a good reason to reevaluate some preconceived ideas. Otherwise, the reality below the iceberg will hit back with more serious risks.

Countries have difficult times. They declare wars, become embroiled in border conflicts, suffer from epidemics, famine or natural disasters. And some countries are troubled with coups. In many cases, people in these countries wake up to a government ruled by a group of soldiers. In some other cases, the change does not happen in their sleep or overnight, but following a series of bloody clashes on streets. Nothing to choose between these ‘two main coup types’. But there is a way more awkward third type, which, actually, is not called a coup, but a ‘coup attempt’ – just because it remained as an incomplete taking over of a government. However, motivations and dynamics of any intention to stage a coup are so complicated and harmful that they can impact the people and states even if they fail at the end. What happened in Turkey on the night of July 15 was just that.

Make no mistakes. Explaining the failed coup in Turkey is not that simple. It is, for me, one of the most difficult and important tasks of any government since the founding of the Republic of Turkey. Therefore, Turkey’s post-July 15 discourse should be rigorous, factual and systematic. Maintaining the line that the events on that night were not a drama scripted by the government itself is of significant importance at this point. If ‘convincing the rest of the world’ is Turkey’s main goal now, then its partners would continue to treat Turkey as a country trying to change the minds of others. Rather, the focus should be on explaining the real picture with facts, as has been done by the government since the first day following the heinous attempt.

Primary importance, then, lies on public diplomacy and what is called ‘soft power’. The most critical items in Turkey’s inventory are words now – words that are to be used in each and every single encounter with another country. Among those countries, there are those who are willing to listen, understand, and even empathise. Their motivation is the understanding that Turkey is a crucial actor in its region and a wise enough player that would not take the risk of staging a made-up coup to consolidate central power. Yet there is another group of countries with some pre-conceived notions. They sit on the table with Turkey with their prejudices and fixed images. According to them, Turkey is a Middle Eastern country at the end of the day, which means it is stuck with corruption, mismanagement and terror in one way or another. A positive thing despite their stubbornness is that Turkey is trying to maintain constructive even with these group of countries. It makes heard its disappointment, rather than an outright propaganda of breaking ties with them. Maturity is very important in this process, and Turkey is doing what it can in this regard.

Another important post-July 15 item for Turkey is speaking as one voice, rather than speaking with one voice. If the situation was rather clear-cut like a war of two states, then the official government position could be maintained by top authorities who reflect the country’s official discourse in international politics. Yet the situation on hand has the risk of being understood as a development related only to internal politics of Turkey. In fact, it has both internal and external factors and repercussions. Therefore, Turkey’s discourse should be on the abovementioned course, but it should not be made vocal with one voice. The post-July 15 task of Turkey asks for more than the actions of the government’s top branch. Each Turkish bureaucrat and citizen, be it around the country or across the world, has a critical role on the country’s image after the night of July 15. Coherently and consistently, they should speak as one voice.

Turks actually held successful demonstrations in some European cities, but in some other cities, they were not allowed to do so. It is beyond saying that Europe is pre-cautious of mass protests at a time when extremists use such occasions for their bloody actions. Yet if Europe is genuinely willing to manifest its solidarity with Turkey, it should strike the right balance between its precautions and the Turks’ demands for organising demonstrations.

Europe should also think elaborately when it comes to responding to the rising extreme right-wing discourses in its own soil. Although previous experience shows that condemning Middle Eastern and Muslim countries of the events happening in the region helps to consolidate voter support, they are short-termist reactions at the end. Leaders may gain some extra votes in their favour by using such discourses, but they may also severe their countries’ ties with Turkey in the long run. As the experience shows again, Turkey can anytime emerge as a crucial contact for Europe even when it is deemed otherwise. So both Turkey’s NATO membership and its EU accession process should be handled very carefully by Europe especially at a tricky time like this.

Despite everything, the process following the July 15 revealed some peculiar details of the people who are accepted as students of a Muslim cleric living in the USA. After the latest revelations, it has become obvious that they are not only followers of an innocent religious or spiritual discourse. It was explored in an investigation in a house of Gülenists that they had Illuminati-like rituals such as kissing the mould of Fethullah Gülen’s hand as a token of loyalty to him. Also in the same house was a wardrobe opening into a secret room where maquette planes and tanks are displayed (as very plausible evidence that the movement was behind the coup attempt). It was even mentioned in the newspapers that the organisation used the serial numbers on one-dollar banknotes as a means of close communication: Banknotes with ‘F’ serial numbers are circulated within the movement to communicate messages to cliques in Turkey and the rest of the world.

Let’s not deny that Turkey’s partners have long accepted the Gulenist movement as a friendly initiative, as a source of investment and foreign capital, or as a harmless entity. Yet it is worth remembering that the events on the night of July 15 proved that there is a need to rethink the image of the movement and its affiliates. Well, it’s politics at the end of the day, therefore there is always more to say. It’s down to political actors’ choices, political affiliations, and political calculations. I don’t think there is a ‘common sense’ in any area of politics, neither do I believe there is a boundary to it. But there is one thing that I’m sure of: prejudices are the main obstacles to clarify things. Rid our minds of them, be open to unconventionalities, and we will be surprised with the progress. This is especially true in the context of coup attempt in Turkey.


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