Human rights and the failed coup in Turkey
The July 15th failed coup in Turkey is a momentous occurrence, with uncertain implications for the future of the country, and serious reverberations regionally and with respect to relations between Turkey and the United States and Europe. Although many commentators rightly point to the risk to the rule of law posed by the sweeping post-coup purges, too few applaud the successful defeat of the putschists as an unambiguous victory for human rights and democracy. The US and western government’s criticisms of post-coup excesses would also carry more weight if they could show they were treating more seriously the allegations that the coup was plotted by a cleric given sanctuary in the US.
For the harshest critics of President Erdoğan the coup is seen as ‘a counter-coup’ in reaction to the President’s alleged override of the constitutional system through his assumption of supreme leadership. It has even been called ‘a theater coup’ staged by the government to create a favorable political climate to further satisfy Erdoğan’s grandiose ambitions. For the supporters of Erdoğan the coup attempt was a confirmation of the earlier accusations that there existed deep in the Turkish bureaucracy, including the armed forces and intelligence agency, a parallel political structure of dubious loyalty that was intent on seizing power in defiance of democratic procedures.
Yet, at this point, it seems that all Turkish citizens except those implacably hostile to the AKP government are convinced that it was a genuine military coup attempt whose defeat was highly desirable for the country.
Such a conclusion is extraordinarily significant considering the polarized atmosphere that had existed in Turkey prior to July 15th, with the opposition deeply critical of the AKP approach to governance and intensely suspicious of Erdoğan. Since the coup attempt all of the major opposition parties signed a declaration of unity denouncing the coup attempt and pledging support for democratic procedures, including the rule of law. Beyond this, Erdoğan invited the leaders of the two main opposition parties to the Presidential Mansion for a meeting to sustain the spirit of cooperation.
This display of unity among politicians in Turkish society is backed by the views of the citizenry. Despite concerns about Erdoğan’s leadership, few tears were shed for the coup plotters. Most agree that the undertaking was the sinister work of the Hizmet movement led by Fetulllah Gülen, a reclusive Muslim cleric living in Pennsylvania. For years, I had heard concerns about this movement, operating in secrecy, publicly preaching a doctrine of Islamic moderation while acting with the cultic devotion of political fanatics.