“Every great mistake has a halfway moment, a split second when it may be recalled and perhaps remedied.” – Pearl S. Buck
In an earlier article almost exactly two months back, one had wondered whether, as a foreigner from far away distant land, it would not be advisable to simply mind one’s business and completely refrain from commenting on matters involving strictly another country. But the ongoing situation in Turkey, even though it commenced as an exclusively internal affair of that country, is now increasingly threatening to take on a frightening international dimension; what with the ever-widening expansion of the dragnet of alleged possible links with persons in, and probable connections to, several individuals and countries across different continents.
It is no longer news that there was an attempted coup d’etat against the democratically elected government of Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, on July 15, 2016, which ultimately failed. The botched attempt to force a change in government was blamed on a faction within the Turkish Armed Forces and was reportedly organized under a council called the Peace at Home Council, which attempted to seize control of several key places in the nations’ capital, Ankara, its most populous city, Istanbul, and several other key cities. Forces loyal to President Erdogan and the cabinet of Bilani Yildirim, inaugurated on May 24, 2016 as the 65th government of the Republic of Turkey, along with unprecedented support from ordinary citizens, eventually succeeded in defeating the insurrection and saving the republic from recording what would have been its sixth successful coup d’etat since 1960.
Even as the unfortunate attempt at forcefully effecting a change in government was successfully contained, it did not come without a cost, as over 300 people were killed and more than 2,100 others were injured. In addition, several government buildings, including the Presidential Palace and Turkish Parliament, were badly damaged in the process. Indeed, reactions to the unfortunate events were generally against the coup, both domestically and internationally.
It is particularly noteworthy that even the country’s main opposition parties, and Erdogan’s major ideological and political opponents, rose in unison to collectively voice out their total condemnation of the attempted coup, while several international leaders from the US, European Union, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), perhaps, trying to play safe during the momentary period of intense suspense and great uncertainties, called for “respect of the democratic institutions in Turkey and its elected officials”, even as other International Organizations equally expressed strong opinions against the coup. In contrast, the United Nations Security Council did not denounce the coup after Egypt, a non-permanent member of the Council, strongly objected to the language used in the US-proposed draft, which described the Turkish government as a democratic one.
While the possible motives behind the attempted coup remain as yet unclear and fall well beyond the scope of this write up, the Peace at Home Council had cited an increasing wave of “erosion of secularism, the elimination of democratic rule, a disregard for human rights, and Turkey’s loss of credibility in the international arena”, as reasons for the coup. The Erdogan government, on the other hand, blamed soldiers linked to the Gulen Movement – a group it has designated as a terrorist organization and led by the Saylorsburg, Pennsylvania-based Turkish exile, Fethullah Gülen – while some members of the Turkish government and pro-government media have accused the U.S. government of secretly backing the plot.
Born on April 27, 1941, Muhammed Fethullah Gülen is a Turkish preacher, former imam, writer, and political figure. He is the founder of the Gülen movement (known as Hizmet, meaning service in Turkish), and the inspiration figure for its largest organization, the Alliance for Shared Values. Gülen has since condemned the coup and denied any involvement; he, instead, accused the Turkish president of staging the event as a covert or false flag operation, in continuation of his clandestine attempt to legitimise further “restrictions on civil liberties and purges of the military and judiciary, as well as to increase support for his abiding desire for an executive presidency”.
Located at the extreme points of Eurosia, and variously described as the Easternmost part of Europe and Westernmost part of Asia, Turkey has historically suffered from the harsh effects of the perennial push and pull of two competing civilisations, dragged between two divergent cultures and religions, and is now increasingly being torn apart by the sharply devisive centrifugal forces from the seemingly never-ending struggle between secularism and moderate Islam within the same religious belief. Perched across the mighty Bosphorus, the waterway also known as the Golden Horn that divides Europe and Asia, Istanbul – a city of 14.6 million as at the last count, which was formerly called Constantinople – once served as the capital of “eastern Rome”, when the vast Roman Empire drew a line between its own territories many centuries ago, while “western Rome” adopted Rome as its capital.
The eastern Roman Empire survived the collapse of the western section, following the latter’s relatively short-lived existence of less than a century, and flourished for more than one thousand years, with this hitherto Christian stronghold switching to Islam arising from the subsequent invasion of the Ottomans, who went on to establish their own empire from the rungs of the old western Roman Empire, which spanned for another period of more than seven centuries. Till today, it is hard to miss the immense influence these two great competing empires left on the city of Istanbul, even as its people, just like the country itself, are largely divided between the adherents of the secular philosophy and moderate Islam.
It is, however, interesting to note that not even these long entrenched historical influences or modern day political differences could stand in the way of the population coming together, and joining hands in an unprecedented show of the people power, to risk life and limb and scale atop military battle tanks to effect citizens arrests, which eventually showed the coup plotters in no uncertain terms that, in addition to the loyal troops on the side of the government in power, they also had the rest of the population to contend with in their futile and ill advised misadventure. If there is one useful lesson to draw from the recent events in Turkey, it is just how ready citizens are to stand by their elected governments and representatives in times of need, once the social contract that should naturally bind the two sides is strictly respected and adhered to by those in power.
In sharp contrast with what would clearly have been at play during the recent Turkish events, where the people – against all odds – stood by their leaders, and are ever ready to return them to power during elections, however, rather than channel available resources into projects and other social development schemes that will guarantee them the support of majority of the electorate, some of our elected officials here at home in Nigeria will prefer to sit back and do very little or nothing in that regard, believing that all they have to do is to apply a fraction of such resources to buy and influence the people’s choice during subsequent elections. Of course, such warped ‘strategy’ may sometimes work and has, indeed, probably worked for them several times over in the past, but it is certainly not in the overall best interest of the society that they seek to grow and improve via their leadership, and you often wonder why on earth they should continue to pursue that rather strange course of action.
Coming back to the Turkish coup and its aftermath, the English-language edition of the country’s conservative Yeni Safak daily, citing sources close to the ongoing investigation, has reported that the former NATO commander and 34th Vice Chief of Staff of the United States Army, General John F. Campbell (retd.) was the mastermind behind the failed military coup attempt. The paper, known for its loyal support of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, stated that the president was the main the target of the coup attempt. According to Yeni Safak, Campbell used the Nigerian-owned United Bank for Africa (UBA) to channel over $2 billion to the pro-coup military personnel in Turkey via CIA links, thereby introducing a whole new and dangerous international dimension into the whole affair.
The paper added that the retired US general had allegedly paid “at least two secret visits” to Turkey since May, leading up to the failed coup bid, which the authorities in Turkey are blaming on what they call the Fethullah Terrorist Organization (FETO). Mevlut Cavusoglu, Turkey’s foreign minister, warned during the week that ties with Washington could suffer, unless the cleric Fethullah Gülen, Erdogan’s ideological adversary, is extradited, even as Washington has repeatedly insisted that Turkey must provide solid evidence linking Gülen to the attempted coup before any possible extradition process is even discussed.
So far, a whopping 13,165 people have been detained in connection with the foiled coup attempt in Turkey as at Sunday, July 25, 2016, comprising 8,838 soldiers, 2,101 judges and prosecutors, 1,485 police officers, 52 members of local authorities and 689 civilians, as reported by the Turkish daily, Hurriyet. In addition, a total of 934 schools, 109 dormitories, 15 universities, 104 foundations, 35 health institutions, 1,125 associations and 19 unions were closed for reportedly belonging to what the president described as “the Fethullahist Terrorist Organization”, even as detention warrants have been issued against 42 journalists suspected as having links to the failed coup attempt.
An Ankara court has recently approved a joint indictment of 73 suspects, including the exiled Gülen himself, leading Ibrahim Dogus, the founder and director of the Centre for Turkey Studies and Development in London, to allege that President Erdogan is trying very hard to hunt down anyone linked, loyal or associated with Gülen at this moment in Turkey. In addition, Amnesty International has sounded the alarm, stating that it has gathered “credible evidence” that people arrested in relation to the failed coup attempt have been “subjected to beatings and torture, including rape, in official and unofficial detention centers in the country”, and expressing serious concerns that the grim details it has documented may just provide a snapshot of the abuses that might be happening in places of detention.
In the final analysis, the ongoing unprecedented level of heavy-handed crackdown by Mr. Erdogan, who has since declared a 3-month long State of Emergency, may have no parallels in recent history by the time he is done. The huge number of arrests is already raising serious concerns about the increasing possibility of collateral damage, as many innocent persons may inadvertently be roped in. The way President Erdogan, whose ego has been badly bruised, and was barely able to hold on to the rungs of power by the skin of his teeth, seems to be going about tackling the aftermath of this latest attempt at toppling his government certainly reminds one of the epic 1977 film, “Return of Bruce Lee”.
When you fight and appear to be in a good position to gain the upper hand against the famed martial arts actor, you are often better off finishing him while you still can, because a badly battered and bruised Bruce Lee usually attacks and destroys anything and everything in sight when he eventually returns. As the Turkish authorities appear to have gone berserk in their ongoing continuing search for anyone with possible ties to the exiled cleric Gülen, the country may just be witnessing its own version of “Enter the Dragon!” Now full of regrets, and with the benefit of hindsight, I guess the coup plotters, eight of whom escaped by helicopters a day after the failed attempt to seek asylum in Greece, as well as several of their backers may already be wishing they never embarked on this ill-advised misadventure. Indeed, as a very popular Hausa admonishment proverb clearly states, “da muguwar rawa, gara kin tashi”; which translates loosely to mean, if you are certain that you do not know how to dance well, you might as well remain seated!
Abdullahi Usman ([email protected])
(PA to former INEC Chairman)