by Diana Ecaterina Borcea, a Romanian native who is also an incoming first year undergraduate at King’s College London. Diana will start pursuing a BA in War Studies this September. Her main interests in the research of international relations cover subjects like security and conflict in Eastern Europe, history of diplomacy & conflicts, military strategy and war in international order.
15 Jul 10:30 pm: the seizure of the key locations in Ankara (and the Bosphorus bridges) takes place
15 Jul 11:00 pm: guns are fired in Ankara and tanks start sieging close to the parliament
16 Jul 12:30 am: President Erdoğan’s call for people’s public rally is aired
16 Jul 2:30 am: the parliament is under attack and a coup members’ helicopter is shot down
16 Jul 9:30 am: the main stage of the coup is declared to be over and soldiers start surrendering
16 Jul 3:00 pm: eight coup participants fly to Greece to seek asylum.
Bottom line? Over 270 people killed and almost 1500 wounded. This tragic outcome is deeply overwhelming even for a country where there have been no fewer than five major coups in the past six decades, with the latest one included. With Turkey’s bleeding stability, few days after the failed coup, questions started rising and the importance of the political leadership became a major element in understanding what really happened in Turkey. Identifying both the causes and the potential long-term consequences of the plotter’s overthrow basically means looking into the state’s leading party, which has been holding not only the majority of seats in the Parliament for thirteen years, but also the enthusiasm and support of the Turkish people.
Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi (Turkish), internationally known as the Justice and Development Party (AKP) has become the strongest Turkish political association in the past decade and presents itself as a conservative right-wing, democratic party, which does not resemble any components of the Islamic agenda, according to its spokesperson, Hüseyin Çelik. Holding the reins of power in Turkey since 2002, AKP, whose leader was the actual President of the Republic (Recep Tayyip Erdoğan) has, however, consolidated a system leaning towards authoritarianism, facing accusations of having a secret agenda, which does not bear a resemblance to the democratic ideology at all. Moreover, the Western press and important Turkish media insiders have repeatedly underlined that Erdoğan’s party is responsible for acts against Turkish secularism and for the support of the Muslim Brotherhood. Under these controversial circumstances, in its thirteen years of power, AKP has faced numerous closing dates, one of which happened in 2008, when the party confronted dissolution by the Constitutional Court for violating article 86 from the Political Parties Law, because it attempted to change the secularism of the state. These tense moments did not, however, prevent AKP from tightening regulations regarding the usage of internet, abortion and alcohol consumption in 2013. The measures taken in the night between 15th of 16th of July – blocking access to social media (Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter) are identical to the ones imposed in 2014, which demonstrates the authoritarian operational mode of AKP. So, is Erdoğan’s AKP actually protecting Atatürk’s Republic and its people?
The answer could be heard from the voices of the thousands gathered in the Taksim Square (Istanbul), who chanted for democracy and the Republic, but not as they once did for the President. The concerns for the Turkish democracy became stronger, as it is already noted that the first major consequence of the coup is giving the government both the justification and the power to tighten its control over the state, declaring, in the process of finding and eliminating the plotters, a three-month long state of emergency. Despite the waves of Western accusations for being an Islamist-influenced party and for its anti-democratic measures, AKP still has its mass supporters, who have also made their voice heard after the coup. The President’s lasting popularity is based on genuine facts, which include Turkey’s economic revival since 2003, the religious pervasiveness of the party and the very fact that Erdoğan is a man of people. As a result, by representing a conservative, religious lower-class, the President has assured his major support, shadowing the worrying fact that immediately after the coup, his government started a massive purge of soldiers, policemen, judges, prosecutors and even teachers in order to secure the post-coup safety of his governance.
What is more, the Turkish leader has publicly refused to eliminate the execution of the coup plotters, stirring EU reactions, which have clearly stated that in such case, Turkey will no longer be able to adhere to the Union. This adds up to the radical constitutional package presented earlier this week, which has also caught the international focus by being denominated as “a constitutional reform package aimed at EU integration.” Following these considerations, AKP’s political strategy does not seem hard to unveil. A foreign isolationist policy combined with the massive media shutdown in Turkey might protect the government’s reputation from the objective, alarming western critique, by which the President himself has proved to be so affected (2014 media access block). Is that, in this case, a well-designed plan to cover the abuses and injustices committed with Ankara’s leadership consent?
The certainty illustrates that the aforementioned events are definitely not singular or non-repeatable. The deaths of hundreds of people seem to fade in comparison with Erdoğan’s policy and his party movements, which is why the aforementioned tragic bottom line might as well be a header. On the edge between authoritarianism and military dictatorship, Turkey’s faith is in the hands of the so-called “Justice” and “Development”. Regardless of the isolation-related uncertainties, the future of Ankara relies on the guidelines of the new definitions offered to these two terms, as seen and understood by Erdoğan’s long-lasting impenetrable party.