Erdogan's Putsch Turkey's Post-Coup Slide into Dictatorship
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is taking advantage of last week's failed coup to consolidate his power. As the country slides into a dictatorship, there is a lot at stake for the West. But the effects in Turkey itself promise to be far greater. By SPIEGEL Staff
The sun is setting over Ankara and people are pouring out of the subway onto Kizilay Square in the heart of the Turkish capital. They are waving flags and chanting: "God is great!" and "Death to the traitors!"
In a café located 100 meters (328 feet) away, Esra Can is quickly cramming her cigarettes and smartphone into her purse, rushing to make it back to her apartment before the demonstration in support of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan gets going. "The mob on the street is unpredictable," she says.
Can, a petite 30-year-old with brown curly hair and red nails, works as a graphic designer in Ankara. She smokes and occasionally enjoys a glass of wine -- and when it comes time to vote, she casts her ballot for the Social Democrats or for left-wing splinter parties. Can says she has always believed in democracy and the rule of law in Turkey despite Erdogan's despotic tendencies. Now, though, she is afraid that her country is sliding down the slippery slope to a dictatorship.
For the first time in almost 36 years, members of the Turkish military sought to topple the government last Friday. They occupied parts of Istanbul and Ankara and bombed the parliament building. Up to 300 people lost their lives and at least 1,400 were injured, including a number of civilians.
Like many people in Turkey, Can was relieved that the government was able to beat back the attempted coup and hoped that the horror of July 15 would unite people. Now, though, she is watching in dismay as Erdogan takes advantage of the conflict to grab for absolute power.
On Wednesday, Erdogan declared emergency rule and partially suspended the European Convention on Human Rights for three months. During that time, the president can rule by decree: He can ignore fundamental rights, such as the right to freedom of assembly and press freedoms, government authorities can impose curfews and media coverage can be outlawed.
A 'Holiday of Democracy'
Erdogan has also announced his intention to "cleanse the state." He wants to have parliament vote on the reintroduction of the death penalty to provide him with the ultimate punishment as he goes after those involved in the coup and he has called on Turkish citizens to occupy streets and squares across the country.
They have listened. Mostly in the evenings, thousands of demonstrators gather in prominent places, such as Ankara's Kizilay Square or Taksim Square in Istanbul. The carry mock gallows and pay homage to their leader Erdogan: "Say the word, and we'll die. Say the word, and we'll kill." Men shoot blanks and speakers incite the mob. Erdogan's loyal prime minister, Binali Yildirim, has spoken of a "holiday of democracy."
But for those in the opposition, for secularists, leftists and liberals -- for people like Can -- the pro-government demonstrations don't seem like a democratic groundswell. Rather, they seem like an Islamist counter-revolution.
Turkey fended off a military takeover, which likely prevented a bloodbath, but the country is now facing weeks and months of agony and havoc. The state apparatus has been brought to a standstill by the wave of purges Erdogan has launched since last Friday and the economy is reeling. The military, too, is in upheaval, with neither a second coup attempt nor a civil war seemingly out of the question.
Western politicians are now looking to Ankara with bewilderment. Turkey has long been a cornerstone of global security architecture and has the second largest military of any NATO member. It is also a bulwark against both Russia and Iran and provides a base of operations for the fight against Islamic State (IS), with American jets taking off from Turkish military bases to launch airstrikes on extremist positions.
'Gift from God'
European Union politicians must also take stock. Until last week, EU leaders -- German Chancellor Angela Merkel in particular -- had depended on Turkey to help keep refugees away from Europe. Might the controversial refugee deal now collapse? One of the promises made by Europe as part of that deal was to accelerate EU accession negotiations, but can it fulfill that promise with Erdogan pursuing autocracy?
Erdogan called the failed uprising a "gift from God," a gift that now gives him the latitude to silence his opponents and critics. His government has claimed that a minority within the Turkish military was responsible for the putsch attempt, but the president has also accused Fethullah Gülen of instigating the coup -- the Turkish cleric who used to be a close ally of Erdogan's but has been living in American exile since the late 1990s.
The president and his entourage have left no doubt about how they intend to react to the revolt: With merciless severity. Erdogan has had over 2,000 soldiers arrested and several tens of thousands of civil servants have been fired. Among them are 36,200 teachers and officials in the Education Ministry, 8,000 police officers and almost 3,000 judges, many of them alleged followers of Gülen. Forty-seven provincial governors were forced to resign as were the deans of all of Turkey's universities. Academics and scientists are no longer allowed to leave the country.
In recent years, it had become increasingly difficult for Turks to criticize Erdogan, with intellectuals and journalists having been arrested and opposition newspapers shut down. Investigative journalism is unlikely to come from the country's large media organizations, says Erol Onderoglu, the Turkish representative of the organization Reporters without Borders. State repression has become too great and the economic interests between the media and the government have become too interwoven, he says.
Now, though, in the wake of the failed coup, what remains of public opposition is likely to disappear entirely. In the last few days, the government has blocked dozens of websites of small, independent media organizations while critical radio and television broadcasters have been taken off the air. "Those who thought Erdogan could be a partner for freedom and reconciliation must now abandon that hope once and for all," Onderoglu says.