Turkey is a diverse and ethnically mixed country with Turks, Kurds, Laz people, Armenians, Georgians, Arabs in Turkey, and many other minority groups. Those people sociologically lived peacefully together for a long time and had no problem. Even though all ethnicities were not accepted equally at the state level during the Ottoman Empire period, they never conflicted and disputed until the 1890s.
Towards the Ottoman Empire’s collapse, many disputes broke out on many fronts, and the Empire had got to quell them all. Did the Empire succeed this peacefully? No. Things got out of control, and the West invaded Anatolia. Invasion of Anatolia was an emergency and no one talked about their differences but united to get stronger against the invaders. They fought back against the invaders and forced invaders to leave the country where Turkey was established later.
A new country, Turkey, was established with a different mindset and leadership quite successfully. Ataturk played a crucial role in the building of the Turkish republican and western style of laicism. It was a one strong man regime, and Turkey was ruled in the same manner till the 1950s. The country was headed with the same regime for 27 years. This was a relatively long time, and all structures of government institutions were designed and set-up by Ataturk and his successor, Ismet Inonu.
Most likely, Ismet Inonu never imagined that one day he might leave the office to a democratically elected leader. When Adnan Menderes was elected as the new Prime Minister of the country in 1950, everyone started believing that Turkey was on the right track to be a democratic country, and Menderes election won could be the start of a new era. This would be a new experience of the state bureaucracy, and the government that would be lead by a democratically elected Prime Minister.
However, the Turkish democracy attempt got a great wound when the military hung Adnan Menderes after Turkey’s first-ever coup in 1960. The Kemalist mindset suppressed everyone and gained the country’s control again. Until the 2000s, Turkey turned into a country where the tug of war between the civilian governments and the army assumed the most strong fortress of the Kemalists in the year 1960, 1971, 1980, 1993, 1997, 2007, and 2016. The military always blocked democracy efforts at every opportunity with the allegations of the possible regime change, and due to this, Turkey never experienced real democracy with all these interventions.
And Erdogan came ahead in 2002 with a promise of real democracy and asked people to support him. He worked hard to modernize and democratize Turkey until 2010 with the support of many different social segments. While he was doing all the reforms and transforming the country, the military establishment was always uncomfortable with Erdogan’s democratic progress. They showed their teeth to Erdogan at every opportunity as well. Some shadow military officials planned coup plans codenamed Sarıkız (Blonde Girl), Ayışığı (Moonlight), Yakamoz (Sea Sparkle), Eldiven (Glove), and Balyoz (Sledgehammer) to overthrow the Erdogan government, but all failed before they were put into action. Meanwhile, the e-memorandum was issued by the Chief of the General Staff Büyükanıt himself and the Erdogan government panicked with the fear that the military was finally making a move for a coup. The military did not stage a coup and – whatever the reason might have been – seemed contented with issuing the memorandum.
The Kemalist order in Turkish institutions is always tense and alerted against any democratically elected government, and they always find a reason to claim the control of the government through undemocratic means, and they have never changed throughout the modern history of Turkey.
Erdogan was tested with many challenges, and he managed to come out stronger from each by hook or by crook. The power he reached after all narrow escapes was unexpected, and he finally had his hand on almost all state organs. This was an entirely new experience for a civilian government after a long ‘democracy effort’. In 2010, Erdogan and his party made a call for a referendum to amend the Constitution and ask ed every party and group to support his campaign for introducing long-awaited democratic changes in the 1982 Constitution. Almost every group in Turkey supported the Erdogan regime to make necessary changes in the Constitution, and the referendum was won with a great victory.
These electoral victories pampered Erdogan and encouraged him to control everything. Everyone expected a significant change in all aspects of government towards democratizaion, but Erdogan was thinking differently, and he began playing with the system. He involved himself and his cabinet ministers in the corruption which brought America against Turkey due to bypassing the Iran sanctions.
Turkish police department made operations against some ministers and their sons besides Erdogan’s son himself with the claim of corruption in 2013. It was something Erdogan never expected. The police department, through secrecy and ample intelligence, collected credible pieces of evidence for years. December 17, 2013 was Erdogan’s longest day. He expectedly blamed Gulen Movement for being behind those operations. He claimed that those operations were not conducted against corruption but as a revenge against him by the Movement. Hence, he started a nationwide witch-hunt against the Gulen Movement and its institutions across the country.
The Gulen Movement is a transnational social movement and renders educational, social, and humanitarian services everywhere regardless of color, nation, and religion. More than 170 countries warmly welcomed the schools, universities, and other institutions of Movement, which have been fulfilling an excellent mission in introducing Turkey’s culture and language. The Interntional Festival of Language and Culture has been one of the most important initiatives in this regard and everyone, including government officials, liked it so much when it was initially held in Turkey. Students from worldwide came to Turkey and competed in different Turkish language skills and talents like singing, poetry, and drama.
The Movement used to have thousands of schools and hundreds of dormitories in Turkey and provided educational opportunities to everyone, especially financially disadvantaged children, almost everywhere in Turkey. Those students who studied at Gulen Movement affiliated schools became teachers, doctors, engineers, police officers, army officials, and so on. This was a normal process to rise to these positions as long as one was a citizen of the Republic of Turkey. Those students who graduated from Gulen Movement affiliated schools are now blamed for being Gulenist, and they are mostly treated differently from others.
Kemalist order was Erdogan’s enemy until 2013. Erdogan changed strategy later. He openly declared the Movement as his new enemy through his baseless allegations to regain the support of people after the corruption probe. While there were many credible pieces of evidence against him and his ministers, he closed the case by misusing his authority and dismissing all the police officers and judicial personnel who took part in these operations.
People did not buy Erdogan’s allegations against the Movement and did not entirely turn against its participants. That was because Erdogan seemed to be running the country economically well and no one wanted to get the economy distracted by anything. As if the December 2013 corruption operations were a group’s attack to another, the general public was also optimistic for a possible settlement for peace between Erdogan and the Movement. The public never tried to understand the dimensions of the problem and thus remained passive. Erdogan was doing all for a purpose to grip more power and stay on power by turning the Movement into a scapegoat. The Movement was never easy with the idea to support a corrupt regime. That was against the principles of the Movement. Therefore, the Movement also did not change its course from the right path and continued its services everywhere in Turkey and abroad.
The rabbit was pulled out of the hat, and Erdogan and his party’s corruption became the country’s number one agenda for a long time. Erdogan needed to get out of this crisis so, he sat at the same table with the Kemalists and agreed with them in return for the Movement’s annihilation. According to this agreement, the Kemalist circles would not talk about the corruption cases anymore and would not accuse his government of bad governance, while he would finish off the Movement for both parties’ sake.
But Kemalists and Erdoganists had never trusted each other. They were playing their chess together with the hope of winning the game by getting free from both, including the Movement. The Movement found itself in between these two cruel groups. Both of them tied their survival and future to the Movement’s and finally, the other side’s demolition.
July 15, 2016 was an extraordinary night with unforgettable brutal chain of events. A bloody coup attempt took place and it changed the course of Turkish history. Everything turned upside down. Erdogan’s regime blamed the Movement for being behind the coup attempt right from the first minutes without any investigation. Erdogan said, “this is God’s gift for us,” referring to use the attempt for purging the people in opposition.
Thousands of people were detained, imprisoned, dismissed from their jobs with nonsense and baseless allegations of Erdogan’s regime. Torturing, kidnapping, forcing people to internally displacement, and many more illegalities took place after the coup attempt. Meanwhile, there is still no evidence about the putschists and the real perpetrators. The USA, the EU, the UK, German and NATO intelligence agencies reportedly denied the Erdogan regime’s claims, and they reported: “the group who wanted to do the coup was a dark group in the military, but it was not the Gulenists.”
Nothing stopped the Erdogan regime from doing the purge against innocent civilian people, and they turned millions of people’s lives into hell. As whatever happened normal, the interior minister said on a HaberGlobal news show, “Do you think the perpetrators of the July 15 coup will ever leave you alone? Did the FETO (a derogatory expression used by the current Turkish regime for labeling the Gulen/Hizmet Movement with its participants and the institutions) perpetrate the coup? July 15 was not perpetrated by the FETO; they (the perpetrators) will never leave you alone unless you stand tall and resolute. Only then you may breathe easy and remain relaxed. Pure and simple!”
They knew everything from the first minute of the event and who did it, but both sides kept silent agreeably for some time to drown the Movement. The Erdogan regime closed all Movement-affiliated institutions and forced people to die from hunger and thirst. Unexpected by them, thousands of the Movement’s participants spread worldwide and settled in the Western countries. The current regime in Turkey used all means to blemish the Movement in different countries, but they could not achieve anything. What Erdogan cared more than anything was changing the regime to an authoritarian one, and he was impatient to do it.
Erdogan placed every stone on this path with a great plan and changed the governance to a presidential system from a parliamentarian system. The Kemalist structure did not stop him from doing this. They earlier hanged a Prime Minister and attempted many coups with the fear of the regime change, but they did nothing against Erdogan’s regime while he freely changed the regime and they preferred to watch him only. It was not a surprise, and it must be that they remembered the earlier one-man regimes during the times of Ataturk and Ismet Inonu.
They thought that Erdogan would finish off the Movement and they would eventually end Erdogan and his sultanate, while the one-man regime would remain to them as a heritage to enjoy.
Before ending my article here, you may wonder who is the good, the bad, and the ugly in my story. You have three characters: Gulenists, Erdoganists, and Kemalists. You may yourself tell which character fits in which role as well.