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The seventh anniversary of July 15 coup attempt

It has been seven full years since July 15, which irreversibly and irrevocably changed the lives of many. Quite a long time. Some spent every day of the past seven years hoping that “maybe everything will get better tomorrow!” Some lost their spouses, children, siblings, mothers or fathers, and some lost their friends. Those who were imprisoned, detained, or arrested, some for a short period and some for a long time… Torture and forced disappearances, their common characteristic: unlawfulness! Those who lost their jobs, were blacklisted, had their travel freedom restricted, were marginalized, always together with their families, collectively! Some committed suicide, some experienced psychological breakdowns, some fell victim to physical illnesses, and some died from cancer or heart attacks. We heard the names of some, while others quietly passed away, perhaps leaving behind their children and spouses in tears.

July 15 is a humanitarian catastrophe. I believe it would be incorrect to only consider it in a political context. It had wide-ranging effects and continues to do so. In a way, it is a lever that reproduces itself, allowing for an ongoing oppression, July 15.

Another characteristic of July 15 is its integration into official history. They were able to achieve a change of regime thanks to July 15. Therefore, they had to include it in official history. They followed a strategy that reinforced the discourse they produced, passed it on to future generations, repeated indoctrination, and consolidated the perception they created.

Another important point is that the opposition accepted the discourse of July 15. That’s what happened at Yenikapı. The regime also convinced the opposition with its rhetoric. Perhaps the opposition was already willing to accept it from the beginning. I don’t know. Because at first, even if they said it was a “controlled coup,” they largely ignored the mass persecution that escalated after July 15, and they silently welcomed the declaration of the Gülen Movement as the scapegoat and its social genocide. In secular segments of society, the process was perceived as “let the conservatives devour each other.” In the bases of deeper focuses, it was seen as revenge for the coup trials such as Ergenekon, Balyoz, Sarıkız, Ayışığı, and Military Espionage.

One of the most tragic events that occurred on July 15 is undoubtedly the disintegration of the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK). This is an unprecedented event on a global scale. A country has effectively destroyed its own army. Such a comprehensive purge has never happened before in world history. In post-World War II Germany and Italy, where they did not engage in crimes like genocide, middle and lower-ranking officials were not pursued. However, after July 15, more than fifty percent of generals and admirals in the TSK were imprisoned and purged. This figure is also more than fifty percent among middle and lower-ranking officers. This is a terrible thing. It is not only a technical and political matter but also a horrific event in terms of indicating social schizophrenia and societal polarization. It will have consequences in Ottoman-Turkish history as significant as the abolition of the Janissary Corps. The most important result is the eradication of a powerful army. After July 15, the TSK was handed over to an adventurous, anti-Western, Eurasianist clique. Furthermore, it became a haven for the Islamist-Eurasianist partnership by being completely politicized.

Immediately after July 15, Turkey experienced perhaps the greatest shift in its foreign policy orientation. It abandoned institutionalized relations and orientations such as the Western Alliance (NATO), the European Union, and the Council of Europe. Although these relationships still exist legally, Turkey practically experienced a significant rupture from these institutions. This rupture had no rational basis. It was entirely done for ideological reasons, in anticipation of short-term gains to perpetuate the power of certain individuals and to maintain benefit relationships. The Western alliance and the EU inevitably tied Turkey to certain values and were transforming the country in a positive direction. This, of course, necessitated certain standards in areas such as human rights, minority rights, transparency, accountability, verifiability, open society, and fundamental freedoms. After July 15, this connection was severed, and Turkey went off the rails. For a country that had never been able to develop human rights and democracy through its own dynamics throughout its history, the elimination of this external compulsion was a significant gain for those benefiting from the authoritarian regime. This is one of the reasons why July 15 is considered “Allah’s Grace.”

On July 15, 2016, Turkey’s regime changed. The transformation began on December 17, 2013. On July 15, this transformation was completed, and the past was completely discarded. Every positive reform in the history of the Republic became a thing of the past with this process. It is a significant regression. But at the same time, it is an operation that cuts off the foundations, beams, and pillars of the state, leading to its collapse, beyond democracy and the rule of law. Like the erroneous policy choices that destroyed the Ottoman Empire by the Committee of Union and Progress, it is an irreversible event, July 15.

I have approached the issue from two perspectives: human rights and politics.

There is also sociology.

July 15 is an event that has disrupted Turkish sociology. One of its most important consequences is the collapse of the moral threshold. The process in which individuals considered intellectuals openly turned into soldiers for their own neighborhoods, abandoning all ethical standards, gained momentum with July 15. Today, in Turkey, it is impossible to talk about society sociologically; there are only “parallel societies” after July 15. Although they share the same time and space, they do not have a sense of “us,” and each of them wants the implementation of their desired orientations through state sovereignty. In other words, with no shared vision of the future, there are polarized entities that have become uncontrolled, militant, not only hating others but also unwilling to give them a chance to live. They stand behind the regime, and that is their only common point. In the long run, each of them expects to control the system and establish their desired country. This is a sociological time bomb.

Finally, we have our individual stories. We are human. And July 15 caused a lot of harm to all of us.

I believe we will spend the next decade analyzing July 15.

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Dr. Mehmet Efe Caman is a Scholar of Politics at Memorial University of Newfoundland (MUN). Dr. Caman’s main research focuses on Democracy, democratization and human rights, Turkish politics, the Middle East, Eurasian politics and post-Soviet regions, the European Union. He has published a monograph on Turkish foreign policy, numerous book chapters and scholarly articles in English, German and Turkish about topics related to his research areas.

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