Erdogan’s 1916 moment

If Recip Tayyip Erdogan didn’t stage the attempted coup against him last Friday then he is certainly is making the most of the opportunity it has presented to him.

In the week since elements of the army and air force launched what appeared on the face of it to be a well-organised, professional challenge to his rule, the Turkish President has been busy usurping the democracy that he managed to convince the world, temporarily, that was saved by the thousands who spilled onto the streets in support of him.

Starting, perhaps logically, with the military, he has since worked his way through purges of the judiciary and academia, seemingly on a mission to purge the public sector of anyone he suspected of disloyalty. On Thursday the Turkish Parliament voted to suspend the European Convention of Human Rights in order to, in the words of one of Turkey’s Deputy Prime Ministers “cleanse the bureaucracy”.

It’s wildly suspected that AKP are paving the way to reintroduce the death penalty, which Turkey hasn’t employed since 1984, to deal with the leaders of the coup.  Indeed the mood amongst Erdogan’s supporters appears to be one of retribution with grizzly images of a beheaded solider on the Bosporus Bridge on Saturday morning serving as evidence of the swiftness of Islamist retribution.

For Erdogan’s official rationale for his actions to be taken in any way seriously then we have to ask ourselves, is a conspiracy, masterminded in the US by Gulen and involving up to 15,000 people managed to evolve to the point where they could come within a few strokes of taking over the country before anyone picked up it, even remotely probable? On the other hand is it possible that a small and tightly knit group of Kemalist military officers, wedded to the tradition of a secular republic and fearful of the increased Islamic autocracy of the President could have initiated the coup?

Clearly seizing the opportunity to strengthen both the power of the Presidency and of himself, and at the same time weaken the secular constitution, there is a real risk emerging that Erdogan will overplay his hand. If he wants to avoid jeopardising the future of his country then he should bear in mind a lesson from our own.

1916 was a notable year in world history but 100 years later it is possible to draw parallels­ with one event at least. In the aftermath of the Easter Rising in Dublin the tide of public opinion was strongly against those who had taken over key locations in the City and held out for six days against the army. As they were being led away Dubliners berated and spat on them. All that changed when, with martial law declared, the ringleaders were shot over a period of nine days.

Rather than ride the tide of goodwill generated towards the forces of the Crown who had successfully put down the Rising, the government, much to the horror of constitutional nationalism, then the overwhelmingly dominant political force in Ireland refused to reign in the executions and were complicit in the blaming of the Rising on the “Sinn Feiners”, when in reality they’d had nothing to do with it. As the shootings continued, so public opinion shifted in favour of the rebels, with the inevitable consequences.

It’s clear that Erdogan has seized this opportunity to pursue his aim of removing his opponents from positions of influence and create a more Islamic Turkey. What’s not clear is how many of his countrymen he is capable of taking along with him. Sitting at around 50% of the vote, his support tends to be centered in inland areas of Turkey, far away from the more liberal, European-facing coastal areas and Istanbul. Half of the country, when one considers the Kurds, oppose Erdogan, yet this rises to about 60% if the extenuating circumstances of the two general elections of 2015 are taken into account. Initially gifted just 40% of Turkish votes, the breakdown of coalition talks, the death of a rival party leader in a car accident and a suicide bombing at a peace rally may have assisted the return of more AKP MPs the second time around.

It’s perhaps in the knowledge that his current platform is by no means endorsed by the majority of the electorate that he’s moving to secure it and, to paraphrase his own words, ensure that “those who believe, win”.

If he starts hanging people the next F-16 might just pull the trigger.

Neil Wilson is CfL Campaigns Director. Follow Neil on Twitter: @libertyneil

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The views expressed in this article are that of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Conservatives for Liberty