Turkey celebrates fifth anniversary of failed coup that led to sweeping repression re

A radically reformed Turkey on Thursday marks five years since a failed coup against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan sparked a sweeping political crackdown and mass arrests.

On a balmy night on July 15, 2016, a rogue faction in the military attempted to take over the country, using warplanes and tanks to attack government buildings.

About 250 people – in addition to at least 24 conspirators – died and more than 2,000 were injured in the ensuing chaos as Erdogan gathered his supporters on the streets.

Since then, the impact of the fateful night has been felt in almost every aspect of Turkish life, including education, the judiciary and leadership.

The crackdown on alleged coup plotters, activists, human rights defenders and political opponents has helped Erdogan further strengthen the control he has gained over Turkey since he came to power in 2003.

But it has also complicated its relations with traditional Western allies and dampened the climate of foreign investors over rule of law concerns.

Less than a year after the coup attempt, Erdogan held a referendum to transform Turkey’s parliamentary democracy into an executive presidency.

He won narrowly and holds enormous power, often announcing important decisions in overnight decrees.

“Erdogan has used the coup attempt to consolidate his grip on power,” Turkish veteran analyst Gareth Jenkins said.

‘Disadvantages’ of power

July 15 is now a public holiday and Erdogan is calling on supporters to flock to a memorial event in Ankara on Thursday.

Still, this centralization of power comes at a political disadvantage if things go wrong, analysts warn, as they did around the world during the coronavirus pandemic.

“Having so much power also has its drawbacks: when things go wrong, like the current economic situation, it’s harder to shift blame,” a Western diplomat told AFP.

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Turkey is suffering from persistently high inflation and the lira has lost two-thirds of its value against the US dollar since the week of the coup attempt.

Turkey alleges that US-based preacher Fethullah Gülen plotted the coup using members of his network in the military.

Gülen denies the charges and insists his Islamist Hizmet movement promotes peace and education.

Washington’s refusal to extradite Gulen has been a constant stimulus to relations between NATO allies.

Massive legal process

The post-coup action has also decimated the ranks of the Turkish military.

Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said on Tuesday that Turkey has fired 23,364 soldiers in the fight against Gülen’s network.

In total, more than 321,000 people have been detained since 2016, Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said.

Most have been released, but the scale of the detentions has had a chilling effect on Turkish politics.

Nearly 4,000 judges and prosecutors have been fired, including more than 100,000 public sector workers fired or suspended for alleged links to Gülen.

According to state news agency Anadolu, the courts have handed down life sentences to 3,000 people, while 4,890 defendants have been convicted of links to the coup.

But on Wednesday, Erdogan showed no signs of slowing down.

“We will monitor (his movement) until the last member is neutralized,” he said.

‘New Turkey’

Some observers believe Erdogan is now using his ability to survive a coup as the basis for his legacy.

Turkey’s current borders arose from the war of independence fought between 1919 and 1923, and was led by the founder of the secular republic, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

Erdogan leads an Islamic-rooted party and often refers to the “New Turkey” he is building as part of his own legacy.

“The coup lays the foundation for this myth of a New Turkey,” Jenkins told AFP.

“This allows him to portray himself as the protector of the state and the leading figure in the modern history of his country, thus shaping his legacy,” the Western diplomat said.


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