Turkey Enters a Dark New Age

What the failed coup reveals about Turkey’s once secular state
From the September 2016 Trumpet Print Edition

On the evening of July 15, Turkish tanks rolled into Istanbul and stationed themselves on two bridges over the Bosporus. Soon after, the sonic boom of tactical jets and the low thumping of helicopters could be heard flying overhead. These were the first signs that a coup d’état was underway.

For many observers, the possibility of the fall of Turkish strongman Recep Tayyip Erdoğan raised hopes that Turkey might experience a return to the secular state that dominated the nation for the past 50 years. If history was any guide, come a day or two, the military would have declared victory over the Islamist leader. All four previous coup attempts in modern Turkey (1960, 1971, 1980 and 1997) were successful as the military rose to preserve the secular democratic state. This one, many hoped, would end the same way.

But that’s not what happened.

Erdoğan’s ‘Reichstag Fire’

Before most Americans went to bed on the same day that the coup started, it was obvious that Erdoğan would not be removed. Instead, it was clear he would use the opportunity as an excuse to garner more power to himself, in effect exploiting the coup as his own “Reichstag fire.” This refers to Adolf Hitler’s use of the 1933 arson in Germany’s parliament as justification for suspending civil liberties, the beginning of the Nazi dictatorship.

Indeed, as the coup was winding down, Erdoğan himself called the uprising a “gift from God” because it “will be a reason to cleanse our army.”

The weeks after the coup proved this statement true, except that Erdoğan began cleansing more than just the army.

Within mere days, Erdoğan had arrested thousands of military personnel and around 1,500 judges and prosecutors; he had suspended tens of thousands of workers in the Ministry of Education and almost 9,000 at the Interior Ministry. He had also revoked the licenses of 21,000 private educational institutions and forced 1,577 university department heads to resign.

The fact that Erdoğan’s government could move so quickly to purge dissenters showed that most were already on his hit list before the coup.

On July 21, Erdoğan advanced his power grab by declaring a state of emergency for the next three months with the possibility of extending it further. This move gives him unparalleled power.

While many in the West were unnerved by Erdoğan’s overreach following the coup, the silence from the public in Turkey has been deafening. More than half of Turks are not disconcerted by Erdoğan’s moves—they actually welcome them.

Earlier this year, Erdoğan’s policy of removing dissenters from positions of power was essentially supported by over half of the public when they voted him into office once again. This is why, believe it or not, Erdoğan has been touting the coup’s failure as a victory for democracy. It also speaks volumes about why this was the first unsuccessful military coup in Turkey’s modern history.

Why the Coup Failed

In many ways, this latest attempt at overthrowing the government in Turkey did not follow the normal procedure for military coups. Historically, a coup in Turkey and the rest of the Middle East begins as a response to public outcry and protest against the government’s movement away from the secular state. As in the case of the 2013 military coup in Egypt against Islamist President Mohamed Morsi, the army stepped in only after the people organized a substantial protest against the government. Then, as the Morsi government violently suppressed the rioters, the majority of the military, led by Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, removed Morsi from power.

That is what normally happens. But that’s not what happened in Turkey.

Instead of people taking to the streets and then the military stepping in to remove the government, the Turkish military tried to take down the government and, in response, the people took to the streets to stop it.

It was the overwhelming response of the Turkish people in support of Erdoğan that was the major reason the coup failed.

Just as the rebellion was beginning, Erdoğan was able to evade the revolutionaries as they descended on the coastal hotel where he had been staying. Then, via Apple’s FaceTime app, Erdoğan appeared on cnnTurk calling on his supporters to take to the streets and use any and all means necessary to stop the insurrection.

At the same time, mosques all over Istanbul and Ankara called on people to gather in town squares and airports in defiance of the coup. The same message was sent simultaneously via numerous text messages to cell phones across the nation.

In response, the people defied the military’s imposed curfew and took to the streets. Footage quickly emerged on social media of men in plain clothes trying to hold back battle tanks, some even lying in front of them as they plowed forward. This only further motivated Erdoğan’s supporters to come out in droves. Eventually, as many witnessed the next day, the iconic moment of the coup was when soldiers laid down their weapons in surrender and were marched off the Istanbul Bosporus Bridge.

While a number of other factors contributed to the failure of the coup attempt, the one that surprised many, especially in the West, was the amount of public support Erdoğan received.

The failure of the coup reveals that, like it or not, the majority of Turks want Erdoğan in power more than they want military rule.Most Turks like his Islamist leanings, and they don’t want a return to a secular state.

For the secularists and other minorities in Turkey, this is a discomfiting thought.

Asli Aydintasbas, a fellow at the European Council of Foreign Relations, wrote from Istanbul, “The opposite of a military coup is democracy, not Islam. But that’s not how the government mobilized masses. Friday night was scary for most secular Turks, not only because of the coup but also because among those who took to the streets were radicals and members of Islamic sects” (Wall Street Journal, July 19).

She concluded: “[H]ere is the final irony. The military had long been regarded as the bastion of Turkey’s secular order fashioned after the principles of the country’s founder, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. This silly botched coup has brought about the end of Atatürk’s secular republic. We are beginning a new chapter in Turkey now.”

Indeed, this new chapter of an Islamist-dominated state in Turkey was already written. It just took this coup for the world to realize it.

Europe’s Moral Quandary

While Western leaders have generally expressed support for Erdoğan in putting down the coup, many were slow to do so. It’s likely that many European leaders would have happily accepted the result of a successful coup.

Especially over the past year, European leaders have received a lot of blowback from their constituents because of their deal with Turkey over the refugee crisis. In order to halt the flow of refugees from Syria to Europe, Turkey agreed to stop migrants before they reached Greece. In response, the EU, led by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, said it would pay off Turkey and offer visa-free travel for Turks into Europe. In exchange for this second part of the deal, Europe demanded that Erdoğan release some of his grip on power, especially reinstating freedom of the press and stopping human rights abuses.

Yet Erdoğan has done nothing of the sort. Instead, he has strengthened his autocratic rule.

The aftermath of this coup attempt will make it even less likely Erdoğan will comply with European demands. This will deepen Europe’s moral quandary in dealing with Turkey.

Before the coup, Erdoğan was largely seen as an unsavory autocrat who, though he was democratically elected, did not represent the views or ideals of the people. The coup has revealed a new truth: Erdoğan is an Islamist authoritarian who enjoys the support of the majority of the Turkish people.

For all of Europeans’ wishing the opposite, it looks like they are stuck with Erdoğan.

This is apparently the reality of today’s world: Increasingly, national survival requires working with unsavory autocrats such as Erdoğan. For Europe, that means continuing to engage Turkey regardless of how Islamist or authoritarian it becomes.

Bible prophecy shows there will be an end-time alignment of interests between Turkey and a German-led Europe. This is part of an end-time alliance described in Psalm 83, and the book of Obadiah indicates that Turkey will be part of a latter-day betrayal of the nations of Israel. In both instances, there is no indication that the alliance is based on mutual values or an abiding friendship. Instead, it is purely based on a mutual interest, which is the exact sort of relationship we see being created today.