Turkey, the Military, Coups, and Democracy: Notes and Some Reading

[Scroll to reading list below, if you don’t want to read the preamble]

So, at the moment it looks like the coup against Erdogan has failed, or is in the process of failing, and my money is NOT on Erdogan mending his ways or adjusting his policy, regardless of who was behind the coup or how widespread the resistance to his (often tyrannical) rule is or may become. [I also don’t think Erdogan planned this himself, but theorists will theorize]

There have been several reactions from people tonight, both public figures and others less public, that have set me thinking. Turkey has been an interest of mine for a while, though I’m hardly  “FAO” (Foreign Area Office) material on the subject; for analysis and insights, see Twitter accounts like Burak Kadercan, Alev Scott, and CNNTurk. Kadercan’s article from September 2015 “Turkish Winter is Coming,” is well worth your time.

Some insightful Tweets:

  • Erdogan loves him some social media when it can help him retain power:

  • Something tells me Erdogan won’t change his tune, in fact we’ll probably see a whole new level of bloody reprisals and oppression:

  • Great thread quickly and efficiently outlining the Turkish military’s relationship to the democracy:

This is where I’d like to bring in a few resources for further reading, because I’ve seen a lot of reactions to the coup that mistake Turkish democracy for some kind of carbon copy of Western democracy. For example, President Obama issued a statement this evening about how the democratically elected government must be supported, coups are unacceptable, etc. This was soon followed by a similar if not quite so forward statement from Chancellor Merkel of Germany. Iyad El-Baghdadi, whom I respect enormously, has made many statements about how coups are not to be supported under any circumstances (an understandable position, given what has happened in Egypt and elsewhere), that this is an unprecedented situation for Turkey and beyond, and so on. He was more on point with this remark:

Here’s the thing:


Well, except maybe bombing Parliament? That’s a new one, I think. And that this was a rather pathetic coup, carried out in parts by young, shaking conscripts

The Turkish Parliament, morning of July 16, 2016
The Turkish Parliament, morning of July 16, 2016

Some folks may not like that short article on Vox, which explains that this is rather typical, but that’s too bad; historically speaking, the article is right. Now, again, the military faction is bombing Parliament, supposedly, so that puts a different spin on the immediate moment, but you can’t just wish away the fact that a) Turkish politics has been SNAFU for some time, and b) the Turkish military has had a role in Turkish democracy that would feel very out of place in the U.S.

So, a short reading list of articles I’ve found useful, for some perspective:

Cizre 2015, Leadership Gone Awry: RTE and Two Turkish Elections. [Valuable analysis of the two elections of 2015, which Cizre, after tonight ironically, refers to as Turkey’s annus horribilis.]

Öniṣ 2010, Crises and Transformations in Turkish Political Economy. [fairly short and pitched at a college level]

Kuru 2012, The Rise and Fall of Military Tutelage in Turkey: Fears of Islamism, Kurdism, and Communism. [Puts military motivations in somewhat deeper context]

Sarigil 2012, The Turkish Military: Principal or Agent? [Highly recommended–zeroes in on changes since 2000]

Harris 2011, Military Coups and Turkish Democracy, 1960-1980.

Varol 2012, The Democratic Coup d’État. [A bit out of date, as events have shown]

Vanderclute 1984: Democracy by Coup: The Turkish Government Under Military Control (1980-1983). [Old Leavenworth study, of interest but less reliable than more recent work.]

Aydin-Düzgit and Gürsoy 2008, International Influences on the Turkish Transition to Democracy in 1983. [What happened after the 1980 coup, essentially.]

Gunn 2015, The 1960 Coup in Turkey: A U.S. Intelligence Failure or a Successful Intervention? [Longer, shows the larger geopolitical history hasn’t always been so straightforward either]

Just remember, folks, at the end of the day, we all want Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif’s seal of approval:

At least with him, you know why he’s making a historically asinine statement: it makes sense for the present, and who knows, could help shape the new reality.

But in the mean time, whatever the demerits of this current (failed) coup attempt, please don’t fall into the mistaken platitudes of people who are talking about Turkey as if it’s a carbon copy of British or American democracy. It’s not, and never has been. Maybe things are about to change (Erdogan just said he can now clean house), but the military can and has overthrown the democratically elected government in Turkey, with wildly different results over the years. But it has done so largely within the (contentious) Kemalist framework in which governments can be the enemies of their people, and can be removed.

Whether you like that or not makes no difference to me. But stop pretending that this was somehow the end of the world or some kind of victory for democracy. Whoever is the victor, peace, justice, and rule of law will lose.