Turkey’s failed coup: the view from Australia
The failed coup attempt in Turkey last month has exposed highly complex divisions within Turkish society. The Point Magazine speaks to Australian and international experts about the fallout of the failed coup, both within Turkey and among Australian Turkish communities.
On 15 July, late Friday evening local time, the bridges over Bosphorus strait in Istanbul were closed off by troops. Helicopters and military jets were spotted flying over Turkey’s capital Ankara as gunshots rang through the air. The Prime Minister of Turkey, Binali Yildirim declared that there was an attempt to overthrow the Turkish government.
A section of the army announced it had seized power to protect democracy from President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. From his seaside holiday resort, Erdogan used Facetime to address the nation and called upon his supporters to take to the streets and stand against the military. The coup was quickly thwarted.
“Some of the things that the military would have done, the government has done. For example, declaring a state of emergency means the suspension of democratic rights. A lot of people are being arrested; people are finding it hard to know why"
– Dr Chris Houston
Dr Chris Houston, associate professor of anthropology at Macquarie University and a specialist in Turkish politics, believes a coup would have been disastrous for Turkey, but the Turkish government’s reaction to the failed coup also raises serious concerns.
“Had the coup succeeded it would have been a disaster. We would have witnessed martial law, shut down parliament, closed down civil society. That’s the first thing, thank God the coup didn’t happen,” he told The Point Magazine.
However, Houston also believes the government crackdown in response to the coup attempt is almost as bad as a coup itself.
“Some of the things that the military would have done, the government has done. For example, declaring a state of emergency means the suspension of democratic rights. A lot of people are being arrested; people are finding it hard to know why and for what they’re being arrested, and they don’t have to be charged for days and days. This also opens up the possibility for torture which we are now hearing about from Amnesty international,” he said.
Following the failed coup, President Erdogan launched a major crackdown arresting over 10,000 people, including military officials and judges.
Some critics are claiming that Erodgan is using the failed coup to silence any opposition to him. The crackdown has also seen journalists and academics arrested, specifically those who have been critical of Erdogan’s leadership in Turkey and on the global stage.
Amnesty International spoke to lawyers, doctors and a person on duty in one of the Turkish detention centres and alleges that detainees are being subject to beatings, torture and rape.
John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International’s Europe director said, “'Reports of abuse including beatings and rape in detention are extremely alarming, especially given the scale of detentions that we have seen in the past week. The grim details that we have documented are just a snapshot of the abuses that might be happening in places of detention.”
The Turkish government has since declared a three-month state of emergency, which enables the President and the government to side-step parliament when drafting new legislation.
The Turkish government blames the coup attempt on Fethullah Gulen, an exiled US based Muslim leader and head of the international Gulen or Hizmet movement. Erdogan has labelled the movement a terrorist organisation and has called on the US to extradite Gulen. Gulen himself has denied any involvement and has condemned those who took part in the failed coup.
Houston believes that if the Turkish government succeeds in extraditing Gulen, the consequences for the Australian Turkish community, as well as other Turkish communities around the world, could be catastrophic.
“If the Australian government is put under pressure to do something about the Gulen movement should he be extradited, that would have serious implications. If that happens there’s an opening to anyone who may have reasons to raise questions about those organisations that are Gulen funded and organised and not just in Australia, but in other countries like Germany. That would create a lot of tension. Even on a community organisation level it will impact the community dynamics, you can imagine the disentangling of some of those activities between organisations who would have been working together,” he said.
Dr Julian Droogan, a counter terrorism expert at Macquarie University who has also studied the Gulen movement, said he was shocked to hear about the attempted coup.
“I was very concerned and upset to hear about the coup. I think it’s very important that change within a nation occurs through democratic process even when that very process is under challenge.”
Erdogan has an opportunity to improve the state of the country, but his approach to the failed coup is worrying, Droogan said.
“I think what we’ve seen is the current president consolidating his power base in the wake of the coup. Very worrying levels of arrests and what appears to be persecution of the judiciary and academics, and I think many in the international community hope the current president doesn’t continue down this road and will use this to reinvigorate the democratic process.”
Droogan said the Australian Turkish community is divided, despite an outpouring of nationalism during the coup.
“I think the Turkish community in Australia, like most places and most communities, is quite divided. We have Kurdish Turks, secularist Ataturk supporters, as well as support of Erdogan and of course groups who support Gulen. I don’t see these groups healing over those divisions, but in the short term we might see some rallying behind Erdogan as an expression of nationalism and to maintain the democratically elected government,” he said.
What happened in Turkey and how will it impact the Australian-Turkish community?