Turkey, a history of Military coups

By Kathya BERRADA 

“He who starts up in anger, sits down with a loss”- Turkish Proverb-

I discovered during my last visit to Turkey in December a completely divided and polarized society between opponents and proponents of president Erdogan. Numerous Turkish and international organizations denounce severe liberty and humane rights violations in Turkey following the failed coup in July 2016. While analyzing the current political situation, one should keep in mind the historical development of the Turkish republic clearly punctuated by military coups.

The republic of Turkey was established in 1923 within the context of the Othman empire defeat in the First World War. Army general Mustafa Kamal also known as Ataturk (The father of the Turks) at the head of the nationalist movement abolished the monarchy and the very notion of Caliphate.

Ataturk vision for the Turkish nation was ultranationalist focusing on Turkish identity while the country was and is still composed of different minorities from which the Kurdish. Ataturk also favored strong state playing preponderant role in the economic development of the country. In addition, Ataturk attributed to the state the role of the permanent reformer with the declared mission to modernize the country. In the pursuit of this mission, a crackdown on religious symbols was orchestrated as well as the ban of religious education in public schools. Ataturk proclaimed indeed a strict form of secularism in an attempt to abolish the power of religious leaders over society and increase state hegemony.

The protection of secularism was set to be the responsibility of the National Security Council composed of military who could intervene against the government if the principles of the Turkish republic were not respected.

The first military coup took place in 1960 against democratically elected Prime Minister Adnan Menderes from the Democratic Party. Menderes was accused of diffusing an Islamic rhetoric and attributing public funding to religious leaders, mosques and religious schools. Menderes was charged of violating the Republican foundations of Turkey and executed. Another coup took place in 1971 against the government in place and a crackdown against both Islamists and leftists movements followed. An other coup took place in 1980. Seventeen year later, Islamist Prime Minister was forced to resign.

This political instability contributed largely to social and economic unrest in the country. The violence culminated in December 1978 in a massacre known as the Maraş massacre. More than a hundred of Alevi civilians and left wing activists were massacred and killed in the city of Kahramanmaraş by neofascist group called Grey Wolves.

The political and social life in Turkey has been shaped by the succession of military interventions. The failed coup of July 2016 may however not be interpreted within the frame of the preceding coups. The army has largely been ‘purified ‘from its most radical Kamalists elements. It is yet to determine if the fight between secular Kamalists and Islamists is still relevant to a large part of the population or is it simply running in the head of the few. The real fight might be elsewhere between those fighting for liberty and others opposing it whomever they may be.


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