The Republic of Turkey, commonly known as Turkey, is an interesting country. It was formed in 1923 and sits geographically on two continents: Europe and Asia. Its history is as rich as its ethnic cultures. There are communities of black people (who speak Turkish) called Afro Turks, who emigrated from Africa and assimilated into Ottoman culture. There is a large number of Jews in Turkey, with its population being the second largest in a Muslim-majority country. The nation’s father, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, lead the country’s revolution, driving it away from an antiquated, Muslim-dominated government with strong anti-Western sentiments. For decades, Turkey’s economy and international esteem thrived. It was the example of modernity in the Middle East. Yet, there have been a few controversial moments in its history, including several military coups and corruption scandals. History seems to repeat itself, and the recent coup is the cherry on top of the ice cream.
Late on Friday, July 15, 2016, members of the Turkish military attempted to stage a coup in the country. During its early stages, the military blocked access to the Fatih Sultan Mehmet bridge and the Bosphorus bridge in Istanbul, a bridge that is eight lanes wide and connects the country to both Europe and Asia. Soldiers also took control of Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport, which was the scene of a terrorist attack that killed 44 people on June 28. After the rebel soldiers, or the self-titled “Peace Council”, formally announced martial law on state broadcaster TRT, chaos ensued.
The president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, was away from the capital of Ankara and was on a flight back in his private jet. Yet, he was unable to land in Istanbul. Erdogan spoke to local media via Face Time, denouncing the coup and calling for his citizens to take to the streets in protest. He also blamed the situation on the “parallel structure,” a term he coined for the Gulen movement, which he has been openly battling since 2013 and deems a “terrorist organization.” Hundreds of thousands of Turkish people ran to the streets, trying to cross the military-blocked bridges. Soldiers shot gunfire into the air to frighten the enraged Erdogan loyalists, but the shots did not subdue them. Police loyal to the government attempted to fight back and unfortunately, many were fatally shot down by the rebel soldiers from a helicopter flying over Ankara. Throughout the world, people were criticizing the coup, calling for a democratic way to change Turkey’s government.
Democratic methods can only go so far when dealing with leaders who practice illegal manipulation of the country and politics. President Erdogan has been in power of Turkey for nearly 14 years, first being elected as prime minister and then the president. In 2014, he changed the constitution to allow more power to the president, which was previously a ceremonial title. His rule has slowly transformed from democratic into autocratic. Turkey has suppressed press freedom, prosecuting and imprisoning journalists for publishing or broadcasting opposing views or anti-government content. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) ranked Turkey 151st in its 2016 World Press Freedom Index, putting it three places lower than Russia. There were 199 journalists jailed last year, according to CPJ. Most recently, two journalists, from the well known independent newspaper Cumhuriyet, were sent to jail for allegedly revealing state secrets, a charge they vehemently denied.
Turkey also has a decades long battle with its Kurds. Turkish forces have killed many in the southeast and the government prosecutes anyone with ties or sympathy towards Kurdish people and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which was outlawed and considered a terrorist organization by the government. Parliament members in the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP) have recently been stripped of their immunity from prosecution.
Friday night’s coup was an attempt to return democracy to the country. Albeit, it was a failed plan, leaving at least 161 people dead, it forced awareness onto international media about Turkey and its leadership. The coup was poorly executed, but it was done with good intentions. Many Turkish people are too frightened to speak against the ruling government, while many others have been brainwashed by a seemingly congenial and intelligent man masking his hunger for ultimate power.