I was contacted by a digital news outlet in New York. They asked me to write an article about why Turkish people did not come out in support of the coup. When I sent it in I got a letter back, "This piece is great! I'm just letting you know it won't need a rewrite." (July 20) Then, I got a letter suggesting it might need a few rewrites. Then finally, last night I was told the story needed so many rewrites that it could not be used. If one follows the swing in Western media from lukewarm support of the Turkish people to what is now tantamount to support for the Gülenist traitors, the reactions above fit neatly in the time line. Last Friday evening people in Turkey were shocked to find that tanks had been placed on both bridges spanning the Bosporus; F-16 jets were flying low over Ankara. It was not long before it became clear that an illegal armed group from within the military was staging an uprising.
The heroic struggle of the Turkish people will go down in history. Of course, the police, the gendarmerie and the rest of the army and air force helped. But it was the people that night who ran at tanks, throwing themselves under, in front and on top of the tanks. It was the people who told soldiers to come to their senses, who even got some soldiers to put down arms and stand with them. It was the people who behaved in a way that demonstrated they were not thinking about their personal safety, but about the future of the nation. In a day and age where apathy has become the norm in Western politics and chaos, with corruption and oppression being the norm in Eastern politics, many people are confused by what happened on Friday. The image of the Turkish government and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan which is projected in Western media is that the government is the plaything of the president, while he oppresses the country, with scant regard for democratic traditions.
A man waves a Turkish flag in front of a tank in Üsküdar.
Some commentators have been so befuddled as to suggest that Erdoğan planned this coup so that he could remove any opposition and consolidate even greater power.
What happened on Friday night is actually quite simple. The people put their lives on the line to defend democracy. To them it was not a choice between Erdoğan and the army. It was a fight for freedom, with only one possible victor. Any other scenario would have spelled failure for every Turkish citizen. It would have spelled the end of democracy.
But in order to understand why those people who dislike Erdoğan (and there is a significant percentage of the population who does) did not stand back to let the tanks role in one needs to understand the Turkish past. As a Brit who has lived in Turkey for over 20 years, as a journalist and as a member of the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) - one of 8 million - I would like to share my insight into what happened the other night in Turkey.
As stated above, in order to understand what is going on in Turkey today one needs to understand the back story. It would be impossible to cover all the important factors here, but without an awareness of the major events, many things in Turkey will never make sense. It is here that people who try to explain Turkey or make sense of the strange events of this week fall foul. Turkey out of context is incomprehensible.
The history of modern Turkey's democratic adventure begins with the founding of the Turkish Republic in 1923. Mustafa Kemal Atatürk was the first president to preside over the newly formed republic.
At first there were attempts to establish more than one party; a Women's Party was established, but soon disbanded, and the Liberal Party shared pretty much the same fate. From 1923-1945 there was one party in Turkey. The party during the single party era was the Republican People's Party (CHP). How democratic a country with only one party can be is certainly open to question.
During the Single Party Era, many restrictions were imposed on religion, as well as religious and ethnic identity. It was a time when many changes toward Westernization and secularization were introduced. The public were not consulted in whether or not these changes were acceptable to them. Some of the policies that were introduced included the closure of religious schools, the prohibition of religious identity in the public space and the recitation of prayers and the adhan, or call to prayer, in Turkish. This new government alienated not only the earlier ruling elite, but also religious communities and non-Turkish ethnic groups.
The Dersim massacre occurred in 1937. This was when Kurdish people (Alevi Kurmanji and Zaza) were massacred in the Dersim region (today this region is no longer known by this name, but is covered in part by Tunceli, Elazığ and Bingöl provinces.) Thousands of people were killed and many more were displaced. The suppression of ethnic identity in Turkey was complete after this time; one indication of this was that the sentence "How happy is he who says he is a Turk" was written on a large number of public structures and school children had to chant "I am Turkish, I am honest, I am hard-working..." every morning before starting school. The only identity for a citizen of the Republic of Turkey was Turkish.
In 1946 there was a relaxation on the formation of parties. However, it was not until 1950 that another party was able to take power away from the CHP. The Democrat Party (DP), led by Adnan Menderes, won the elections. The CHP had alienated people with their pursuit of Westernization. The DP included the people in the villages of Anatolia and Thrace for the first time.
Once in power, the DP lifted many of the earlier, unpopular, restrictions on Islam. The adhan was once again called in Arabic. However, restrictions on ethnic identity remained in place. Prime Minister Menderes was active in establishing relations with other Muslim states. At the same time, the economic policies were more liberal than those of the CHP and private enterprise was encouraged. All this made Menderes popular with the less wealthy sections of society.
However, Menderes was not pleased by criticism, and press censorship was introduced. Opposing political parties were also put under pressure. As a result, Menderes lost popularity with intellectuals and academics.
On May 27, 1960, 37 officers organized a military coup that deposed the government; fearing that the principles of Atatürk were under threat, Menderes and leading party members were arrested. Menderes was hanged on Sept. 17, 1961.
Life continued in Turkey. But 10 years later, the army issued a memorandum to the civilian government. The result was the collapse of the ruling government and the establishment of interim governments.
The political scene was now fractured; this and the poorly performing economy created an environment in which mounting violence between ultranationalists and communists erupted. By the late 1970s more than 5,000 deaths had occurred.
In response to this in 1980 General Kenan Evren led a military coup d'etat. Martial law was introduced to all provinces in Turkey. After the coup, over 500 people were given the death sentence. A large number of journalists were sent to prison; others were journalists who were attacked or killed. Newspapers were not printed for almost a year and 39 tons of newspapers and magazines were destroyed. Nearly 300 people died in prison, while half that number died in suspicious circumstances.
In 1983 another hope appeared on the political scene in Turkey. Turgut Özal, the head of the Motherland Party (ANAP) won the elections. This party supported an economic program that was open to trade with the rest of the world. Religions were once again given certain freedoms. As a result of Özal's economic policies, the Turkish economy boomed. However, from July 1987, a state of emergency was declared in the southeast; this lasted until November 2002.
Özal died unexpectedly in 1993, but the political system he had supported continued until 1997.
In 1996 the Welfare Party (RP), a right wing, religiously oriented party took the largest share of the vote. They formed a coalition government. However, disturbed by the religious policies that the government supported, the military sent a memorandum to RP leader Necmettin Erbakan, which resulted in his resignation. This event, on Feb. 28, is known as the post-modern coup. The ramifications of this non-violent coup were huge. Girls who had been attending high school or university wearing the headscarf found themselves ejected - often physically and violently - from educational institutes. Women wearing headscarves were also banned from public employment, with the ban stretching to patients in hospitals or parents in schools and universities. The headscarf ban was lifted in 2014. The subsequent coalitions destroyed the Turkish economy and human rights and freedoms were highly restricted.
In 2002 the AK Party, established by the former mayor of Istanbul, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his colleagues from the RP, won an outright majority.
As stated above, the headscarf ban remained in place until 2014. This is significant. Although the AK Party is a party that gives importance to religious freedoms, there were a number of other actions that had to be carried out first. One of the first actions that the party did was to lift the 15-year state of emergency in the southeast.
Despite the growth of freedom and the booming economy, in April 2007, the military once again tried to intervene. A memorandum stating that the army would intervene in government if it thought necessary was published on the official website of the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK).
Erdoğan's reaction to this was immediate and strong. "The General Staff of the Turkish Armed Forces is affiliated with the Office of the Prime Minister; in a democratic state it is not possible to contemplate that the former would use any expression against the government...." This so-called e-coup had been nipped in the bud.
The efforts to provide greater rights for minorities continued. On Nov. 23, 2011, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan made an official apology for the Dersim operation; he stated that it was "one of the most tragic events of our recent history." In 2014 a democratization packet was introduced; the Kurdish language was no longer banned. Kurdish could be used in television and radio broadcasts. It could be taught in school. It could be used for political propaganda and Kurdology institutes could be set up at universities. Although going a long way to righting a number of wrongs, these actions are not enough. But they marked a bold and sweeping start.
The Gezi protests that erupted in 2013 resulted in tragic and unnecessary deaths, as well as billions of liras worth of damage to public property. There are serious questions as to why the police so overstepped their duties, reacting so violently at this time.
Since that date, the police have undergone considerable reorganization; the results were obvious last Friday. Police sat or stood between the people and the so-called soldiers. They formed a firewall in a volatile situation and did nothing to inflame emotions. The Turkish police force proved that being reorganized extensively had paid off - this was a police force many Western nations would be envious of. When we talk of an increasingly authoritarian leader, the context needs to be remembered. Turkey is fighting two internationally recognized terrorist organizations - the PKK and DAESH. In such a situation it is necessary to have authority, to be decisive and to stand strong.
Of course, Erdoğan is not popular with the entire nation.
Very few presidents can be popular with an entire population. In fact, many of the "great" presidents or prime ministers were highly unpopular with much of the public. Margaret Thatcher, who brought Britain up from its knees, is one example.
The idea that the Turkish people would welcome a military coup to oust its democratically leader is as believable as the idea that the British public would welcome tanks rolling down Pall Mall to rescue them from the Brexit vote. Or the American public cheering tanks rolling down Pennsylvania Avenue to oust Trump or Clinton.
The people of Turkey are categorically opposed to the coup. They still have issues with their government. But they are united in the belief that it is THEIR government. They will work out their issues in the same way that any modern democracy does.
People from across the political spectrum turned out to fight the army. The people turned out on that night to support their democratic right to select or remove any leader by the ballot box alone. This is the reason that all four political parties signed a joint statement condemning the coup attempt. The massive public response on Friday, July 15, the individual heroic actions, should not be reduced to the defense of one individual or one party. Democracy was defended. The Turkish people have had their share of coups. Over 200 people have given up their lives and the Turkish people know the reason why.