Humanity cannot experience the practical implementations of a fundamental phenomenon such as democracy every day. We are currently living historic days in Turkey, starting from July 15. From civil resistance against putschist soldiers to the crystal-clear demonstration of the people's will at the Yenikapı rally, we witnessed the true will of Turkish society against all odds. To properly understand this, it is crucially important to grasp Turkey's reality as a whole, otherwise it is quite possible to get lost in the details.
The context in Turkey is very hard to perceive, especially for foreigners. Due to Turkey's geopolitical, the country has been facing imminent threats, particularly from terrorism. Accordingly, society is highly engaged in politics, and therefore polarization among people is noteworthy. Even after the tragic terrorist attacks that happened previously, society was deeply saddened by the lack of unity against existential threats. However, that picture is about to change.
During the night of July 15, Turkish people demonstrated a vivid example of democracy on the streets against tanks, fighter jets and zealots. This attitude was maintained subsequently with democracy watches. Since the bloody coup attempt happened, it is necessary to analyze the process in the past, present and future.
Regarding the past, Turkish society, including politicians, set aside their differences, their political views and their conflicts. For instance, from July 15 to Aug. 7, people slept on the streets to protect their democracy and avoid subsequent coup attempts. Politicians dropped lawsuits against each other. Most importantly, people agreed unanimously on the nature of the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ) and acknowledged the danger it posed.
About the nature of FETÖ, we need to make some remarks to emphasize its potential. The group has been active since the 1970s, concentrated in educational initiatives. Its distinguishing point is the absolute allegiance to its inner hierarchy. Even this obedience is more powerful than legal hierarchies prescribed by law. The outcome of this character was the infiltration of state institutions such as the military, police forces, judiciary, academia and bureaucracy. The growing power at its disposal resulted in injustice and abuse of power on many occasions such as the Ergenekon trial, which was the pretext to imprison hundreds of high-ranking soldiers to pave the way for their affiliates in the military.
Turkey faced the climax of FETÖ's illegal power on the night of July 15 when the country lost almost 300 citizens. On this historic night, the ordinary people of Turkey demonstrated an extraordinary example of bravery to protect Turkish democracy in order to prevent the tragic memories of military regimes in the past from happening again. In this respect, it is important to underline the resilience of the people in addition to their bravery. People abandoned their political rivalries to protect democracy at democracy watches while they continued their daily lives. This resilience of society deserves the utmost respect.
Reaching the present day, the gathering of around 5 million people is beyond most people's comprehension considering this amount is more than many countries' populations in Europe. Normally, it is not possible to give such an image of national unity in Turkey. However, at Yenikapı, we saw the ruling party, opposition parties, bureaucracy, military and society in the same picture for a first time in a long time. There were only Turkish flags. People were cheering with unifying slogans. Every single Turkish citizen felt national pride with this clear standing against all anti-democratic entities. The rally was meticulously carried out without offending anyone. All sensitivities were considered and respected. I must say that Turkey passed the test of facing its history of coups with impressive national unity of all parts of the country. A similar example of this standing is the spirit of the Kuvay-ı Milliye - the forces in the Turkish War of Independence in the 1920s. Everyone was desperately anticipating a return of such national unity amid the terrorist attacks. Fortunately, the Yenikapı rally provided hope for Turkey's future. It is also crucial to emphasize that it showed that the Turkish people drop their anger and seek jus
tice for those killed.
For the future, the Yenikapı rally introduces new challenges for everyone, including political parties, the judiciary and Western countries. The public sent a clear message to the world of its strong attachment to democracy.
Political parties understood that society wants safety against such terrorist threats. Therefore, they have to commit themselves with determination to eliminate all FETÖ factions everywhere. Moreover, rather than endless disputes, the public wants to preserve the newfound harmony between political parties. In this regard, the government has to continue its fight against terrorism and, likewise, the opposition has to support the government to overcome this imminent danger against Turkey's democracy.
The judiciary needs to proceed with the guarantee
d fair trials of the coup plotters to preserve the credibility of the lawsuits. The people still remember the abuse of power committed by Gülenists in the judiciary during the Ergenekon and Balyoz (Sledgehammer) trials, which led to hundreds of unjust imprisonments of innocent people. In this respect, it is essential to take lessons from these fundamental errors in the past. As a human rights lawyer, I must emphasize that if European Court of Human Rights judgments determine that violations of a fair trial occur, the legitimacy of the fight against the FETÖ will be undermined. Therefore, it is of the utmost importance to keep in mind the guarantees of human rights while taking counterterrorism measures.
The most difficult challenge belongs to Western countries since their credibility was seriously damaged since July 15 through disinformation in the media, late supporting statements from their governments and biased critics regarding the process. Under light of the clear message sent by the Turkish people at the Yenikapı rally, it is time for Western countries to be self-critical. Otherwise, their current position is to only nourish the suspicions of foreign involvement in the coup and their hostile appearance to the Turkish public.
To ameliorate the current situation, it is necessary to focus on fundamental matters such as the acknowledgement of the existential threat against Turkish democracy and the lost lives on the night of July 15. It is too early to make comments on the subsequent investigations into the coup plotters, and this standing is only perceived by Turkish people as bad faith from the Western world. Europe, the U.S. and international media desperately need to heal their reputation with the Turkish public to preserve their chances of being respected in the future. Turkey knows well how to apply balanced politics between power players, and therefore it would only be Western countries that lose influence over Turkey.
In conclusion, it is time to salute this bright example of democracy that took place in Yenikapı against the coup. The world needs to embrace Turkey with solidarity rather than approach with blind hatred for President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
* Master student at Geneva Graduate Institute