Following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, Turks embraced democracy as a system of governance. Heirs to centuries-old traditions of statecraft, the founders of the new republic built a new system upon their strong political heritage to push the nation forward. The process of building, maintaining and developing democracy, however, has not been all moonlight and roses. Since the early stages, in fact, it has been a thorny path but the strong will of the nation to hold on to democracy and democratic institutions has made Turkish democracy stronger throughout the journey. It has, of course, its shortcomings, yet the nation's love for democracy has made it a holy and untouchable institution.
A strong example of this was shown by the people on July 15, 2016, when they resisted a coup attempt carried out by the members of a shadowy cult, the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ), who heinously attacked Turkish democracy and attempted to overthrow the democratically elected government.
Unfortunately, July 15 was not the first coup attempt as coups d'etat are not new to Turkish politics. In fact, since the 1960s, in almost every decade the Turkish government has faced a military coup. And these West-backed, undemocratic and at times bloody coups were also successful in their attempts to topple democratically elected governments.
With regards to the July 15 coup attempt, we can say that there are two aspects that make it significantly different than previous attempts. First, compared to the earlier coups, the attempt on July 15 was not carried out solely by the military command echelon. It was carried out by a shadowy group whose members had infiltrated into all segments of public and private life for the past 40 years or more. An extensive, detailed explanation of the network and how it was established, developed and became an operational group is the topic of another article. Yet, it is clear that the network infiltrated government institutions at all levels and had become an influential part of the private sector be it in media, banking and finance, private education or elsewhere. As such the network’s web or the organizational chart is not particular to one segment of society. Also, it is not a new establishment though many outside of Turkey may have only heard about it after the July 15 coup attempt.
The second significant aspect is that it did not succeed thanks to the millions who took to the street and defended their democracy and democratically elected government at the risk of losing their lives or being injured. Some 251 people were killed and more than 2,200 others were injured. Courageous men and women, young and old, took to the street that night because they knew the attempt was not to simply change a government. Of course, one of the aims was to attack and overthrow democratically elected President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his government. Yet, the people knew that the attack was on Turkish democracy and the aim was to install darkness in the future of their children and coming generations. With all this in mind, they stopped the heinous coup, which many believe was Western-backed, particularly by the United States. Many of the group’s members live in European countries and the United States. Despite Turkey’s extradition requests for fugitive suspects, authorities have chosen not to cooperate with Ankara against the terrorist group. In fact, the group’s leader Fetullah Gülen is known to be living in the U.S. in a private compound with other members of the group.
It is worth mentioning here that against this backdrop, just a few days before Turkey commemorates the failed coup attempt, which the nation now celebrates as a democracy festival, John Bolton, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and former White House national security adviser, in a way, confessed that he had helped plan attempted coups in foreign countries.
Turkey has heard the “our boys did it” legend before. Yet, though not surprising for many, Bolton’s remarks are noteworthy in terms of U.S. interference in other countries’ democracies by supporting coup attempts.
Bolton made the remarks to CNN after the day's congressional hearing into the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol. The panel accuses former President Donald Trump of inciting violence to remain in power after losing the 2020 presidential election. Speaking to CNN anchor Jake Tapper, however, Bolton suggested Trump was not competent enough to pull off a "carefully planned coup d'etat." "As somebody who has helped plan coups d'etat – not here but you know (in) other places – it takes a lot of work. And that's not what he (Trump) did." When Tapper asked Bolton which attempts he was referring to, Bolton replied: "I'm not going to get into the specifics." In 2019, Bolton as national security adviser publicly supported Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido's call for the military to back his effort to overthrow incumbent President Nicolas Maduro. "I feel like there's other stuff you're not telling me (beyond Venezuela)," the CNN anchor said, prompting a reply from Bolton, "I'm sure there is."
Of course, Bolton’s remarks are not surprising for those following U.S. foreign policy.
Speaking to Fox TV as the coup plot unfolded in Turkey on July 15, 2016, Bolton had then also did not shy away from exposing his appetite and support for coups. “I have no charity in my heart for Erdoğan, if he goes down I'm not shedding any tears,” he had then said during the televised interview. At this moment, President Joe Biden’s remarks ahead of his election to the White House should also come to mind. In a video clip recorded ahead of his election, Biden told the New York Times editorial board that the U.S. could support opposition elements in Turkey to change the tide of political developments.
Biden also implied he would involve the U.S. directly into domestic Turkish affairs.
“I’m still of the view that if we were to engage more directly like I was doing with them, that we can support those elements of the Turkish leadership that still exist and get more from them and embolden them to be able to take on and defeat Erdoğan. Not by a coup, not by a coup, but by the electoral process,” Biden had then said.
On the other side, Turkey's Western allies have nearly come to the understanding that Turkey is no longer the country it once was and that the nation will no longer let go of its love for democracy. They now say governments can only change and remain in power in Turkey through democratic institutions and elections.
At a time when NATO is expanding and Turkey’s allies have come to realize Turkey’s strategic importance for the Western bloc, it is time they show solidarity in Turkey’s fight against terror groups, be it FETÖ, the PKK terrorist organization or its Syrian offshoot, the YPG. Extraditing terror suspects from their countries to Turkey for fair trials would be the first step in showing Turkey they are true supporters of democracy and are in solidarity with their ally, Turkey.