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Social solidarity emerges in post-coup Turkey

The critical moment of the popular call-up was President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s appearance on CNN Turk, after which hundreds of thousands of people left their homes to stand against tanks and gunfire...

August 4, 2016 at 11:57 am

It is common to hear Turks saying, “The thing that we know as bad, can actually be good.” This summarises what is happing in Turkey today.

The bloody coup attempt by a junta tied to the Gülenist movement – which was designated as a terrorist organisation by the government in December last year – failed as a result of strong resistance from Turkish society. Such resistance was clearly not planned for by those behind the coup. The critical moment of the popular call-up was President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s appearance on CNN Turk, after which hundreds of thousands of people left their homes to stand against tanks and gunfire despite knowing that it could cost them their lives. This happened in towns and cities across the country and involved people of all political backgrounds. Such collective resistance can be explained by two societal factors.

The first is the existence of a united front against the Gülenists across Turkish society. There are many reasons for this, but suffice to say that the Gülenist movement is not seen to be serving society as a whole. It may be a well-resourced popular movement but it hasn’t turned into a popular mass movement unlike, say, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt or Hezbollah in Lebanon, which are both rooted in society and involved in politics.

The people of Turkey were also conscious of what could have happened to their country if the coup succeeded. They only have to look across the border into Syria, and Iraq to see what civil unrest leads to.

The relevance of the Turkish saying noted above comes into play with the fact that the coup attempt has created a cross-party, ethnically-diverse social agreement that the people need to stand together to protect democracy and thus protect Turkey as a state. The people’s success in blocking the coup has provided them with a new consciousness and attitude which favours the democratic approach and enhances the discourse for social solidarity and unity. The national attitude post-coup has definitely changed for the better.

In order to understand the importance of this new consensus we need to look at the general state of Turkish society in the period before the coup, during which it was fractured ideologically and politically. This was very obvious to anyone who followed the news and political debates. Social segregation and polarisation were connected to political fragmentation and the discourse of the politicians. The arguments were so tense that many avoided watching the news programmes altogether; they more or less lost all hope of hearing anything good said about Turkey, the region or even the wider world. On the night of the 28 June terrorist attack at Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport, the most-watched TV programme in Turkey was “Survivor”, which tells us a lot. It is critical to keep in mind Turkey’s former social and political conditions while trying to understand the importance of the emerging social solidarity.

Political discourse and the rhetoric used by politicians has changed, to the extent that official representatives of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) attended a public meeting organised by the Republican People’s Party (CHP) on 24 July in Istanbul’s Taksim Square. President Erdoğan then announced that he will withdraw the lawsuits filed against opposition party leaders, as did Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım. In response, the CHP leader, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, dropped his lawsuits against Erdoğan. Further public healing took place when the president announced that he is dropping all charges against those accused of insulting him, around 1,500 cases in total. He has sent a powerful message that he wants his supporters and the opposition to be involved in the reconstruction of the country. “Shame on us as a state and as a nation,” President Erdoğan told the people, “if we cannot make July 15th into a turning point.”

Besides creating social solidarity, the coup attempt also showed the government that the state institutions are vulnerable and in need of restructuring. Officials have taken some urgent steps to make basic improvements. Critically, this involved a consensus to improve state employment procedures to give priority to the skills and competence of candidates for positions in government institutions, including the civil service, judiciary and universities.

The desire and political will to re-write the Constitution is also emerging. This will strengthen the concept of the state as one built upon the rule of law and thus Turkish democracy itself.

For all of this to proceed unhindered towards a successful outcome, there is no doubt that the unity discourse backed by good old common sense is essential for the sake of our collective future. This is important for all political parties and other actors to acknowledge and internalise.

It is clear, therefore, that the blocking of the coup attempt has saved Turkey from a possible civil war and probable disintegration of the country, or other catastrophic outcomes. It is precisely because the 15 July coup was a major threat to everything that the people of Turkey have striven for over the past few decades that it has ignited a fresh start and fresh hope across the political and societal spectrum. Today, Turkish society has more reasons than ever to be hopeful for the future of the country thanks to the solidarity that we all share. It is to be hoped that this positive atmosphere will accelerate the reconstruction of the country through the efforts of all of its diverse population. Truly, that which we felt to be bad – the coup – could in the end be the catalyst for what is very good indeed.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.