The failed coup attempt in Turkey on 15 July made headlines around the world. So did the aftermath of the coup, as the government of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan launched a crackdown on supposed coup backers. The mass arrests and dismissals across the Turkish state, have been labelled a ‘purge’ by many, and raised fears about the state of democracy and rule of law in the country.
Here, Amanda Paul, a senior policy analyst at the European Policy Centre (EPC) and expert on Turkey, provides her viewpoint on the outlook for the country, answering PEN’s questions on the coup attempt and the aftermath.
With the government having seemingly increased its control of the state, what are the long-term prospects for democracy in the country?
Over the last few years there has been a systematic erosion of democracy in Turkey in terms of civil liberties and freedoms and the rule of the law. President Erdoğan has increasingly adopted a policy of a ‘one man rule’, overstepping his mandate as outlined in the Turkish constitution and having an increasingly polarising narrative.
The failed military coup attempt offered a door to build some bridges because Turkish society was united against the failed coup attempt. People, even those that do not support Erdoğan and have been highly critical of the Turkish governments backtracking on democracy, stood shoulder to shoulder with Erdoğan and the government, showing solidary and support for Turkish democracy. However, despite the fact that Erdoğan and Prime Minister Binali Yildirim have taken some positive steps, for example, dropping all the cases against people charged with insulting them, the massive purge that is still ongoing and has reached nearly 90,000 members of the military, judiciary, education bodies, media and so forth, is extremely worrying.
While the government has every right to fully investigate the coup attempt and root out those behind it, this effort seems to be going far beyond that. Talk of reinstating the death penalty is also a negative development, although I doubt this will happen.
Taking a long-term view, has the Erdoğan government managed to increase its legitimacy in the country, or can we can expect a backlash to the crackdown launched in the aftermath of the coup attempt?
Erdoğan has increased his support without question. As he himself stated, the attempted coup was “a gift from God”. I doubt there will be a backlash any time soon because anyone criticising the government or Erdoğan these days is labelled a Gulenist. Hatred towards the Gulen Movement is almost at 100% across the country.
Do you believe there is greater scope for the Council of Europe to engage with issues pertaining to the rule of law – particularly given the indication that the Turkish government may reintroduce the death penalty?
I think that the Council of Europe, along with the EU, etc. needs to continue to engage with Turkey’s leadership on issues related to rule of law and civil liberties and freedoms while at the same time offering support and solidarity for the trauma that the country has been through. The EU’s approach has created a great deal of bitterness not only from the Turkish authorities, but from society as a whole.
While some EU leaders have voiced concern over the situation in the country, can we realistically expect a change in policy regarding EU-Turkey relations?
The EU’s lack of strategic investment in Turkey, and its failure to treat Turkey in the same way it did other candidate countries, is in part to blame for the democratic backtracking Turkey has gone through over the last few years. Turkey’s accession talks were frozen in large part due to hostility against Turkey in a number of member states including France and Germany. The impact of this was very negative with many Turks feeling rejected and unwanted by the EU. It cost the EU leverage over the country and eroded the EU’s credibility as a reliable and honest partner. Turkey remains an important partner for the EU in many respects and at this very important point in the country’s history the EU should increase engagement with Turkey in an effort to try and push for democratic processes and values.
Amanda Paul is a geopolitical and foreign policy analyst and journalist, employed at the European Policy Centre as a Senior Policy Analyst