Turkey’s failed coup provides for new opportunities

Much is still unclear about the motives behind the failed coup, but one thing is clear: it has widened the gaps that already existed in society.

In the middle of Taksim square a group of around fifty men has gathered in front of the iconic independence monument. Bright red flags tied around their shoulders, fists pumping in the air. The sun is burning hot, leaving their faces dripping with sweat. But these men don’t let themselves be put off by a bit of heat. This is their day, their victory, and this should be celebrated.

“Tekbir!” shouts a young man with a coarse voice, pointing his index finger up in the sky. “Allahu Akbar!’ comes the reply from the rest of the gang. Meanwhile, a man is driving his scooter in circles around the monument. His three-year-old son sits on the back, while loud Ottoman marches are blaring from the speakers. A loud cry goes up from the group every time he comes round.

It’s the morning after. Not twelve hours earlier the very same spot was occupied by military personnel. Around midnight dozens of young soldiers had marched unto the square, under the watchful eyes of their comrades holed up in armored personnel carriers. At the time, the coup was still in full sling, and it was unclear who exactly was ruling the country. But this would change soon.

The President’s orders

“Of course I went out on the streets when I heard the President’s call,” tells the 63-year-old Abdullah Usta, a watchmaker from Göztepe – a conservative neighborhood on the Asian side of Istanbul. He has traveled to Taksim to indulge himself just a bit longer in the victorious frenzy the previous nights’ popular resistance had turned into.

When President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan called upon the people to go out on the streets en masse confront the perpetrators of the coup and to protect Turkey’s democracy, tens of thousands of people head his call. Across the country, masses of flag-bearing, slogan-shouting civilians walked out of their homes to follow their President’s orders.

And like this, the old watchmaker suddenly found himself facing off with the soldiers that were out to dethrone his president. “I have photos of my friends from the neighborhood dancing on top of the tanks!”, he conveys with more than a bit of pride in his voice. “We are the true soldiers of Turkey, and we’ve helped our president to protect the country against the traitor Gülen.”

For many Turks there is little doubt as to who is behind the conspiracy to overthrow the government. There can be only one: Fetullah Gülen, an Islamic preacher and former ally of Erdoğan. After their friendship came to an abrupt end five odd years ago, Gülen was declared public enemy no.1 by the Turkish state propaganda machine. Under the vague header of the “parallel state” Gülen is accused of a whole range of things: from student protests to electricity cuts. And as of yesterday, “military coup” can be added to this list.

The common understanding is that Gülen supporters in the ranks of the army were fearing an upcoming purge, and decided to act before it was too late. For Erdoğan and his AKP, this coup proofs what they’ve been saying all along: that Gülen is a dangerous terrorist who is out to destroy Turkey from the inside out.

It’s not the bullets I fear most”

But not everyone is convinced by this explanation. Around the corner from Taksim square in a small cafe Paia Vedadi, 34, explains he has certain doubts about the government’s narrative. “It seems like a fake fight to me,” he conveys in the nearly-empty cafe – most people have decided to stay home for the day.

“After this coup, it will be easy for Erdoğan to get permission for a lot of things he couldn’t do before,” he soberly reflects. Like what? “More control over the people. More fascist. More dictatorial.” From a corner of the cafe, a lonely customer adds his two cents: “The man’s a king now!”, he suggests, obviously referring to Erdoğan.

Vedadi’s voices what many of Erdoğan’s opponents in Turkey secretly suspect, that something about the coup smell’s funny and that it comes at a time very convenient to the country’s political leadership. The fallout from the coup will provide a unique opportunity to cleanse the different government bodies from all those unwanted elements that haven’t yet been brought in line.

Fear has gripped N.A., a 30-year-old civil servant at the Ministry of Education who only wants to be referred to by her initials for fear of her safety. Her downtown apartment is located next to a military offices, where clashes between soldiers and police continued for the better part of night. Gunfire kept her and her family awake, and when a fighter jet burst through the sound barrier right above her 7th-floor home, they went and took shelter in the basement for a couple of hours.

“But it’s not the bullets that I fear most,” she tells on the phone. “It are the thousands of fanatics that went out on the streets last night that fill me with horror. In the past months we’ve seen what these people can do, and that holds little promise for the future of this country.”

For watchmaker Abdullah and his friends, today is a happy day; they’ve looked the enemy in the eye and walked away victorious. For many others, the ones that supported neither Erdogan nor the coup, there’s little to celebrate. One thing is clear, the day after Turkey was once again confronted with the ghosts from its past: the failed coup has only widened the gaps that already existed in Turkey’s society.

This article was originally published by teleSUR English.


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