Turkey’s Demise as a Democracy

Gerald Grudzen, Ph.D.

The attempted coup that took place in Turkey this past week has led to draconian measure by the government of Prime Minister Erdogan to purge thousands of civil servants in the Turkish military, legal and educational bureaucracy. Anyone that they deem suspicious of failing to support the policies of the present administration has become subject to arrest and imprisonment. Erdogan met with his supporters after the Coup attempt and seemed to embrace the idea of the death penalty for those who were involved in the coup. Since he has now arrested thousands of Turkish citizens without due process, it is possible that anyone considered disloyal to him could be imprisoned and possibly executed. He has effectively created a new type of sultanate in Turkey which hearkens back to the period of rule bf the Ottoman Empire. He seems to think of himself as the embodiment of the Turkish state.

His opposition to the exiled cleric. Fethullah Gulen, represents a clash between a pluralistic and modern understanding of the Islamic faith within a Muslim majority country and a the unitary view espoused by Erdogan in which he controls every lever of authority and power. The followers of Gulen are numerous in Turkey but they are now considered enemies of the state. Erdogan is now emboldened to eliminate every institution in Turkey that has been inspired by the Hizmet movement. He has taken over the judiciary in Turkey and eliminated the free press. He claims that Mr. Gulen represents a terrorist organization yet all the activities of the Hizmet movement in Turkey, the USA and worldwide are concentrated on various forms of civic service in education, interfaith dialogue and community welfare projects. There is no evidence to date of any terrorist activities sponsored or encouraged by members of this movement.

The Hizmet movement is not under the control. of Mr. Gulen. He is an inspirational and spiritual leader within the Islamic faith not just in Turkey but world-wide. He can be compared to other spiritual leaders that have inspired social movements such as Martin Luther King, Thich Nhat Hanh and the Dalai Lama. No spiritual movement is completely free of conflicts with governmental institutions because they are often seeking social change and calling the government to a higher moral norm.

The conflicts within Turkey cannot be solved by imprisoning and punishing thousands of its citizens. The US needs to encourage a process of restraint and dialogue within Turkish society that can be monitored by an independent and impartial external organization such as the United Nations. Turkey is in danger of becoming another failed nation state in the Middle East if it continues to isolate itself and uses the harshest measures to reign in any dissenting voices. The US government cannot become part of the apparatus of an undemocratic and authoritarian regime now seizing control of the totality of Turkish society. The US runs the risk of succumbing to the wishes of this regime in order to retain access to military facilities in the fight against ISIS but undermining the very rule of law which should govern every democratic society. There is no longer an independent judiciary system left in Turkey. The US needs to call upon the United Nations to undertake an impartial and independent examination of the reasons for the coup attempt in turkey and those responsible for it. The present political climate in turkey does not allow for an impartial trial for those involved in the coup since it has become a political vendetta of the Erdogan administration and his allies against their perceived adversaries.

Gerald Grudzen, PhD
Philosophy Department
San Jose City College