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When Turkey talks about democracy, the West hears “democratorship”

When Turkey talks about democracy, the West hears “democratorship”

11.08.2016 • Turkey •  Whether the issue is the exact meaning of the 15th July attempted coup, or the measures implemented in response to it, for the past month, Turkey and the West have embarked on a dialogue that is totally unfolding at cross-purposes.

A vast majority of Turks feel bitter, since, in their eyes, the West did not show the most minimal amount of due solidarity with them, as it was unable to appropriately assess neither the seriousness of the events nor the democratic upsurge of a people in front of the tanks of the rebels, as was proved yet again, according to them, with the massive 7th August demonstration that gathered over 1 million people.
Thereupon, many Turkish officials will make theirs the famous saying according to which “silence means consent”, while on 2nd August, President Erdogan goes one step further when he declares “Unfortunately, the West supports terrorism and sides with the rebels”. “No European official came to Turkey (…) they bothered far more about the post-coup period”, adds the Turkish Ambassador in France, Akki Akil, on 3rd August.

On 4th August, in French daily Libération, Robert Badinter and several other personalities wrote, seemingly echoing the ambassador’s words on the previous day, that “The crackdown which fell on Turkey in the wake of the 15th July coup attempt constitutes a serious threat against freedom and the state of law. The return to civil peace cannot justify in anyway such measures that have a lasting and damaging impact on the Sate of Law”.

Is it yet another episode in the dialogue at cross purposes that the West and Turkey have been holding for years? Full of their good faith, both sides express their own views of reality, and point at their respective unavowable hidden agendas and deceitful purposes.
However, each of them gives a different, even opposite meaning, to the same words and concepts. Things clear up when one understands that the West and Turkey do not give the same meaning to three essential words: coup, terrorism and democracy.

Was it actually a coup?
Thus, the notion of coup. For President Erdogan, it was a real coup, which was organized by a hidden network that is deeply rooted within the Turkish State and society. Headed by an imam who sought refuge in the US, the sole purpose of this coup was to destroy democracy with extreme violence such as was never seen during the previous coups. And, still according to the Turkish President, it failed only because the Turkish people took to the streets and stood up to the rebels and their tanks. This coup attempt was widely denounced by the people who support the ongoing intensified “purges”.

Europe does not deny this. Even if it knows that the loyalist army and the police have also played a crucial role. It spoke out against the rebels’ coup. But for the EU, this was just a bungled attempt that was doomed to failure, the brains behind which are as unknown as anything about their plans – an attempt that targeted a regime whose authoritarian excesses are rejected by the EU. The West spoke out against the excessive magnitude of Turkey’s official reaction, even against the “climate of civil coup”, against an “unsound consensus which has possessed the whole Turkish society”, as wrote political sciences professor Jean Marcou.

In short: for some, it is a real, violent and murderous coup, aiming at a popular regime, and whose perpetrators must dealt with to ensure they will never cause any harm anymore, while for others, this is a warped blow to excuse the consolidation of a dictatorial regime.

There is no doubt that Western diplomatic services and media widely underestimated the magnitude of the coup, and then proceeded in the same manner with the popular reaction against this military coup, as well as with the support of the public opinion and Turkish political forces for the authorities, starting with President Erdogan. There is also no doubt that this lukewarm reaction, this lack of solidarity from European countries, did not go down well at all with the Turkish public opinion – and quite understandably so.

The biased use of the word “terrorism”
The word “terrorism” applied by President Erdogan to this attempted coup is another example of these divergent interpretations. The rebels did not hesitate in bombing the police headquarters, along with those of the secret services, as well as the Parliament building and the Presidential palace, nor did they hesitate in shooting into the crowd, thus killing hundreds of people (there have been 246 fatalities, including the rebels), and causing staggering damages.

Ankara calls the authors behind the coup “terrorists”, thus likening them to ISIS, as well as to the PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party, at war with the Turkish state since 1984) that have been behind the many terror attacks which have drenched Turkey with blood over the last few months.

The use of the word is clearly unwarranted and unfounded. Yet by doing so Ankara wants to draw a parallel between the reaction against the coup and the war being waged by Western countries against terror, thus comparing, for instance, the states of emergency implemented in France and in Turkey, as President Erdogan did on repeated occasions.

As a logical follow-up, in view of the scale of harsh Western criticisms about the crackdown, Ankara does not hesitate in accusing the West of “supporting terrorism”. Yet again, the biased use of terminology and concepts is startling.

The end and the means
Third point of ambiguousness – and not the least: the use of the concept of democracy. It was democracy that was threatened and run the risk of disappearing under the rebels’ blows. It is democracy that the Turkish president claims he wishes to restore while he eliminates his enemies and relies on the people that are mobilized behind him. All the political parties take part in this upsurge: some of them go as far as thinking that this is a special moment, that it is important to use this national unity to establish a true democracy. European countries, the West in general, should understand this and encourage Turkey at a crucial time, so as to definitely lay foundations on that side.


Capture d’écran 2016-08-11 à 20.19.30
Such a discourse sounds seductive. Muslim conservative Turkish columnists or liberal ones, even some European politicians too, subscribe to it. But one may be jumping ahead of oneself. Long before the coup, the media and Western diplomatic services were already watching with concern the increase in authoritarian excesses of Erdogan’s regime.  Conjuring more a democratoship than a democracy, neither Brussels nor Washington were fully satisfied by the Raïs’s shrewd rhetoric: in effect, he put forth his democratic legitimacy, based on his undeniable and repeated electoral successes as they happened over the past 14 years, in order to justify his right to decide on everything and do anything, without being hampered by any “legal quibbles”.

For sure, democracy means popular mandate but also, the equally important respect for public liberties and the state of law. The end (that is, the kind of regime one wants to establish) is determined by the means used to achieve it. Quite clearly, in Turkey, the crucial prerequisites of democracy have been forgotten for quite a while, and the staggering crackdown only increases Western worries.

President Erdogan’s sweeping discourses, the fact that on 7th August, he mentioned yet again the reinstatement of the death penalty, along with the short-cuts/liberties he is taking with respect to the rule of law, justify such reservations.

In short, here are two discourses at cross-purposes again, with the difference that one has to admit that on this point, the West remains loyal to its values and that democracy, in its genuine meaning, is on its side.

Dialogues at cross-purposes and stereotypes are not new in international relations. But in the context of this specific period in the history of the relations between Turkey and the European Union, we are now entering highly hazardous times.

One will not go as far as conjuring up George Orwell’s novel “1984”, as does Ayse Karakol, when comparing quite pertinently fictional character Goldstein with the person that President Erdogan holds responsible for the plotting of the coup, that is, imam Fethullah Gülen.

Disingenuous talks, mistaken analyses of the situation, and systematically accusing the other party of deceitful purposes – all of this just serves to ensure that there will be severe damages. That is, in that case: denouncing the March 2016 Turkey-EU Agreement on refugees, having the Turkish regime move towards an even more populist and authoritarian political Islam, witnessing the collapse of NATO’s eastern flank, and the end of Turkey’s support for the Western camp.

Ariane Bonzon

Translation: Laurence Mazure


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