Turkey's President Erdogan is hell bent on revenge against those who tried to oust him in the country's latest military coup. The round-up of suspects and the crack down on human and civil rights is nothing short of staggering….and concerning.
Turkey’s fifth military coup d’etat was crushed only hours after it began, but the ramifications of those hours of miscalculated actions are immense for Turkey, the region and the wider world.
The rule of strongman Recep Tayyip Erdogan has consistently, worryingly, been more akin to that of an autocrat than a democratically elected President.
Those who wanted to halt him no doubt acted on a belief they were protecting the constitution, or, less altruistically, maybe to protect their own jobs given a military shake-up had been foreshadowed.
What they achieved was loss of life, political uncertainty and a crackdown on the judiciary, state institutions, the media, civilians, political foes and the military.
They did not have the support of the majority of the military, they did not have the support of enough of the population, they resorted to actions more consistent with a terror attack than a coup, and split the military so the world watched as soldiers fought their own in the few tense and bloody hours it took end the putsch.
What the coup plotters have done is present the man they wanted to oust with what he himself declared to be a “gift from God” - a perfect excuse for a purge of his many enemies.
Turkey’s opposition politicians, journalists normally unfriendly to Erdogan, civil society leaders and non AK Party supporters now find themselves united with the President in unequivocal condemnation of an attempt to change Turkey’s leadership through violence.
While Erdogan can claim a democratic mandate, he most certainly does not consistently uphold democratic principles.
He has an appalling record on human rights, on freedom of expression and has implemented legislation that is incrementally moving Turkey away from the secular legacy of the country’s founder, General Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.
Roughly 2000 journalists, political opponents, comedians and even ordinary citizens are facing legal action for allegedly mocking or insulting Erdogan.
But together, the above are not reasons to supplant the ballot box with bullets, and the country has backed him on that.
What should concern Turks and the rest of us is the mode of Erdogan’s revenge.
Turkey is an extremely important country militarily and geopolitically.
It is the bridge between Asia and Europe.
It plays a vital role in the Syrian refugee crisis taking in millions of refugees.
With respect to the fight against Daesh Turkey is seen as a not entirely reliable ally more concerned with ousting Assad than destroying Daesh. Its slack security on its southern border allows foreign fighters to enter Syria.
However while a number of countries hold their noses over Erdogan’s treatment of the Kurds and the ongoing fighting between the Turkish army and the PKK, Turkey remains part of the fight.
Turkey is also a significant member of the NATO alliance contributing the organization’s second largest army. Signs of instability given the turmoil in the region and Moscow’s territorial ambitions must be of concern to the NATO partners and others including the European Union.
The purge is in full swing with, as of the time of writing, more than 7500 arrests including soldiers, judges, police, prosecutors and civilians, and the sacking of 3,000 judges and 8000 police officers, the president is cleaning house.
Erdogan is hinting very loudly about reintroducing the death penalty.
He has vowed to make the plotters pay the ultimate price for “treason against Turkey”.
Politically reintroducing the death penalty will be problematic for Turkey’s ambitions of joining the EU and the maintenance of its relationship with European leaders.
In 2004 Turkey abolished capital punishment to ensure that it met EU standards.
Now European leaders are warning Erdogan that any punishment of those who tried to oust him must be within the law and constitutional order.
Erdogan, widely regarded as a political bully is unlikely to take kindly to being bullied by the very body he is assisting with the migrant crisis, yet has so far rejected Turkey’s bid to join its club.
Europe may well be alarmed by the speed of the purge, but Erdogan is not going to allow their political sensitivities get in his way.
He is capitalising on the outpouring of support from Turks, conveniently telling them that with respect to the death penalty for treason, democracy means they will get what they want.
Erdogan’s modus operandi is to play his own people.
Wind them up when it suits. Ban them from having information when it suits.
As Turkish writer Ece Temelkuran wrote concerning the domestic media blackout after the terror attack on Istanbul international airport two weeks ago, “by banning the broadcasting of information, the government doesn’t just stifle debate and news; it also represses the nation’s emotions....don’t question anything “.
In order to kill questioning of his government‘s authority which could result in civil unrest, Erdogan killed the information source.
Temelkuran noted that within hours of the attack “the airport was washed clean of the human blood and flesh. By early morning Wednesday, the state media was heralding that the airport was operating already”.
I can attest to that because I flew in late that Wednesday morning and eerily, there was no indication of the previous night’s horror and mayhem.
Things are done quickly when dissension may be in the wind.
Now it is revenge that is being carried out quickly, and there’s a danger that Erdogen will move further towards his Islamist ideology.
Meanwhile, it is a fair bet that those who have already been arrested and are now detained in prison will be begging for death rather than what they are likely enduring in the country’s notorious torture chambers.
Their numbers are swelling by the hour.