July 14, 2017 | Policy Brief

Turkey Defies Coup, But Not One-Man Rule

Last year, on July 15, the Turkish people defied a group of rogue soldiers who attempted a bloody coup d'état, killing 249 citizens in the process. One year on, Turkey is still in a state of emergency and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is ruling by decree. Pinning the putsch on his allies-turned-enemies in the opaque network of cleric Fethullah Gulen, Erdogan has branded Gulen’s movement as terrorist and purged over 100,000 civil servants. He has also imprisoned 50,000 citizens, including dozens of the country’s elected officials. While last year’s attempted coup may have failed, it has become the pretext for Erdogan’s increasingly successful effort to overthrow parliamentary democracy in Turkey.

The co-chairs of the parliament’s third largest political party are both in jail. In June 2015, Selahattin Demirtas and Figen Yuksekdag reached the apex of their careers by lifting their predominantly Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) above the country’s 10-percent election threshold. It was a milestone not only for Turkey’s Kurds, who made it to parliament as a party for the first time, but also for other ethnic, religious, and sexual minorities that the party embraced. But the failed coup, a year later, landed them both in prison on dubious charges, along with nine other HDP lawmakers. Courts stripped Yuksekdag of her lawmaker status in February, and tried to humiliate Demirtas last week by dragging him to hearings in handcuffs – yet he refused to be shackled.

Last month, the purge moved on to the country’s main opposition party, the Republican People’s Party (CHP). Enis Berberoglu, a journalist and CHP lawmaker, was sentenced to 25 years in jail for exposing Turkish intelligence’s illegal provision of arms to Syrian jihadists. This outrage prompted a 250-mile “March for Justice” that climaxed last Sunday with a rally that brought almost two million protestors in Istanbul. The march seems to have prevented, for now, the arrests of other CHP lawmakers, but Erdogan doubled down the day after the rally by detaining 72 academics, including a former senior advisor to the CHP leader.

As the parliament’s two largest opposition parties, the CHP and HDP now appear to be Erdogan’s prime targets. In the last six months, a combined 74 lawmakers from the two parties were indicted on trumped-up charges. More detentions are almost certain to follow.

In the immediate aftermath of the abortive coup, Erdogan called it a “gift from God.” He has since then used the failed attempt to decimate his political adversaries and consolidate his one-man rule. It was in this climate of repression that the Turkish president dragged his country to its most consequential referendum in April and bestowed upon himself, through a disputed vote, enhanced executive, legislative, and judicial powers. Although full details of the coup plot still remain a mystery, one thing is clear: Turkey’s democracy has become the real victim.

Aykan Erdemir is a former member of the Turkish parliament and a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, where Merve Tahiroglu is a research associate. Follow them on Twitter @aykan_erdemir and @MerveTahiroglu.