July 15: One day and one year that changed Turkey
Serkan Demirtaş - ANKARA
What happened in Turkey in the recent year since the bloody coup attempt on July 15, 2016 have perhaps not occurred in any country in the world even in a century. Just to refresh our memories briefly: Turkey experienced one of the most deadly coup attempts that left 250 martyrs behind; launched a massive fight against the Fethullahist Terror Organization (FETÖ); jailed around 50,000 people; voted in a referendum to undertake a historic change in its government system that deepened political polarization and observed an unprecedented tension with mainly European countries.
When news broke on late July 15 that reported an unexplainable military mobilization in Istanbul and Ankara, the country’s two largest cities, those who are enough old to remember coups of the past have immediately recalled these bitter periods of our history with concerns whether it’s one of them. Soon after it was understood that it was not a proper military intervention in chain of command but a putsch attempt at the hands of the FETÖ members within the army.
The putsch could be thwarted thanks to the Turkish people who hit the streets to stand against Gülenist generals and soldiers upon the call of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and other prominent Turkish officials in the very early hours of the intervention. That was how the coup could be thwarted as the sun was rising in the early hours of July 16, leaving 249 dead and around 2,500 wounded behind.
While military personnel who have taken part in the coup attempt have been arrested, a massive cleaning had begun in a bid to ultimately cleanse state institutions from the members and sympathizers of the FETÖ as well private companies, media outlets and civil society organization that are known to be related with the group. Upon the ruling party’s request, the Parliament declared state of emergency on July 20, granting the government the authority to issue decree-laws and empowering law enforcement.
State of emergency in place
The first decree law published on July 23 that stipulated drastic changes on the structures of the military institutions and military schools was just marking the beginning of more than a dozen of others. With the powers granted to the government, a huge blow was dealt on the FETÖ but the government has been stressing that the fight against undercover members of the group was still going on. As a result, around 160,000 have been expelled from their positions while 50,000 have been arrested on charges of having links to the FETÖ.
However, the opposition parties have long been expressing that the purge should be based on real evidence and that appeal mechanisms should be established for those who say they are innocent. An appeal commission has been recently set and will begin to its functions on July 17, right a year after the coup attempt.
One of the immediate consequences of the coup attempt was the spirit of unity and solidarity between different political parties which was crowned by a massive rally on August 9, known as the Yenikapı Spirit.
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the leaders of the three political parties, Justice and Development Party (AKP), Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) leaders attended the rally that boosted hopes for an end of long-lasting political polarization.
However, hopes were faded as this spirit failed to be enduring because of continued differences on the fight against the FETÖ members as well as political disagreements over AKP-MHP led efforts to change the government system into executive-presidency model. The fire was flared on Oct 11, 2016 by MHP’s Devlet Bahçeli who announced his party’s support to a change in the system, giving life to AKP’s plans to change the constitution.
HDP co-leader arrested
The two parties whose number of seats at the Parliament suffice to take charter changes to referendum begun drafting the constitutional amendments amid a huge political tension as two co-leaders of the Kurdish-question focused People’s Democratic Party (HDP), Selahattin Demirtaş and Figen Yüksekdağ, have been arrested on terror related charges. The campaign on HDP continued with the arrest of around a dozen other lawmakers that further escalated domestic tension in Turkey.
Following months-long tense discussions in parliament, 18-article constitutional amendments have been approved by the votes of the AKP and MHP with the decision to hold the referendum on April 16, 2017.
The approved changes abolish the position of the prime minister, granting excessive powers to the president who can also continue his or her relationship to a political party. The president will have the right to issue decree laws, appoint ministers and other senior bureaucrats and can dissolve the Parliament with the condition of renewing both presidential and parliamentary elections, according to changes.
Turkey-EU tension ahead of polls
The CHP and HDP stood against the changes by accusing the AKP-MHP of introducing what they call “one-man system” and “party state.” Turkey had observed a very tense campaign process inside Turkey as the country was split into two camps; Yes and No blocks.
However, the real tension before the vote had been observed between Turkey and some prominent European countries, namely Germany, the Netherlands, Austria and Denmark, that barred Turkish ministers’ meetings with the Turkish communities residing in their territories.
As never seen before, the Netherlands deported a female Turkish minister after law enforcement dispersed the members of the Turkish community by the use disproportionate force who wanted to meet Family Minister Fatme Betül Sayan Kaya in front of the Turkish consulate building.
Turkey, in particular President Erdoğan, lashed out at these countries, comparing these measures to the Nazi implementations as the tension further escalated. The government and the opposition parties cancelled planned meetings abroad with Erdoğan vowing that Turkey could hold another referendum to decide on the future of its ties with the European Union. As a matter of fact, Erdoğan and the government immediately abandoned this language as well as promises for the re-installation of the capital punishment right after the referendum.
Change in system
Following months-long internal and external tension, the referendum took place on April 16 which resulted in a very narrow win for the Yes camp with 51.4 percent of votes. Naysayers gathered 48.6 percent of votes but accused the Supreme Election Board (YSK) of changing the rules in favor of the government by announcing that it will count votes in unstamped envelopes valid in clear violation of the Election Law.
As its appeals to the YSK and the Constitutional Court have been rejected, the CHP decided to go to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in a bid to annul the vote. While discussions over the polls were still high, President Erdoğan announced his return to the AKP as the chairman through an extraordinary convention on May 21, officially marking the beginning of a new era in the Turkish political system.
However, the approval of these changes accompanied with non-stop arrests on dissident journalists, academics, activists and politicians have caused further spread of Turkey-skeptics across the European continent and its institutions. Although the EU was cold to calls to suspend already halted accession talks with Turkey, the European Parliament voted twice in favor of these calls, most recently in late June, sparking strong-worded reactions from Ankara.
A similar approach was pursued at the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) which voted for the introduction monitoring mechanism on Turkey over continued violations of human rights and degraded democratic norms.
The Turkish government, in return, accused many of European countries of harboring FETÖ members who have sought asylum from these nations after the foiled coup attempt and therefore of supporting coup plotters.
Another development that caused a major effect on the Turkish politics was the arrest of Enis Berberoğlu, a prominent MP from the ranks of the CHP and a well-known journalist, on charges of espionage and of leaking state’s secret information to the media outlets. Being sentenced to 25 years in prison, Berberoğlu has become the first main opposition lawmaker imprisoned in this process.
CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu begun what he called “justice march” from Ankara to Istanbul in a protest of the arrest of his lawmaker.
Kılıçdaroğlu and his accompaniers accomplished 450-kilometer long march in 25 days through a massive rally held in Istanbul with the participation of nearly one million supporters from all walks of life.
Thus Kılıçdaroğlu could consolidate the No block with an additional notion of “justice” and changed Turkish political balances just a week before Turkey was set to commemorate the first anniversary of the July 15 coup attempt.
50,510 arrested in post-July 15 probes
Turkey has arrested a total of 50,510 people accused of having links to the Fethullahist Terrorist Organization (FETÖ, the Justice Ministry said on July 13.
"Within the scope of investigations [launched after coup attempt],a total of 50,510 people have been arrested, including 169 generals, 7,098 colonels and lower ranking soldiers, 8,815 police department members, 24 governors, 73 deputy governors, 116 district governors, 2,413 judiciary members, and 31,784 other suspects,” the ministry said in a statement.
The ministry also said 169,013 suspects have so far faced legal proceedings on suspicion of links to FETÖ since last year’s coup attempt.
Among the 8,087 people sought over FETÖ charges and currently on the run, there are- reportedly 152 soldiers, 392 police officers, three deputy governors, nine district governors, 265 judiciary members, and 7,266 other suspects.
A total of 48,439 people, including 3,046 soldiers, 5,024 police officers, nine governors, 27 deputy governors, 73 district governors, 1,219 judiciary members, and 39,041 other suspects, were released with a judicial control decision.
Of the arrested 2,413 judiciary members, some 2,280 were judges and public prosecutors, 105 were members of the Supreme Court of Appeals, 41 were members of the Council of State, two were members of the Constitutional Court, and three were members of the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors.
Tens of thousands of public employees have been dismissed with state of emergency decree laws for alleged links to Gülen. A new commission called the “State of Emergency Procedures Investigation Commission” will begin receiving objections decree rulings, including dismisials, starting on July 17, Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım said on
July 12. A total of 110,000 applications are expected to be received by the commission in the first stage.
Around 105,000 are expected to be from police officers, military officers and civil servants. Some 33,000 teachers have been dismissed from their duties, Education Minister İsmet Yılmaz said on June 23.