Erdoğan’s stance will be determinant
Sunday’s massive rally in Istanbul, hosted by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to celebrate the failure of the July 15 coup attempt and commemorate the fallen, was a historic event.
This was not just because of the vast numbers attending, but also because it brought together the leaders of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and its bitter rivals, the Republican Peoples’ Party (CHP) and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP).
The absence of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) was noted by CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu and others, who underlined that the party also stood up against the coup attempt.
Erdoğan maintains he could not face the families of martyred security personal killed by the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) if he had invited the HDP, given this party’s unambiguous position on PKK terrorism.
There is also a good chance the HDP would not have attended if it had been invited. The rally was essentially a “Turkish affair” with strong nationalist overtones. The HDP would have found it difficult to fit in.
Some expect Prime Minister Binali Yıldırim to reach out to the party now in other ways, in order to complete the picture of unity in Turkey for the sake of democracy. That remains to be seen.
It also remains to be seen if the rally represents “a new opening” for Turkey. The place where it was held is called “Yenikapı,” which means “new door” or “new gate.” The key to the new door is in Erdoğan’s hand.
Despite the good feelings generated by the rally among deeply divided Turks, there is a fear that the situation remains fragile. Many believe Erdoğan’s current conciliatory tone can’t last and that it’s only a matter of time before his political ambitions kick in and sully the positive atmosphere.
Erdoğan has a golden opportunity to disprove this and convert his general profile as an authoritarian politician into an upholder and savior of Turkey’s pluralistic democracy. That, however, will require a fundamental transformation on his part. At first glance, this seems unlikely.
Turkey nevertheless survived a serious trauma on July 15, and this also shook Erdoğan to the core. He may have come out of this failed coup attempt politically stronger, but like many others, he also has much to consider now.
Once the dust settles, he will have to try and understand whether his personal ambitions will lead the country to stability or prepare the ground for other crises, including the worst-case scenario of a civil war.
The fever in Turkey remains high today, and this is also apparent in Erdoğan’s anger at the West and his support for the massive ongoing purge, as well as his pandering to calls for the death penalty.
Nations are seen to react in similar ways when they sense existential threats, even if the draconian measures they institute are questioned later. France and its current state of emergency is an example.
Ramzi Kassem spelled out what this means for Muslims in that country in a recent piece for the New York Times (www.nytimes.com/2016/08/05/opinion/frances-real-state-of-emergency.html?ref=opinion&_r=0), and the picture is not a pretty one.
Two wrongs don’t make a right, and what happens in France should not be used to justify what is happening in this country. But there seems to be an unavoidable pattern with regard to how nations react in such situations.
It will require some patience for the fever in Turkey to drop and the real picture to emerge. Putting aside Austria – a small country that is ultimately insignificant in the grand scheme of things – which is clamoring for Erdoğan to be punished, EU countries that are significant seem to be veering toward a more cautious stance.
Ultimately though, it is Erdoğan and his respect for true democracy, individual rights and the rule of law that will be determinant. He will either use the opportunity created by the failed coup attempt well, or he will squander it at the cost of domestic peace.
Turkey is at such a critical point that he could go either way.