A rally that gave some hope

A rally that gave some hope

The colossal anti-coup rally that took place last Sunday, Aug. 7, in Istanbul, and was joined by large crowds in many other cities, was truly remarkable. Millions took to the streets to condemn the coup, support democracy and honor its “martyrs” — the 238 people who lost their lives on Turkey’s longest night. 

President Tayyip Erdoğan, naturally, was the leading figure of the event, as his photos stood beside Mustafa Kemal Atatürk and his words were cheered by all participants. Yet what made the rally even more remarkable, in my view, was the presence of opposition leaders. Especially the presence of Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the leader of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), was invaluable. Historically, the secularist CHP has been the ultimate “other” of Erdoğan’s conservative/Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP) and its predecessors. It has been impossible to imagine the two parties sharing a common platform, as it was impossible to see Erdoğan and Kılıçdaroğlu respectfully together. 

Yet the impossible happened, because the failed coup attempt of July 15 was an attack on the whole democratic system, and in fact the whole nation. That is why it brought together the Islamists and secularists, who disagree with each other a lot, but still agree that the state cannot be dominated by an ambitious, messianic cult, i.e., the Gülenists. 

Of course, it would be much better if the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), the fourth party in parliament, were invited to the rally as well. The government announced that the HDP was not invited for its “links with terrorism,” which really exist. The HDP really does act as a front for the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which is a terror group by Turkish and most international definitions. But I think the HDP must be kept in the system precisely for that — links with terrorism — because we will end that ethno-nationalist violence only with political dialogue.

In any case, even without the HDP, the rally was good. If President Erdoğan can sustain this good spirit, the failed coup attempt can really turn into a blessing for Turkey. A new chapter based on a more participatory democracy can be opened in the nation’s history. A new constitution can be drafted by nationwide consensus, rather than a narrow AKP agenda. We at least should give a chance to that possibility. 

However, there is something urgent that the president and his team must do in order to sustain the good spirit: Calming down their propaganda machine and restraining their zealous supporters. In the past three years, this propaganda machine — made up of many newspapers, TV channels and a countless number of social media trolls — have demonized all opposition, even loyal AKP members who did not prove staunch enough in defending Erdoğan. They are still going on full speed after the coup attempt, declaring anyone they don’t like as “crypto Gülenists,” and threatening them with being jailed. They also invent idiotic conspiracy theories, such as the nonsense in daily Akşam which depicted a simple academic conference on Buyukada as a “CIA plot” to support the coup. This must stop, and it must stop immediately.

The very arrests and purges in the aftermath of the coup (some of which are understandable) also must be carried out with restraint, with respect to human rights, presumption of innocence and due process. The government is right to go after the putschists with rigor and protect Turkey from their possible future attacks. But it should not delegitimize its legitimate cause by sacrificing justice to blind revenge.