Who knows Turkey better, Turks or Westerners?

Who knows Turkey better, Turks or Westerners?

When I look at the public opinion in Turkey and the West these days, at least as reflected in the media, I see two worlds apart. In Turkey, there is almost national consensus that the failed coup plot of June 15 was a major assault on the nation and its culprits must be punished. In the West, the coup itself is given very little attention, while the real focus is put on how this will further empower President Tayyip Erdoğan, whose authoritarian rule has long been a concern. Some Western journalists even seem to consider a “self-coup” by Erdoğan a real possibility. In other words, while they rightly dismiss Erdoğan’s own conspiracy theories as fantasy, they seem to have a heart for the conspiracy theories that involve Erdoğan. 

When it comes to the culprits of the coup, the two worlds are again apart. In Turkey, there is again almost national consensus that the main culprit was the secret pro-Gülen network within the military and other strategic institutions. Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the leader of Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), “the party of Atatürk,” is of the same opinion. Hence he declared yesterday that the United States “must certainly extradite Gülen to Turkey.” Most anti-Erdoğan journalists, opinion leaders and academics are also of the same opinion.

Of course “opinion” is not “evidence,” but the latter exists, too. The Turkish chief of staff, who resisted the coup, said to police that the putschists wanted to make him “talk to our leader, Gülen.” One of the plotters confessed to being a member and acting on the orders of the group. There is evidence of non-military Gülenists, including a theologian (!), being at the coup headquarters on the night of the plot. And probably more will come.

Furthermore, Turks are also well aware that the Gülen community is not a mere civil society movement that preaches love and tolerance, which is the impression one gets in the first place. We rather have been discussing the wrongdoings of the “cemaat police” or “cemaat judiciary” for years - “cemaat,” the Turkish word for “community,” being exclusively used for the Gülenists. Their infiltration of the military was no secret at all. 

I am saying all this to emphasize that the Western institutions should open their eyes to Turkey’s reality first, before being helpful. For we need their help, because otherwise the reaction to the coup might get out of hand and take Turkey to a grim future.

There are already worrying developments. The most burning one is the Amnesty International report about “mistreatment, torture, even rape” of some of the detained soldiers. Nothing can justify such horror. The Turkish government must eliminate and prevent any such gross violations of human rights under detention and institutions like Amnesty must be allowed to monitor.

The other worrying development is widespread detentions. The government certainly has the right to detain all those involved in the coup and also top-level people in the Gülen community who are among the prime suspects. But mere religious members of the Gülen community, or journalists who happen to be Erdoğan critics writing in the Gülen media, cannot be seen as coup plotters.

As I have said, all such worrying developments, along with the overall mood of fury, hatred and witch-hunting in Turkey, must be criticized. But what created this agitation in the first place must be granted, too. Otherwise, Turkey may drift away from the West, and begin to get closer to the club of authoritarian nations such as Russia.