July 15: The new National Day

July 15: The new National Day

It is the first anniversary of the terrible July 15, 2016, coup attempt, which deserves to be celebrated as the victory of civil politics over such a dark plot and to be considered as a national day. Indeed, we have to be proud that the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and all opposition circles duly defended democracy against an attempted coup last year. In the aftermath of the failure of the coup, we had a unique chance to reach a political consensus and social peace as all were united against such an embarrassing conspiracy. 

Nevertheless, since then, Turkey is not less but more divided and polarized. The atmosphere of consensus rapidly dismantled as the ruling party not only declared emergency rule but started a controversial purge against thousands of people who were perceived as collaborators of Gülenist plotters. Besides, the emergency rule paved the way to rule by decrees, putting all opposition under suspicion and suppression. 

Luckily, there is still a broad consensus about condemning the coup plotters who were Gülenists - or the Fethullahist Terror Organization (FETÖ), as a new law defines it. Nonetheless, opposition circles claim that the ruling party punishes all opposition under the pretext of fighting against the plotters. Moreover, main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu started to argue that it was a “controlled coup.” So far, he could not explain what he really means by this term to prove his claim, but neither the ruling party could explain some dark sides of the whole affair. Under the circumstances, July 15 turned into becoming a new controversy rather than a starting point for a political consensus, which is severely needed in Turkey. 

What is worse is that the ruling party does not refrain from fueling the flame of controversy, as the president started accusing the CHP leader of helping terrorists by his words and deeds. Despite that “national days” are supposed to be the symbols of unity, there have always been controversies about them, there have always been dissenters in all countries who challenge the official ideology and its symbols and rituals. We may assume that Turkey, or rather the “New Turkey,” is no exception in this respect. After all, we witnessed a regime change in the name of the establishment of the “New Turkey” and July 15 became the turning point for the new national myth. The ruling party chose to make it the birthday of the new regime and ritualize it accordingly. This must be the reason for not refraining from exclusion, on the contrary, the purpose seems to be exclusionism for the sake of redefining “the nation,” whether everybody who lives in Turkey likes it or not, or whether half of the society likes it or not. Besides, “the nation” is redefined and the founding myth is based on religious lines as a source of legitimacy. There is huge emphasis on not only to commemorate but also celebrate martyrdom. Despite that “martyrdom” itself is a religious concept, it may be used without emphasizing its religious aspect as the “martyrs of democracy,” but the ruling party chooses to underline its religious aspect more than anything else.

The problem is that the real division in Turkey is about regime change altogether, rather than being matters of political disagreement. That is why such a terrible event during which more than 200 people lost their lives could not be a common ground, regardless of weeklong ceremonies and media coverage.