Feb 28: From post-modern coup to post-modern dictatorship?
Yesterday marked the 15th anniversary of the Feb. 28 process, described as a “post-modern coup,” which expelled Turkey’s first Islamic Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan from government. Having already staged two full coups in 1961 and 1980, and a half-coup in 1971, the army’s target in 1996 was Erbakan’s Welfare Party (RP), which openly challenged the country’s secular order and threatened to change main pillars of Turkey’s Western-oriented foreign policy.
In an anti-democratic interventionist move, the army, backed by the media and other mainstream political parties, openly threatened to use force if the government refused to resign. Only four months after the National Security Council’s (MGK) meeting on Feb. 28, 1997, Erbakan and his coalition partner Tansu Çiller resigned from the government. Erbakan’s RP and its successors were banned by the Constitutional Court, which paved the way for the reformist figures of the Islamic political movement, namely Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Abdullah Gül, Bülent Arınç, etc., to split ways with their iconic leader and form the Justice and Development Party (AKP) in 2001.
In the same process, Erdoğan was imprisoned for four months in 1999 and was banned from politics just because of reading a poem in 1997. A renewed political Islamist movement under Erdoğan’s leadership won elections in late 2002 and became the country’s leading party from that day to this.
It was the AKP government that launched a significant democratization process and began negotiations with the European Union for full membership in 2005. Though the efforts to harmonize Turkey’s democratic standards with that of the EU started before the AKP, one should clearly count the progress in this field to the credit of Erdoğan’s government. That marked an important turning point in Turkey’s near history with both democratic and economic achievements making the country unprecedentedly influential in the international arena under a stable government which won all elections and referendums in the last 10 years.
However, there comes another picture that we keep in our sight: a totally intolerant government, having no mercy to the opponents, which reflects an empire of fear for many. Seemingly open-ended cases like the Ergenekon, Balyoz, OdaTV, etc., restrict freedoms of hundreds of prominent figures, including lawmakers, well-known journalists, activists, academics, retired and on-duty generals, which additionally brings about an environment that pushes journalists to self-censor or to underreport, if they don’t want to lose their jobs like Nuray Mert, Ece Temelkuran or Banu Güven.
Silencing universities, trade unions; cracking down on protestors, arresting hundreds of youth just because of participating in anti-government rallies are only side effects of this environment. Coupled with similar government moves restricting freedom of speech and curbing some fundamental rights, one should not get surprised when Erdoğan’s government is being compared with that of Russia’s Vladimir Putin, as Newsweek did last week.
What is expected from this very strong government is to give up such revanchist policies and instead adopt a more tolerant, embracing political attitude for enforcing societal peace in the country.