After the coup attempt, when a faction of the Turkish military tried to seize power, the Turkish government has suspended and arrested tens of thousands of civil servants, academics, journalists, generals and teachers. Western countries are worried that the government crackdown is excessive, and that it targets not only people who were involved in the coup attempt but also critics and opponents of the regime.
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has blamed an exiled Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen for the failed putsch. Gülen, who is living in Pennsylvania, USA, has denied the accusations.
Özgür Salur, 35, is studying music therapy at the university of Jyväskylä. He was born in Ankara but has lived most of his life in Istanbul. He has noticed that Europeans see the coup attempt differently than his fellow Turks.
”Interestingly, people in the West were very sceptical about the reality of the coup attempt. I got the impression that in the West it was seen as a smaller thing than it actually was. In reality it was a huge deal. After the attempt, people stayed in the streets for weeks and tried to keep the peace”, Salur explains.
During the last few weeks, Turkish people have arranged huge mass demonstrations in support of democracy and the rule of law.
”All of the three main parties came together and showed solidarity in condemning the coup attempt. This was unprecedented in Turkey”, Salur explains.
240 people were killed and thousands more injured in the violence. Salur knows people who were in Istanbul that night when military jets bombed the Turkish Parliament.
”All those who were injured will get financial compensation from the government. And the families of those who were killed will get a monthly pension”, Salur explains.
Salur has voted for Erdoğan in the past. However, when he thought that Erdoğan was getting too much power, he changed his mind.
”Right now I support the Turkish people and the way they rose up to defend their country and democracy. In a sense, Turkey is in a state of war. So the government is trying to remove all those who might be supporting the Gülen movement. For example, they asked all the deans of the universities to resign. It`s not fair, but maybe they didn`t know what else to do.”
It´s unclear to what extent this group of people is under the control of Fethullah Gülen.
A senior researcher Toni Alaranta from the Finnish Institute of International affairs says that Erdoğan has used the situation to strengthen his position.
”Erdoğan holds all the cards right now. His popularity among the electorate is higher than ever before during his presidency. But then, the political opposition is in a difficult position. The Kurdish party HDP has been deliberately excluded from all the public demonstrations. HDP does not support the government in Ankara.”
The supporters of secular Turkey, those who follow the principles of Kemal Atatürk, are facing a quandary as Turkey becomes more religious and conservative.
”The future of Kemalism is in dire straits. Its main supporter is the social democratic party CHP and its ideology. Members of the CHP consist mainly of the educated upper middle class in urban areas. Their support is somewhere between 20-25 percent. This is the group that tries to sustain the legacy of Kemal Atatürk”, Alaranta says.
”According to AKP, secularization and westernization have been a mistake. The party aspires to restore Turkey as a Sunni muslim country. This message appeals to the majority exceedingly well right now.”
The conflict in Syria, the immigration crisis and the hardline politics of Ankara have all stressed the relationship between Europe and Turkey in the past few years. In the new geo-political climate, Turkey has set its eyes even more closely on Russia.
”EU membership negotiations with Turkey are officially ongoing and neither side has pulled out. Nevertheless, we are at a crossroads. During the last twelve months many voices within the EU have said that the membership bid can not move forward if Turkey moves even further away from the common European values. My personal view is that as long as AKP is in power, Turkey will not join the EU”, Alaranta states.
”The newfound friendship between Erdoğan and Vladimir Putin can be seen as an effort to normalize the relationship between the two countries. Over the last decade Turkey has erected a strategic alliance with Russia that is based mainly on materialistic needs. Especially on energy and economy. Before the crisis in Syria escalated, it was clear that both parties tried to exploit each other`s anti-western sentiments.”
According to AKP, secularization and westernization have been a mistake.
Ankara has blamed the Gülen movement for the failed putsch and called it a dangerous disease that must be eradicated. But that was not always the case.
”Few years back, AKP let the Gülen movement infiltrate the government consciously. This had been going on for well over a decade. Erdoğan and the leadership of the AKP wanted to purge the society of the kemalists. Islamists and centre-right parties have been working together in Turkey for decades. Now that the rift has opened between them Ankara is in turn trying to get rid of the gülenists. However, this sweep is so broad that a lot different people will get swept in a single brush. This includes critical journalists and academics who have nothing to do with the Gülen movement nor the coup attempt”, Alaranta explains.
”It`s unclear to what extent this group of people, possibly numbering in the hundreds of thousands, is under the control of Fethullah Gülen. No one can say for sure.”
Has the Western media downplayed the influence of the Gülen movement?
”In some sense, yes. In western media gülenism has been portrayed as a mild Islamic reformation movement. Positive sides have been emphasized and shady aspects have been minimized.”
Alaranta confirms that the Turks see the coup attempt differently than many observers in the West.
”There seems to be a very widespread sentiment in Turkey that the western nations have not condemned the coup attempt steeply enough. This irritates many Turks. Whether or not it`s justified, there is some bitterness.”
”I believe that for the next few weeks Erdoğan`s rhetoric will be conciliatory. He will try to paint a picture of a unified Turkey. Of course, we have heard these words before. I think that in the long run Erdoğan will strengthen his hold on Turkey and develop it even further into a presidential system”, Alaranta argues.
Turkey stands at a crossroads. What does Özgür Salur think will happen to his country?
”We`ll see. I really don`t know.”