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Chris Kilford: Turkey dealing with aftermath of failed coup

Imagine half of our Canadian generals and admirals clustered around maps, crafting plans to topple the government.

Imagine half of our Canadian generals and admirals clustered around maps, crafting plans to topple the government. Picture, not long after, fighter jets criss-crossing the nighttime skies over Ottawa and Toronto, their terrifying sonic booms spreading fear below.

Imagine suicide bombers sowing death and destruction in Vancouver, Winnipeg, Toronto, Montreal and Halifax, with the dead and injured in their hundreds. Picture thousands of Canadian soldiers and police officers killed while fighting terrorists inside their own country. Consider also three million Syrian refugees, not 25,000, calling Canada home.

There’s no doubt the July 15 military-led coup attempt and other alarming incidents have traumatized Turkey and the Turkish people in ways we can’t imagine. Last month, for example, the leader of Turkey’s main political opposition survived two separate attacks by the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) on his motorcade while in northeastern Turkey. Soon after, the prime minister announced that the country was in an “all-out war” with the terrorist group.

Five days after the coup, the government proclaimed a three-month-long state of emergency, and although two months have passed since then, a sense of urgency remains in the air. Of course, it’s understandable.

If the coup had succeeded, the whole of Turkey would likely have descended into civil war. However, it was Turks from all political leanings who took to the streets in defence of democracy, and by doing so, saved their country from falling into an abyss. In the end, about 250 died and more than 2,000 were injured.

Almost immediately, the Turkish government blamed U.S.-based Islamic scholar Fethullah Gulen for orchestrating the coup, although he strongly denied playing any part and condemned the plotters. Nonetheless, the latest state-of-emergency decree announced that 40,000 government employees allegedly tied to Gulen’s social movement, Hizmet, had been sacked. Turkish journalists and academics allegedly tied to Gulen have also been arrested.

The wide-ranging nature of the post-coup purges and arrests in Turkey prompted Nobel Prize-winning Turkish author Orhan Pamuk to write that the country was distancing itself “at high speed from a state of law and heading towards a regime of terror.” Turkey’s main opposition party also accused the government of violating more rights during the current state of emergency than the military regime did following the 1980 military-led coup.

Has the Turkish government overreacted to the events of July? Sweeping actions in the wake of traumatic episodes are not uncommon. On a smaller scale, the Canadian government proclaimed a state of “apprehended insurrection” under the War Measures Act in October 1970 and suspended normal liberties. In the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States, Washington responded with its controversial U.S.A. Patriot Act.

And, as the Turkish government likes to point out, France has been under a state of emergency since November 2015, and it will continue, at least, until the end of January 2017.

As for the state of emergency in Turkey, it’s likely to be extended for at least another three months and therefore the post-coup frenzy of denunciations will continue. The mayor of Istanbul is the latest victim, accused in a criminal complaint of aiding the Gulenist network through his position.

Meanwhile, innocent Turkish citizens continue to lose their jobs or languish behind bars indefinitely.

Clearly then, the cycle of political reckoning that has dogged Turkey’s often-traumatic past carries on. The net effect is that the lofty economic and social goals for 2023, the 100th anniversary of the Turkish Republic, seem to be out of reach now.

It’s a sad state of affairs for a country that had been enjoying a remarkable period of economic growth, and rising regional influence, but appears instead to be heading toward an “all-out war” with itself, not just the PKK.

Chris Kilford, who recently moved to Victoria, is a fellow at the Centre for International and Defence Policy at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont. He is a former Canadian defence attaché to Turkey.