Report by Meeta Tarani

The talk was held on the 26th of August 2016, in collaboration with G D Parikh Centre for Educational Studies, at the Kalina Campus of Mumbai University. Prof.Dr. Anwar Alam from Zirve University, Turkey, while delivering the lecture felt that democracy had not been restored though the coup had been foiled. What had been restored was an authoritarian rule of the ruling party. Broadly, the issues discussed include the immediate responses of the state, the contextualized history that led to its particular course of action, and the political scenario in Turkey.

In the initial stages of the state’s response to the coup, more than one lakh civil servants were arrested within a week. More than 4500 educational, health and charitable institutions, including around 15 universities, had been shut down. Licences of above 20,000 teachers associated with private institutions had been revoked. The striking pattern in this slew of state action includes a targeting of all the forces linked with the Gulen movement in the country. Any civil servants, teachers, police officers, bureaucrats and even judges bearing affiliation with FethullahGulen, a renowned Turkish scholar and preacher of peace, have either been arrested or suspended. Turkey’s football icon HakanSukur has been targeted as well, and his property and assets have been seized by the state. The government is
blaming what it calls the FethullahGulen Terrorist Organisation (FETO) for the coup, and is labelling FethullahGulen, who is on a self-imposed exile in the United States, as the mastermind of the coup.

The lack of a judicial probe into the events, and the paradoxical scenario of people’s condemnation of the coup, but not the subsequent undemocratic crackdown by the state raise serious questions with regards to the status of democracy in Turkey. Democracy in Turkey has been stripped down to the bare essentials of an electoral process, and the state is well on its way to be called anauthoritarian state. The heavy emphasis on the MIT or the National Intelligence Organisation of Turkey demonstrates this assertion. It is crucial to note that the MIT has been involved with rigorous profiling of all the Turkish people. It has been observed that in most post-colonial countries it is the military that has a country (including Kemalist Turkey) and not other way around; with gradual weakening of the military institution under the Ergodan regime it can be fairly asserted that in Turkey at the moment it is the state that has country and not other way around. Today, state subsumes all facets of human life.

Fethullah Gulen is a Sufi Islamic preacher, who is credited for building a world-wide faith based a civic-social movement called Hizmet based upon his exposition of Islamic discourse of love, peace, compassion, tolerance, dialogue, brotherhood and service ethics. Hizmet means service and the movement, which is a transnational religious and social movement, strives to do just that. The movement has set up thousands of secular educational, health and charitable institutions based onIslamic principles all over Turkey and abroad over a span of 50 years.  A reason for its success is that Gulen debunked the distinction between Islamic education and secular education that has come to stay in Muslim societies for a variety of reasons. He has shifted the paradigm from ‘Islamic education’ to
‘education as Islamic values with Islam’ and concentrated on creating a cadre of strong educators rather than simply teachers, all the while believing ardently that education becomes a tool for upward social mobility. This can be contrasted to education in the Kemalist regime, where Muslim parents would not send their children to school and largely shunned the Kemalist educational institutions for fear of ‘corruption of their Islamic faith’; a phenomenon that left the Muslims in Turkey, who were the majority, out of the civil sphere. With its sustained and widespread efforts, the Gulen movement managed to make education accessible to the Muslim population in Turkey and their subsequent entry into the bureaucracy and other occupations that they were hitherto absent from.

A key question that remains, however, is why would the state engage itself so vehemently in opposing, or rather criminalizing, an Islamist movement that has significantly contributed to the making of ‘a modern, democratic Turkey’ and has become a model of how Islam could be represented in the modern world? An answer to this could be traced in the progression of an informal, programmic alliance between the AdaletveKalkınmaPartisior or the AKP, which is the ruling party of Turkey, and the FethullahGulen movement. Since the emergence of AKP as the ruling party in 2002, the Gulen movement had consistently supported the democratic measures of AKP, partly to overcome and weaken the Kemalist, secular-dominated institutions and oppositions.

Through the period spanning 2002-2010, Turkey “witnessed a democratic movement, with phenomenal economic transformation,” as Dr.Alam put it. However, since 2011, cracks in the alliance have surfaced. In 2013, a widespread corruption scandal was unearthed by a prosecutor who was considered to be affiliated with the Gulen movement, and Erdogan and his inner circle including his family members were on the radar.  This was termed as a “civilian coup attempt” by the AKP led government. However, no official judicial inquiry has been launched into the matter till date. Rather, the Ergodan government’s crackdown on the Gulen movement started since 2013, and even in the case of the recent military coup the blame has been passed on to the Gulen movement. The coup gave AKP a context to root out the Gulen movement, and it devised the terms ‘parallel structure’ and ‘FETO’.  However there is a strong possibility that the coup was attempted by a section of Kemalist forces in the military, as the military has been one of the strongest pillars of the authoritarian Kemalist regime. In the past all military coups in Turkey had been conducted by the Kemalist elements of Turkey to protect the ‘secular heritage’ ofKemalist Turkey.

There are many underlying reasons for the government’s brutal crackdown on the Gulen movement. Firstly, the political scenario of Turkey, according Dr.Alam, revolves around two key elements- the mantra of ‘securitization of the regime’ and a ‘monopolisation of the political space’- the two key features of Middle Eastern politics. The combination of the two do not allow the emergence of ‘autonomous’ religious and social movements and strong political opposition as they are construed to be a threat to the security of the regime. Unlike other Islamic movements in Turkey, the Gulen movement, with thousands of educational, media and charitable institutions in the public sphere, a powerful educational base and a good presence of people inspired by Gulen’s ideas in various sectors of governmental institutions, is the most visible, autonomous and celebrated social movement in Turkey, which might have created a fear in the mind of the ruling party. The Ergodan government, following the example of other regimes in West Asia and North Africa, in turn preferred the elimination of the Gulen movement by discrediting it as ‘Parallel Structure’ and ‘FETO’ (Fethullah Gulen Terror Organisation), lest the latter might pose a threat to the regime itself in the future. Moreover, the state in the Turkish imagination acts as a ‘Father Figure’, which legitimizes the state’s crackdown on  opposition: whether civil, social or political.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is being deemed as the autocratic leader of Turkey, with the state’s democratic elements slowly eroding. Currently, it is Erdogan who seems to represent the State, government, nation and party despite that constitutional requirement that expects the President to be neutral in the governance of the country. This is significant to note in the backdrop of the former Prime Minister Davutoglu resigning on grounds of policy-related differences with the President, and insisting that the people should represent the state and not vice versa.

The sustenance of AKP’s power seems to rely on three pillars. Firstly, it is Islam, with the portrayal of Erdogan as a religious leader, and not just a political leader. Erdogan is fondly called by his supporters as Rais, i.e., the ‘Leader’ that places him above the law of land. This concept of a powerful Muslim leader is in congruence with the erstwhile Caliphate model followed by a majority of the Islamic world. The second pillar for Erdogan’s sustained power is ‘phenomenal economic and social development’ that Turkey achieved under his regime at least till 2010, and the support he gets from the conservative section of Muslim population, also called the black Turks. It is this section of the population that fears return of the Kemalist forces, and thereby extends its unwavering support to the AKP. Lastly, it is the anti-West feeling that Erdogan instigates in the Turkish population by using ideas that the West does not want to see a strong Islamic leader.

The democratic establishment of Turkey has entered a critical stage. The ruling party AKP has not exactly proven to be a champion of democracy, albeit has used it for its gains and then clamped down on it, rather actively. Dr. Alam surmised that there is no difference between the political model that Erdogan is aiming for, and the one that ISIS propounds. Both models believe in an authoritarian state, and resort to the use of hard power to meet their goals. This is in stark contrast to a democratic state like India where the government uses soft power to rephrase ideas and beliefs of the people. The informal title of the Rais alludes to an intervention of divine authority in his power. This creates an obligation amongst the people to follow all that he dictates. It is at this point that Prof. Alam put forth a question as to whether the idea of an authoritarian model as an ideal state is inherent to Islam the way we know it. It was also remarked that a huge section of Muslims fail to distinguish between the community, the state and the nation. By this virtue, the problems of the state become problems of Islam.

However, it can be argued that there is no difference between the Kemalist regime and the Erdoganist regime for the people suppressed by authority. To the people, it does not matter who suppresses them: a secular government or an Islamic government. With the future of democracy in Turkey being at a precarious precipice, it remains to be seen how the Erdogan government deals with the administrative lacuna left by the purge undertaken in the aftermath of the coup. Conclusively, the political scenario in Turkey seems to be geared up for an even more authoritarian, terror-inducing state.

In the interactive session that followed, there were two key issues discussed. When asked by an audience member as to why his talk seemed to be pro-Gulen and anti-AKP and his stance not an academically neutral one, Dr. Alam said that as an advocate of democracy, all of his observations would be concentrated towards a critique of the state. Besides, his academic background demands a dedication to empiricism, implying a rejection of factually unsound arguments like the existence of FETO which is a term that was used only since 2013. Another issue that was discussed was the relationship between Turkey and Russia. Post the turmoil between the two nations, issues had to be sorted out because of the Turkish dependence on Russia in its tourist and fuel markets.

Questions were also raised whether the response of the people of Turkey to the coup was spontaneous, or orchestrated. What was astounding was the unanimous murmur of agreement amongst all the audience members when Dr. Alam concluded, “Religion can only survive in a democracy.”