Turkish coup attempt: kismet for Erdogan?

Well, this is pretty hilarious. Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who crushed the 2013 Gezi Park protest movement in Istanbul and this year instated draconian curfews across the country's southeast in response to a Kurdish intifada, is now calling for his supporters to take the streets in response to an attempted coup d'etat by the military. BBC reports that he said: "I urge the Turkish people to convene at public squares and airports. I never believed in a power higher than the power of the people." Gezi Park itself is said to be now occupied by militants of Erdogan's Justice and Development Party (AKP), who are facing down armed troops there—certainly a perverse irony. Erdogan is at this moment boasting that the coup has been crushed, but this seems far from certain. A bomb blast has reportedly hit the parliament building in Ankara. Several police are reported killed at Ankara's Special Forces headquarters, indicating the security forces are themselves divided. 

While it is always inspiring to see citizens taking over the streets, blocking tanks and standing up to government troops, this time it is in support of a man who himself has ruthlessly employed the repressive apparatus against protesters—and is even accused of war crimes in his counterinsurgency against rebel Kurds in the southeast. The most likely suspects in the coup attempt are no better: Kemalist elements in the military or "deep state" of the intelligence and security services. These are secularists who reject Erdogan's Islamism, but extreme ethno-nationalists who seek a harder line on the Kurds and jihadists alike. Erdogan is probably perceived as sufficiently tough on the Kurds, but not the jihadists. He has been repeatedly accused of conniving with ISIS in a stratagem against the Kurds. Now that ISIS is staging attacks within Turkey, the Kemalist establishment may perceive that Erdogan actually poses a threat to survival of the Turkish state. But while a Kemalist restoration would break Ankara's implicit pact with jihadist forces in Syria (and even within Turkey), it would mean an even more ruthless counterinsurgency against the Kurds—if this is possible.

Erdogan has predictably blamed the coup attempt on followers of his exiled rival, Fethullah Gulen. (LAT) But this can almost certainly be dismissed. Erdogan exploits Gulen in the same way that Stalin exploited Trotsky: as an officially reviled scapegoat for all subversion. Conveniently, this "official" opposition figure shares the same basic ideology of a "moderate" (sic) Islamism as Erdogan himself. This is a way of avoiding the reality of Kemalist opposition—or (worse still, from Erdogan's perspective) a secular-democratic left opposition.

It should be noted that when there was an actual criminal trial over a supposed coup plot seven years ago, the accused were Kemalist-oriented secular nationalists.

Washington—despite being placed in an uncomfortable position by Erdogan's game with the jihadists—is backing the president. Obama and Kerry have both called for all forces in Turkey to support Erdogan. As an Al Jazeera timeline recalls, modern Turkey has seen three coups d'etat—in 1960, 1971 and 1980—as well as a quasi-coup in 1997, in which the military did not actually seize power but forced the resignation of the country's first Islamist-led government, to which many AKP members belonged. The US and NATO have played ball with these military regimes, but don't seem to have played a significant role in actually bringing them to power. The 1980 coup may have been a partial exception—coming  at a moment of imperial panic, sparked by the Iranian revolution and looming Soviet intervention in Afghanistan. But military dictatorship in an actual NATO member is a bit of an embarrassment. (That Erdogan himself has been consolidating a dictatorship more gradually can be overlooked.)

When the smoke clears from today's dramatic events, we will have a sense of whether Erdogan has been strengthened or weakened—and whether the prospects will be improved or diminished for the secular-democratic left. As salt in the wounds of the protest movement he crushed, Erdogan just three weeks ago announced that he is reviving the redevelopment project that would destroy Gezi Park (and which had been suspended as a cost of buying peace). (BBC News, June 18) The Gezi Park movement represented a convergence between issues of class justice and those of urban ecology and control of space—concerns that also animate the Kurdish intifada in the southeast. There are growing signs of a united left emerging in Turkey, across the Turkish-Kurdish ethnic divide. Not coincidentally, exponents of this convergence have been targeted for ISIS terror. But the fact that it is targeted betrays the threat it represents—to the jihadists, to Erdogan, and to the Kemalist "deep state" alike. This is where the hope lies in Turkey.

As we've said before: Erdogan fears the Kurds for the same reason the rulers of Beijing fear the Tibetans… threat of the contagion spreading to the dominant ethnicity.