Atatürk’s Secularist Elites Smashed in Erdogan’s Counter-Coup
The massive purge conducted by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan since the July 15 coup – which came close to unseating him and even claiming his life – is unprecedented in Europe or indeed the Middle East in recent decades. However, the assumption that his sole objective is to make himself unchallenged dictator of Turkey is too simplistic
His first overarching goal is in fact to hijack his country’s history and move it away from the radical secularism introduced by modern Turkey’s founder, Kemal Atatürk (as the Israeli historian Prof. Shlomo Avineri defines it in an analysis he published this week in Project Syndicate).
Erdogan was working on this project before the coup attempt – albeit at a slower pace – during the 13 years since his Justice and Development Party-AKP gained power in the democratic elections of 2002.
But two new features emerge from the current, post-coup crackdown, say DEBKA Weekly’s political analysts:
1. The broad scale of the purge. The stupendous figure of 60,000 victims detained, sacked or suspended from office, appears inflated, according to our sources. The real figure is nearer 25,000. Even so, as the clearing-out continues, it recalls Joseph Stalin’s abominable purges of Russia and its Communist satellites of the 1950’s, which threw millions into the infamous gulags.
These days, even the ubiquitous Internet and social networks have been unable to track down Erdogan’s detainees or establish where and in what conditions they are held.
Western human rights NGOs have been conspicuously silent on these matters, with the sole exception of Amnesty International, which this week claimed to have gathered credible evidence that detainees in Turkey are being subjected to beatings and torture, including rape, in official and unofficial detention centers somewhere in the country.
2. The Turkish ruler’s aim differs from that of the Stalinist purge model, which was to terrorize entire populations and cow them into subjection to his despotic rule, in that Erdogan is primarily bent on flushing out of seats of power and influence the small Turkish urban elite of high military officers and intellectuals, which is the hard core of Kemalist secularism.
This accounts for the makeup of the classes targeted by the Erdogan crackdown – not just generals and soldiers suspected of complicity in the failed military putsch, but also a sweep of the entire juridical system including prosecutors, as well as universities and schools, the civil administration and the diplomatic corps, journalists, newspapers and television.
The Turkish army, supposed to serve a nation of 80 million, has been radically weakened by the sacking and detention of dozens of generals and many soldiers, leaving large and important sections of the armed forces bereft of commanders and paralyzed.
Wednesday, July 27, Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim told an interviewer that the coup leaders were “terrorists in soldiers’ clothing.”
The Air Force is grounded and non-operational. Most units of Turkish Armored Divisions have been dismantled. The military communication system is down. Even the Republican Guards Division, the foremost guardian of the ruling regime, is being disbanded.
The Turkish police force alone is immune; its officers never belonged to the Kemalist elite, but came from the common people who stayed loyal to Erdogan.
The axe is even slashing into the economy, one of Erogan’s signal successes which he is now ready to sacrifice for the sake of his anti-Ataturkist revolution.
This was attested to on July 25 when more than half of Turkish Airways’ pilots, stewards and stewardesses were sacked.
The question asked in a revolution of this kind is: who will take over when the dust of upheaval settles?
As yet, there is no answer. And there is no one to ask. Erdogan and his family are away from Ankara and Istanbul. DEBKA Weekly’s intelligence sources report that they have gone to ground at a secret base of the Turkish MIT, whose director, Fidan Hakan, gave his boss the heads-up on the coup less than an hour before it began.
But several other military sources in Turkey – and at least one foreign intelligence service, the Russian foreign intelligence SVR – are also trying to take credit for tipping Erdogan off to flee because a coup was afoot and its leaders were planning to kill him.