The non-making of a myth out of July 15

Dinçer Demirkent writes: Comparisons between July 15 and the Turkish War of Independence, attempts to define it a “new war of independence” or brand it as a symbol of the new regime have all failed. President Erdoğan's efforts to establish political hegemony and found new institutions had already expired by the time of the attempted coup.

Dinçer Demirkent 

It is wrongheaded to try to create a founding myth out of July 15, the day the coup attempt took place in 2016. Comparisons between July 15 and the Turkish War of Independence, attempts to define it a “new war of independence” or brand it as a symbol of the new regime have all failed. While a host of factors explain this, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's efforts to establish political hegemony and found new institutions had already expired by the time of the attempted coup.

In fact, the president had even lost his ability to come to power alone with the elections that had been held a year prior to the coup attempt. After he lost the hegemony he had gained through the democratic route, Erdoğan resorted to others ways of clinging to power. He learned how to get ahold of the state from a former partner. 

The sermon prepared by the Directorate of Religious Affairs (Diyanet) that was read in mosques across the country on July 15, stated that the Gülen movement was not a religious group but a “hearth of malice.” Yet it was documented that for the past 30 years, it was a religious, commercial and political organization which victimized, threatened, dismissed and humiliated intellectuals in prisons under the AKP rule.

Everyone in the public sector was aware that this organization was filling bureaucratic positions with its members to get ahold of the state and was involved in crime. Erdoğan himself had said that he had given this organisation whatever they wanted. This organisation had several aims. Let us list a few of them. 

Possible requests

For instance, they could have asked for the judiciary. That might be reason why Erdoğan sent his first thank you “across the ocean” in his balcony speech following the September 12, 2010 constitutional amendment referendum. It could also be for this reason that he assigned Professor Burhan Kuzu, who has several photographs with Fethullah Gülen that were posted on his Twitter account, to start working on a new constitution. Back when it was still called the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK), perhaps the Gülenists sent a request “across the ocean” asking the government to leave the board to them. 

They could have asked for positions in the civil administration, for instance. In order to achieve this, they could have stolen the questions of the Public Personnel Selection Examination (KPSS). In 2010, when this kind of theft was being carried out recklessly and everyone noticed it, Erdoğan warned the public “not to terrorize the exam.” He stood by and defended the capability of the Student Selection and Placement Center (ÖSYM) director. 

Back then, Hüseyin Çelik, the deputy chair of the AKP, had said: “When it rains, they think it’s because of the Gülen community.” But where did Ali Demir - the ÖSYM former director whose scientific capacity was guaranteed by Erdoğan - end up? While the low-ranking military high school students that were sent onto the street on July 15 by their commanders were sentenced to life, what is the deputy chair of the ruling party who did not carry out an effective investigation doing?

Could it be that a request from “across the ocean” was sent asking not to conduct an effective investigation? Could it be that the judiciary was affected because the execution was directly guaranteed the individuals that were to be investigated?

What was not given?

The July 15 failed coup is an attempt from a criminal organisation that had emerged long before July 15. Therefore, the crime predates July 15. But it did not start, as the AKP claims, on Dec. 17-25, 2013 either. This coup attempt was carried out to seize the state. It is the attempt of an organisation that grew in the 1990s and grew further with the AKP. 

Relocating the crime at the date when the government ceased to nourish it is no legal argument. Yet it is pulling the curtain over the war scenes carried out by those that sought to seize the state. That is the main reason why July 15 cannot be a founding myth. 

Even the report prepared by the parliamentary committee on the coup attempt could not be issued. The policy of seizing the state, on the other hand, was definitely taken over from the parallel partner. The State of Emergency (OHAL) declared right after July 15 has served as a tool to that end. 

What was carried out during the state of emergency (OHAL) period largely amounts to what a coup-plotter would have done. Fundamental rights and freedoms were all suspended, the legislative body was stripped of its authority and turned into a tool of the government while tens of thousands of citizens become civil deaths. Thousands of civil servants who had fought against the Gülenist mindset were unjustly expelled without interrogation. 

The government adopted an unconstitutional style worthy of coup-plotters in their decisions and decrees. They annihilated the constitutional order through statutory decrees (KHK). In such times, the public approved the new regime’s laws through a plebiscite. The decrees became permanent, the state was identified with the party, wide segments of the public that did not belong to the periphery of the place were driven outside the public domain. 

If we were to make a clear distinction between founding and seizing, July 15 is not a founding myth. Rather, it can only serve as the celebration day of a handover treaty. Just like the AKP members of the parliamentary committee posed for a photograph to celebrate the day they approved the bill making amendments in the Attorneys’ Act, which allowed them to seize bar associations. Just as the mass prayers to be held on July 24 in Hagia Sophia after the Council of State ruled a decision to turn Hagia Sophia Museum into a mosque. This date coincides with the signing of the Lausanne Peace Treaty, the founding treaty of the Turkish republic. 

According to a story published by the daily newspaper Milliyet, this year, close to 3,000 activities were organized drawing on the theme of July 15. The Presidential Communication Office, which probably has the largest building among similar offices in the world, has joyfully announced that, this year, the number of activities was six times higher than last year. When reality strikes, governments cling on to numbers more than ever, manipulating them. Universities organized some 521 activities among those 3,000. Ankara University has a good share of these 521 activities with different topics. One of them is “July 15 and the World.” Another one is “July 15 and the Veterinary Faculty.”

Yet my favorite remains the Law Faculty, which refrains from organizing a scientific activity on states of emergencies. It does not even allow a scientific meeting that its faculty will attend. The name of this department’s activity was: “Coups, Democracy and the Rule of Law.”