When members of a military attempt to overthrow their own civilian government, it is called a coup. When journalists, educators, academics, and judges oppose the policies and views of sitting government officials, it is democracy at work. As the Turkish President retaliates against 50,000 Recep Tayyip Erdogan critics in the wake of the July 15th coup, democracy is no longer at work in Turkey. It is simply a superficial means of legitimizing his continued rule as he uses an unlikely coup against him to consolidate and solidify power across Turkey under a state of emergency. The Turks may fear the brutality of a military dictatorship, but Erdogan is just as much a threat to them.
With that in mind, Western governments must decide for themselves if continued cooperation with the Erdogan government actually serves their interests. Erdogan may have been democratically elected and he may still enjoy support from a majority of the Turkish people, yet it is the Peoples of the West who must be decide if they still wish to do business with Turkey under the leadership of a man like Erdogan. In democracies, no decision is ever final and policies are embraced based on the sustained support of the People. At this time, the Peoples of the West are watching Erdogan’s response to a coup and they see something is amiss.
As Greece and the United States mull over the high-profile extradition requests of eight Turkish troops, who fled in the wake of the coup, and cleric Fethullah Gulen respectively, both Western allies find themselves a playing critical role in the future of Western-Turkish relations and Turkish democracy. Erdogan needs, and wants, the US, Greece, and the rest of the West to lend his crackdown credibility. If Erdogan can coerce Greece into returning the eight soldiers then garner favor across Europe as he pressures the US to return Gulen, his crackdown will enjoy international legitimacy, which he can use at home to rally supporters to his “righteous” cause.
For their part, proponents of the Erdogan government empathize that Erdogan is the will of the Turkish People as the elected President while the West shares critical interests with Turkey. Even if the West no longer finds Erdogan a palatable figure, the Syrian Refugee Crisis, Syrian Civil War, Islamic State threat, and Western-Middle Eastern relations in general require Western-Turkish cooperation. Although the West needs to be able to work with Turkey’s leadership, it does mean that the West can work with Erdogan. After all, the lessons of the Arab Spring Revolutions cannot be forgotten, i.e. the West cannot support dictatorships, who abuse their position and authority to suppress opposition, because it serves our short-term interests to do so.
The Telecommunications Board, which governs access to websites in Turkey, has blocked access to Wikileaks in response to the publication of nearly 300,000 emails and 500,000 documents from Erdogan's ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) dating back to 2010. Although Wikileaks was supposedly blocked because the private documents were obtained through illegal means, they are documents of public, political leaders and now a part of the public record. From them, the world may learn when and how Erdogan’s crackdown was planned. We might also learn whether or not Erdogan had a hand in the coup. For now, we know that Erdogan is using a threat against his “democratic” rule to crush opposition and overthrow democracy in Turkey.
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