The American Interest

The Summer of Erdogan’s Content

Combining elements of the Reichstag fire, the Night of the Long Knives, and Stalin’s Great Purge, Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan took full advantage of the failed coup of July 15—a “gift from Allah,” as he put it—to execute a countercoup that has enabled him to purge all of his enemies, real or imagined.  Within days some 50,000 people had been arrested, dismissed, or suspended, including almost half of Turkey’s generals and admirals; 3,000 judges and prosecutors; 8,000 police officers; 15,000 teachers and educators; over 1,500 university deans; 30 provincial governors; and dozens of top-ranking civil servants.  A state of emergency was introduced to hunt down the “terrorists” connected to the Pennsylvania-based cleric Fethullah Gülen, who was immediately accused of masterminding the coup.

Turkey has ceased to be a democracy in any conventional sense.  The process of using democratic procedures and institutions to usher in Islamic authoritarianism, which started with Erdogan’s first victory 14 years ago, has been completed.  The result is what Israeli historian Jacob Talmon termed six decades ago a totalitarian messianic democracy.  Freed from any legal or institutional checks and balances, Erdogan now mobilizes agitated multitudes to express their devotion to the leader and to threaten all enemies.

Those “enemies”...

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