The again, this should not be a surprise, as Erdoğan is a man who seems to have deliberately stoked violent conflict with the Kurds as a way to reverse his party's June 2015 electoral setback in which it lost its parliamentary majority, and the country's Kurdish HDP won seats for the first time; in response to this, the Turkish president campaigned on fear and offering to be a strongman for Turks against the Kurdish militants (whom he falsely blamed for ISIS attacks); he and his party reveled in the ensuing divisiveness and conflict and the ploy would succeed in increasing support for the AKP in time for new elections.
The new elections came about because a coalition failed to form in time after the June elections for the first time in Turkish history, and many saw Erdoğan violating the constitutionally-mandated neutrality the president is supposed to observe during the coalition-forming process, as he aggressively pushed for new elections (an unprecedented move) rather than exhaust the options for coalition-building, declining to ask the main opposition party to form a coalition after his own party failed to do so, clearly hoping that his AKP would perform better if given another chance in snap elections. His AKP was able to erase those setbacks to the tune of catapulting itself to a solid majority in the ensuing November 2015 elections while the Kurdish party lost some seats. Notably, that election's legitimacy was questioned both in terms of the run-up to the election suffering from a climate of government hostility to Erdoğan's and his party's critics in the press and in terms of violence in the country's southeast, which made it difficult for many of the country's Kurds to vote.
The recent post-coup rallies were also taking on a sort of cult-like quality, as the populist overtones merged with a passionate devotion to the singular man, Erdoğan, with signs at the rally held by participants displaying such slogans as "You are a gift from god, Erdoğan" and "Order us to die and we will do it." Official banners advertising the rally, besides emphasizing the free transportation, noted "The triumph is democracy's, the squares are the people's," a slogan also emblazoned on massive banners hung from major buildings and bridges. In texts to his supporters, Erdoğan has made it explicitly clear he wanted these rallies to "To teach the traitor, the terrorist, a lesson," referring to Gulen's supporters and Gulen himself, whose movement Erdoğan has for some time dubiously labeled a terrorist one. The lesson is clear: Democracy and the people have "won," they support Erdoğan, and the people and Erdoğan together now own the public square and have a monopoly on acceptable discourse and demonstrations; the message behind all that is that those with a different message are not welcome and are being put on notice, including Gulenists and Kurds, together consisting of a huge chunk of the existing opposition to Erdoğan's politics.
As expected, these rallies and this message have had a chilling effect on Turkish citizens who don't support Erdoğan and his brand of populist, religious, and chauvinistic nationalism. As Tocqueville wrote two centuries ago:
The Recently-Unprecedented Numbers of Turkey's Purge
"Monarchs had, so to speak, materialized oppression; the democratic republics of the present day have rendered it as entirely an affair of the mind as the will which it is intended to coerce. Under the absolute sway of one man the body was attacked in order to subdue the soul; but the soul escaped the blows which were directed against it and rose proudly superior. Such is not the course adopted by tyranny in democratic republics; there the body is left free, and the soul is enslaved. The master no longer says: "You shall think as I do or you shall die"; but he says: "You are free to think differently from me and to retain your life, your property, and all that you possess; but you are henceforth a stranger among your people. You may retain your civil rights, but they will be useless to you, for you will never be chosen by your fellow citizens if you solicit their votes; and they will affect to scorn you if you ask for their esteem. You will remain among men, but you will be deprived of the rights of mankind. Your fellow creatures will shun you like an impure being; and even those who believe in your innocence will abandon you, lest they should be shunned in their turn. Go in peace! I have given you your life, but it is an existence worse than death.""
Even more ominously, these rallies are also set against the backdrop of a massive purge, a crackdown not seen in the world for years and not seen in a democracy for much longer, one drawing comparisons to the purges in more (relatively) recent history of Mao's Cultural Revolution in China and following Iran's 1979 revolution. As of August 2nd:
- Almost 9,000 police have been fired
- Over 10,000 soldiers have been detained and almost half of the top generals and admirals have been arrested or fired
- Over 2,700 members of the judiciary have been suspended
- Some 21,000 private school teachers have been suspended
- Some 21,700 staff members of the Ministry of Education have been fired
- Some 1,500 university deans--every university dean in Turkey--have been made to resign
- Some academics who added their names to a petition calling for an end to Turkey's war against Kurds were suspended
- Over 100 news media outlets were forced to close
- Over 1,500 ministry of finance officials were suspended
Overall, about 35,000 people have been held for questioning, with about half of those undergoing formal arrests and facing trials and over 81,000 officials have been suspended or fired from their positions. The aforementioned major Kurdish political party has had its offices raided and some its people detained, as well. The arrests are continuous and ongoing, include non-servile religious clerics, and as of just this Monday, the judiciary's preeminent Palace of Justice was raided, with well over 100 people there being detained, and the same is just now beginning to happen to dozens of private-sector businesses, with well over 100 executives now being sought to be put in detention.
And the thing is, all this has been planned for years.A Far-Reaching Purge Long-Planned
Erdoğan's people have been anticipating potential coups for years, even claiming this recent one has been something that has been building up for decades. Whatever their assertions, what is less debatable is that Erdoğan's people in the government have for years had plans and lists of people ready to be acted upon were just such an event like the recent coup to occur, and possibly even in its absence (indeed, Turkish officials admit preparation was already underway before the coup).
In other worse, this purge is not a natural, organic reaction to a surprise event. Erdoğan even referred to the coup attempt as "a gift from God," which makes total sense once you understand what he is doing with Turkey's current purge.
The ostensible targets are people who seem to support, no matter how vaguely or minutely, the movement of reclusive Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, who lives in a sort of self-imposed exile in the U.S. state of Pennsylvania and whose movement the Turkish government accuses of a massive, society-and-government-wide fifth-column infiltration of Turkey, with the government using rhetoric reminiscent of Josef Stalin's manner of describing vast conspiracies of supposed enemies of the Soviet State. In reality, the current Turkish purges go far beyond coup plotters to anyone who is pro-Gulen and clearly even beyond that--all this is even by Turkish officials' admission--and Erdoğan is clearly using the purge to blunt opposition and cement his own hold on power. Even nearly 100 Turkish soccer referees have been accused of being coup plotters, and drama around the coup has even ensnared one of Turkey's soccer greats who was key in Turkey's remarkable 3rd-place finish in the 2002 World Cup as well as a Turkish NBA basketball star, with Turkey recently issuing an arrest warrant for the former.
In fact, so many people are being arrested that Turkey has decided to release tens of thousands of non-violent criminals from prison to make room for all the judges, teachers, lawyers, journalists and others who have been arrested as part of the purge, since the prison system is now newly over-capacity because of the purge.