Fadi Hakura
Associate Fellow, Europe Programme
Although Turks across the political and ideological spectrum are seething at the West’s apparently lukewarm condemnation of the abortive coup on 15 July, there are valid reasons behind the response.
A Turkish flag attached to helium balloons as people gather to protest at Konak Square, Izmir during the July 15 failed military coup attempt. Photo by Getty ImagesA Turkish flag attached to helium balloons as people gather to protest at Konak Square, Izmir during the July 15 failed military coup attempt. Photo by Getty Images

Signs of growing anger at the restrained denunciation of Pennsylvania-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen - whose followers are thought to have played a key role in the attempted coup - are being vocalised more and more, but this criticism only shows part of the true picture.

It is true that prominent liberal Turkish intellectual Soli Ozel spoke for many when he criticised EU politicians and Western media for failing to recognise the “invaluable democratic resistance shown by all political parties in a parliament bombed by war planes”, as well as demonstrating “a lack of sensitivity, empathy and solidarity that cannot be easily digested” by not sending anyone from an EU institution to offer solidarity with the Turkish parliament.

The criticism is reasonable - officials from Western governments and regional institutions such as the Council of Europe exhibited unconditional solidarity with Ukraine during its bitter feud with Russia, which leads some to believe that Muslim-majority Turkey does not apparently deserve the same treatment as its neighbours also experiencing an unlawful attempt to seize control of the state.

Moral authority at risk

It is also right that the West should have censured the coup plotters more forcefully and built upon Turkey’s fragile unity to encourage the country to pursue further democratic reform. To quote former Swedish Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Carl Bildt: “Europe risks losing its moral authority if it does not appear particularly engaged in dealing with the coup itself.”

In addition, the EU’s strong criticism of Turkey but not France, for imposing a state of emergency and for temporarily suspending the European Convention on Human Rights, undeniably, smacks of double-standards.

However, some of the criticism falls short. To begin with, the West’s tepidity can be explained (though not wholly justified) by Erdogan’s abrasive behaviour at home and towards Western and international media.

Just three days after the coup, Erdogan threatened in his characteristically defiant tone to revive the controversial construction plans that sparked the 2013 Gezi Park protests, saying: “If we want to preserve our history, we must rebuild this historic [Ottoman-era barracks] structure, [and] we will rebuild it.”

It is also fair for Turkey to be reproached for the widespread crackdown against tens of thousands of suspected Gulenists in the aftermath of the coup. Even if it is conceivable that all 1,577 university deans who were forced to resign were Gulenists, this action will also have a lasting negative impact on the reputations and career prospects of academics unconnected to Gulen.

Fervour against Gulenism

The vigilance by the West is understandable given the Turkish government’s fervour against Gulenism in the immediate post-coup period. It would make no sense for the West to attack the coup and yet, at the same time, equivocate on flagrant violations of due process and human rights. Both efforts are mutually inclusive and identifying such violations has the greatest potential to encourage policy reversals or corrective measures.

Similarly understandable is the attention on Erdogan himself. He is the most formidable and powerful figure in a hierarchical and top-down political system, able to make fateful decisions with few effective checks and balances. He single-handedly replaced Ahmet Davutoglu as prime minister with Binali Yildirim in a clear breach of the Turkish constitution.

Despite Erdogan’s tactical attempts at embracing all the opposition parties apart from the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), his refusal to renounce his ambition to transform Turkey into a powerful executive presidency indicates that this fragile political unity will not last.

Only the West has the wherewithal to moderate his policies by continuing to express its friendship with Turkey, whilst not shying away from closely monitoring, scrutinising and commenting on the post-coup developments.

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