Turkey’s Failed Coup, A Boon To Erdogan Autocratic Desires

Erdogan's supporters carry his image
Erdogan's supporters carry his image
Ahmet Ä°nsel

ISTANBUL â€" Turkish society was on the verge of a major disaster last Friday. If the attempted coup d'etat had achieved its purpose, we would probably already be facing a large-scale civil war today. During the coup attempt, which lasted about 12 hours, we lived through a miniature version of this civil war with all its horrors: pro-coup soldiers clashed violently with the police, military officers opened fire on civilians, angry demonstrators lynched surrendered soldiers, military aircraft and helicopters bombed the parliament and other government buildings.

The high cost of human lives of this horrible night would only be a small fraction if the coup had succeeded, because its leaders would have terrorized the country in order to take control â€" and they would have realized that the only way to intimidate would be through massive slaughter.

On Friday night, Turkish society was on the brink of such a bloody dictatorship and probable civil war. Pro-coup soldiers’ first mission was to take control of the General Staff of the Turkish military, and to bring all troops under their command. The next target was to capture President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. But the majority of military leaders refused to comply with coup orders, and Erdogan called all Turkish people to gather in public squares to confront the pro-coup soldiers. Opposition parties quickly and explicitly objected to the coup attempt. None of the trade unions or professional organizations supported the military initiative â€" nobody took to the streets to back the coup attempt.

One key aspect that the coup leaders failed to take into account was the fact that Turkish Armed Forces representatives are no longer present in public institutions, and seizing the state-run radio and television channels does not mean controlling the media. They undermined the importance of access to cable and satellite.

An overwhelming majority of the Turkish society turned their backs on the coup attempt, proof of the end of an era.

Collateral damage

But now, those who failed in their coup attempt have created an opportunity for Erdogan’s government to take the final step to achieve what it wanted for so long: supreme power over all institutions concentrated in the hands of one person.

The government in power has the opportunity to carry out an extensive liquidation operation against the individuals suspected of having any connections to the Gulen movement, an Islamic and social movement led by Pennslyvania-based Turkish theologian and preacher Fethullah Gulen. Many innocent bystanders will be swept up by the tide during this purge.

Most likely, the liquidations won’t be limited to those accused of being Gulen sympathizers, and will target a much wider community of anyone who doesn’t share the government’s views. We might have dodged a bullet with the quick failure of the atrocious coup attempt, but event will sadly mark a new era that will damage our already defective democracy. The damage of this coup will turn out to be the way it opened the way for a new political system that will eliminate what’s left of the checks and balances, which will take away our already limited freedoms.

We got rid of the coup threat, but now we face an even bigger one: a populist-authoritarian regime with a touch of Islamism. The fight for democracy is more important than ever.

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Paying tribute to the victims of the attack in Kongsberg

Terje Bendiksby/NTB Scanpix/ZUMA
Carl-Johan Karlsson

The bow-and-arrow murder of five people in the small Norwegian city of Kongsberg this week was particularly chilling for the primitive choice of weapon. And police are now saying the attack Wednesday night is likely to be labeled an act of terrorism.

Still, even though the suspect is a Danish-born convert to Islam, police are still determining the motive. Espen Andersen Bråthen, a 37-year-old Danish national, is previously known to the police, both for reports of radicalization, as well as erratic behavior unrelated to religion.

Indeed, it remains unclear whether religious beliefs were behind the killings. In an interview with Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter, police attorney Ann Iren Svane Mathiassens said Bråthen has already confessed to the crimes, giving a detailed account of the events during a three-hour interrogation on Thursday, but motives are yet to be determined.

Investigated as terrorism 

Regardless, the murders are likely to be labeled an act of terror – mainly as the victims appear to have been randomly chosen, and were killed both in public places and inside their homes.

Mathiassens also said Bråthen will undergo a comprehensive forensic psychiatric examination, which is also a central aspect of the ongoing investigation, according to a police press conference on Friday afternoon. Bråthen will be held in custody for at least four weeks, two of which will be in isolation, and will according to a police spokesperson be moved to a psychiatric unit as soon as possible.

Witnesses have since described him as unstable and a loner.

Police received reports last year concerning potential radicalization. In 2017, Bråthen published two videos on Youtube, one in English and one in Norwegian, announcing that he's now a Muslim and describing himself as a "messenger." The year prior, he made several visits to the city's only mosque, where he said he'd received a message from above that he wished to share with the world.

Previous criminal history 

In 2012, he was convicted of aggravated theft and drug offenses, and in May last year, a restraining order was issued after Bråthen entered his parents house with a revolver, threatening to kill his father.

The mosque's chairman Oussama Tlili remembers Bråthen's first visit well, as it's rare to meet Scandinavian converts. Still, he didn't believe there was any danger and saw no reason to notify the police. Tlili's impression was rather that the man was unwell mentally, and needed help.

According to a former neighbor, Bråthen often acted erratically. During the two years she lived in the house next to him — only 50 meters from the grocery store where the attacks began — the man several times barked at her like a dog, threw trash in the streets to then pick it up, and spouted racist comments to her friend. Several other witnesses have since described him as unstable and a loner.

The man used a bow and arrow to carry the attack

Haykon Mosvold Larsen/NTB Scanpix/ZUMA

Police criticized

Norway, with one of the world's lowest crime rates, is still shaken from the attack — and also questioning what allowed the killer to hunt down and kill even after police were on the scene.

The first reports came around 6 p.m. on Wednesday that a man armed with bow and arrow was shooting inside a grocery store. Only minutes after, the police spotted the suspect; he fired several times against the patrol and then disappeared while reinforcements arrived.

The attack has also fueled a long-existing debate over whether Norwegian police should carry firearms

In the more than 30 minutes that followed before the arrest, four women and one man were killed by arrows and two other weapons — though police have yet to disclose the other arms, daily Aftenposten reports. The sleepy city's 27,000 inhabitants are left wondering how the man managed to evade a full 22 police patrols, and why reports of his radicalization weren't taken more seriously.

With five people killed and three more injured, Wednesday's killing spree is the worst attack in Norway since far-right extremist Anders Breivik massacred 77 people on the island of Utøya a decade ago.

Unarmed cops

As questions mount over the police response to the attack, with reports suggesting all five people died after law enforcement made first contact with the suspect, local police have said it's willing to submit the information needed to the Bureau of Investigation to start a probe into their conduct. Police confirmed they had fired warning shots in connection to the arrest which, under Norwegian law, often already provides a basis for an assessment.

Wednesday's bloodbath has also fueled a long-existing debate over whether Norwegian police should carry firearms — the small country being one of only 19 globally where law enforcement officers are typically unarmed, though may have access to guns and rifles in certain circumstances.

Magnus Ranstorp, a terrorism expert and professor at the Swedish Defence University, noted that police in similar neighboring countries like Sweden and Denmark carry firearms. "I struggle to understand why Norwegian police are not armed all the time," Ranstorp told Norwegian daily VG. "The lesson from Utøya is that the police must react quickly and directly respond to a perpetrator during a life-threatening incident."

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