August 13th 2016

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY Rating the ratings agencies: FFF and "Watch out"

CANBERRA OBSERVED Despite bumbling, youth detention inquiry is needed

FOREIGN AFFAIRS Erdogan's political coup will transform Turkey

SEXUAL POLITICS Transgender Olympians: what about the AFL?

EDITORIAL Marriage plebiscite: why not a referendum?

SEXUAL POLITICS Gay lobby grasps at normal and natural

MILITARY HISTORY The Western Front, 1916: our costliest theatre of war

MILITARY HISTORY Delville Wood, 1916: South Africa's Gallipoli

EUTHANASIA Disability hate crime: then the rest is silence

BRITISH POLITICS Tories push trans agenda hard in schools, prisons

TAIWANESE HISTORY AND POLITICS Fractious party puts Tsai in a pickle

MUSIC Davis biopic sadly miles off the mark

CINEMA Bourne again, but still lost: Jason Bourne

BOOK REVIEW An empire built on suffering

BOOK REVIEW Freedom of speech


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Erdogan's political coup will transform Turkey

by Peter Westmore

News Weekly, August 13, 2016

In the aftermath of a failed military coup organised by some elements in the Turkish military, Turkey’s Islamist president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has organised a mass roundup of public servants, lawyers and academics – as well as a third of Turkey’s military leadership – in what is clearly an attempt to use the military coup as an excuse to silence his domestic opponents and concentrate more power in his own hands.

President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Erdogan has been battling a corruption scandal that goes to the heart of his government. Last December, Turkish law enforcement officers raided several houses of prominent figures linked to Erdogan’s government. Among the detainees were three sons of Turkish ministers.

During the police operation, $US4.5 million in cash packed in shoeboxes in the house of the chief executive of a state-run bank, Halkbank, was seized; another $US750,000 along with a money-counting machine were found in the bedroom of a government minister’s son.

All the other 52 people detained during the police operations were in various ways connected with Erdogan and his ruling Justice and Development Party, which was allegedly involved in a money-laundering scheme with Iran.

Erdogan declared that the corruption inquiry was a coup attempt against his government, then dismissed the Istanbul police chief and other prominent police officers and removed all the public prosecutors leading the corruption case. Some of the prosecutors even fled the country.

Political objective

There is also the wider issue of Erdogan’s attempt to re-establish an Islamic state in Turkey.

To understand the background to the present crisis, one must go back to Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey. Ataturk was a leader of a group of youngish Turkish military officers and intellectuals, the so-called “Young Turks” who emerged in the early years of the 20th century.

In World War I, Turkey joined forces with Germany, and was attacked by Britain, France, Russia and Greece. Ataturk distinguished himself during the war, particularly in the Gallipoli campaign, where he was responsible for the defeat of the British expeditionary force, making him a national hero.

After World War I, the victorious allies partitioned the Ottoman Empire, and Ataturk led a national resistance movement that forced the occupying forces to leave Turkey, which became independent in 1922.

Late that year, he abolished the Ottoman sultanate, which had existed since 1299, and officially transferred its power to the National Assembly in the capital, Ankara. He abolished the caliphate in 1924, and set about establishing a government in which Islam had no unique status.

Ataturk’s legacy has survived for over 90 years, but periodically Islamists have attempted to turn back the clock to the country’s past. At least four times over the past 60 years, the army has stepped in when Islamists have tried to reverse the country’s direction.

Since his Islamist party was elected in 2002, Erdogan has side-stepped conflict with the military, but the failed coup has given him the excuse for a general crackdown on the principal centres of opposition to the Islamists: the army, opposition political parties and movements, the judiciary, police, the press and the education system.

President Erdogan said that some 60,000 soldiers, police, judges, civil servants and teachers had been suspended or detained, and declared a three-month state of emergency during which he will have total power to reshape the key institutions of Turkish society.

Erdogan blamed an exiled Turkish cleric now living in the United States, Fethullah Gulen, for the coup attempt. Gulen is a former ally of Erdogan who fell out with him some years ago over Erdogan’s alleged corruption, before Gulen was forced into exile.

While no one could defend the attempted overthrow of a democratically elected government, Erdogan has led an increasingly repressive government that has caused deep divisions in Turkish society.

Last April, he announced support for a new constitution that would embed Islam as the state religion, reversing the Ataturk legacy of the 1920s. He has waged a dirty war against the Kurdish minority, combining military attacks on Kurdish settlements in southeast Turkey with bombings of Kurdish centres in neighbouring Iraq.

For years, he also surreptitiously assisted Islamic State in northern Iraq and Syria, selling its black market oil and supplying it guns, because IS consists of Sunni Muslims fighting against the Shi’ite government in Baghdad, the Alawite-led government in Lebanon, and the Kurds.

If Erdogan is successful, he will turn Turkey into an Islamic state and an effective one-party dictatorship. The stakes of the present struggle will shape the future of Turkey and have long-term consequences for the entire Middle East, in which Turkey is a significant force.

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