If the coup attempt on July 15, 2016 had succeeded, Turkey would be infinitely worse off today. Believing that people who were ready to bomb parliament and kill civilians without batting an eyelid would have saved our democracy is the height of naïveté.
The question of whether the civilians that thronged the streets to prevent the coup did so to save democracy, or to save President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan
and the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) is of secondary importance at this stage.
Many lost their lives on that night, and this alone shows how committed they were to preventing this attempt, whatever their ultimate motives may have been. Those who for one reason or another did not take to the streets, preferring to wait and see how this affair played out, turned out to be the main losers in the end.
The truth of the matter which we have to bravely admit is that many secularists actually hoped the coup would succeed. This was evident to many, including myself, that night by simply observing what people were saying.
The sad fact is that there are still many Turks who would prefer an undemocratic military administration to the AKP.
Then there was the reaction - or the lack of it - from the West. Its deafening silence as Turkey’s democratic parliament was being bombed and civilians were being gunned down, is something that many Europeans are embarrassed about today.
The ultimate question however is whether Europe
and the U.S. would have worked happily with a military administration the way they did in Egypt, simply because the elected Islamist government in Turkey is not what they want to see.
Many believe they would have. We will never have an answer to this question. The bottom line, however, is that the failure of the coup, the failure of the opposition to turn out that night the way AKP supporters did, and the reaction of the West have all been used to a great advantage by Erdoğan and his supporters.
But this has happened at the expense of the very democracy they claim to have saved on that fateful night. A year on, we still have emergency rule, which means all democratic rights remain suspended. Meanwhile prisons are full, and continue to receive people who allegedly supported the coup attempt, while tens of thousands have been dismissed losing their livelihoods.
Listening to Erdoğan’s vengeful words in his commemorative speech on July 15, the first anniversary of the coup attempt, and his angry instructions to the judiciary, it is evident that all of this is far from over.
As Turks, we should be thankful the coup attempt failed. The picture today though shows that we still have a long way to attain a truly democratic system. The perception that true democracy is of secondary importance in the face of ideological interests remains one of Turkey’s main problems today.
The AKP did not invent this problem, of course, but it has been busy building on it, rather than trying to turn Turkey into a genuinely democratic country that is respected across the world.
It is no wonder then that Turks are marking this anniversary with mixed emotions.