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Turkey's Night of Long Knives

Interview with Vijay Prashad |
Interviewed by Prabir Purkayastha,
Produced by Newsclick & TRNN Production
Was Turkey's failed coup a false flag operation, as many are saying?

Was Turkey's failed coup a false flag operation, as many are saying? Or was it a badly botched but real attempt providing Erdogan an opportunity to purge the Turkish state of its secular components? Erdogan is using this attempted coup as an opportunity to accelerate the Islamisation of Turkey's administration and further concentrate power in his hands. These deep and wide purges underway now will significantly weaken the Turkish military and the state. The demand of some of the AKP sections for Gülen's extradition from the US and subsequent stand-off over Incirlik airbase, can lead to unravelling of the whole region.

Rough Transcript:

Prabir Purkayasha (Prabir): Vijay, hello and welcome to Newsclick, this program with Real News. Vijay, we have seen some recent developments in Turkey, a failed coup, and very deep and wide purges there. Do you think that there is a substance in what people are saying, that this is a false flag operation and not a real coup?

Vijay Prashad (Vijay): I have also talked to people in the Turkish Military, other branches of Turkish society and a general sense I get, this was just a very poorly operated coup. After all, they have arrested 6000 people, they have a ring leader of the coup, some of these people can be executed. If it will false flag operation in this kind of crack down at the so called coup plotters would not make altogether sense. How would thousands of soldiers (be) willing to sacrifice themselves for something like this? It could be that the Turkish intelligence had sniffed out and seen that something like this was going to occur and they didn't take it seriously.

This is the sixth attempt by the Turkish military, sections of the military to intervene into Turkish political matters last time was in 1997 during the so called “post modern” coup where sections of the military leadership handed over a memorandum to Erbakan government and said, Sir you have to leave the office which he duly did. Erdogan had feared that there would be a repeat of this kind of post modern coup. There is a section of the Turkish military which has been upset by developments inside Turkey. The issue that I think has upset people a big deal and I felt this from the context in the military, is of course, Turkey's position not only in the war in Syria but specially the war in South-eastern Turkey against Kurds. Turkish military is taking causalities here and I think among the more republican oriented military, they feel it is like fighting against its citizens, who are not necessarily a real security threat; something that they did not want to be part of. Cities in South-eastern Turkey remain under curfew. The brutal treatment of the Turkish Kurdish citizens in the area has indeed impacted a section of the military. So it's quite probable that this was a very poorly managed to attempt to overthrow the government but it has been indeed utilized by Erdogan who called this coup attempt a gift from God.

Prabir: There is other argument that Erdogan and AKP wanted to purge the administration of various people: Gulenist sympathizers, secularists and so on, and therefore, they allowed the coup to proceed, and then do what they really wanted to do – what Erdogan has called the God's gift to them.

Vijay: Well the purges you know of course have been happening for a while. The military has already experienced purges over the last ten years. Senior officials being retired off, accusation of plotting against the government. In the early years, Mr. Erdogan was quite closely associated with Fethullah Gülen who now is in exile, a self imposed exiled in the United States. Mr. Gülen, Erdogan and the AKP party had understood in 2000 that the military is a serious threat to their ambitions of creating a more Islamised Turkey of having a kind of political monopoly. In the early years, they certainly did try to bring in the people into the judiciary, into the state administration, into the intelligence services and into the military. You know, which is why when Erdogan said that these coup plotters are Gulenist. He better than anybody else (knows) that there have been Gulenist inside the military, but he wanted to be able to control them. You can see probably over a last year and a half, Erdogan has moved to a Presidential form of rule. Even its allies haven't been able to maintain their positions of authority. I mean his former Prime Minister was very gingerly critical of some of the moves of the Erdogan government, and he was brutally attacked by the loyalists of the Erdogan, and was removed from the Prime Minister's office. So this attack on Gülen, this attack on Davutoğlu earlier, this obsessions of purging Turkish institutions of those who are not entirely loyal to Erdogan, has been ongoing. The attack on the press of course was the central to it. So this desire to fully control Turkish society, to remove any dissenting elements, is something that has been going on for a while, and indeed they have been ready for. Now they had the opportunity to accelerate the scale of the purges. That's really quite disturbing for the integrity of the Turkish society.

Prabir: We are talking about 20000 people purged and more purges likely to happen. Do you think this is going to weaken the Turkish state greatly?

Vijay: Yes, absolutely. You know, in a sense, the AKP, the Islamists have been quite a subtle -- let's say in terms of the public discussion – of their own agenda. If you look closely at the kind of things that Erdogan government has been doing and saying, they have been pushing an agenda to transform the nature of the Turkish society, moving an agenda, speaking quite archaically of role of women, the need of women to produce more children, the attack on the reproductive rights of women. This has been part of their agenda. The idea of bringing piety back into society etc, this is their social agenda, which they have been promoting subtly -- under the table in some instances -- in other instances, quite publicly without raising the red flags in the media or other people around the world. So this is been something they have been doing. Now, in the last few years, not just after this coup attempt, they switched their attention – feeling more confident really – that it's time now essentially evacuate the state of its previous republican, secular commitments, changing the core of the state. There is a couple of ways to do it. One is Erdogan has tried to shift political authority executive authority from the Prime Minister's office -- you know where the Prime Minister is essentially captive in some ways to the democracy of parliament – has to deal with the fact there are republicans, there are Kurdish parties, there are left (parties) etc. It hampers the Prime Minister's ability to move the agenda. He has tried to move power to the President's office where almost by proclamation, he will be able to govern. So this has been a consistent to move – from an agenda in society, trying to drill into society, and remove traces of secularism in society -- and now into the more governmental side, state side and to evacuate commitments of secularism, and bringing a different agenda. So this is the part of the movement of the AKP party. They feel very confident now, were at the thresh-hold of being able to formally inaugurate Turkey as a Presidentially governed society, then run by the Prime Minister rule. Effectively, it's already happened but they are in the thresh-hold of being able to, in a sense change the constitution. For that he is preparing by removing all forms of dissent and bringing in people that he feels will be loyal.

The language of terrorism is the one axe that he wielded against the state, to use the perhaps the Kurdish aspirations, as a way to change the nature of state, understanding that was one weapon; and this coup has provided enormous (advantage) as he said – a gift from God – so he can now purge people (from the administration) and there is almost no criticism from around the world because he is able to say, look I am against military rule, we are for democracy. By the way, every single Turkish political party – the republicans, the Kurds, every single party condemned the coup. Nonetheless, there are currents in the AKP and in the entire military formations that have been attacking the party offices particularly of the HDP, which is a Left Kurdish Alliance and other people saying that they were for the coup, etc. By using this opportunity to target the political opponents not only people in the state where the different understanding of the society.

Prabir: The other issue really Turkey was really the strongest military, NATO power in the region if not in Europe. Do you think this is going to weaken the Turkish military significantly?

Vijay: Well, it is already an issue and I am sure in NATO headquarters, they are discussing this. But in the last couple of major NATO operations, Turkey has played a minimal role. It's not played an enormous out-sized role. One of the reason for this is, in several of the more NATO operations, they have been principally NATO operations, whether no-fly kind of things, bombing of Libya etc. Turkish military has actually played a limited role outside the Turkish borders. The one instance was when Turkey entered Iraq, but at that time all factions of the Iraqi government and of Iraqi politics condemned the Turkish incursion and Turkey had to withdraw its forces. Turkish air force had been bombing PKK targets that is the Kurdish Workers Party targets, in which there have been some bombings inside Syria or against Kurdish positions. So Turkish actual military role in NATO has been circumscribed. What Turkey has provided for NATO of course is air bases. One interesting thing what we get, you know this idea of the Gülen question, Mr. Gülen, who Erdogan has said is responsible for the coup lives, of course, in Pennsylvania. Some of the far right sections of the AKP have called for his extradition and have also started condemning the United States; and some of them have said the question of the US base in Turkey -- Incirlikis now in doubt. So this is raising I think interesting questions. I don't know how Erdogan will be able to manage this. You know for years we called AKP party, NATO's Islamists. But now it seems that there are some new contradictions which will arise, particularly between this section of the AKP party, which is convinced that the United States is shielding Gülen. They would like him to be sent back despite the fact that he has denied any responsibility for the coup. And by the way, Gülen has also said that they may be people who follow me, I just don't know them. Just because they follow me, I am not responsible. So this section of the AKP is now suspicious of the American motive, it is going to certainly produce I think more complexity in the region, (which is) already complicated. If there is a serious challenge to the American base in Incirlik, this will really hamper Americans ability to bomb ISIS Islamists in Northern Syria. So the contradictions of the region – you and I talked about this for years -- I never thought will unravel so quickly, and intensify, become so much more dangerous, in a sense. But indeed I think it is more dangerous now then it has been at least 3 or 4 year ago.

Prabir: Thank you Vijay for being with us. Hope to see you again in another program.

DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for Newsclick are typed from a recording of the program. Newsclick cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.

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