Erdogan backers peddle rumours of another coup in Turkey

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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - Pro-government supporters in Turkey have recently revived talk of another coup attempt in what critics say is a bid to target opponents and distract from domestic concerns compounded by the coronavirus outbreak.

Nearly four years after a failed coup, followed by widespread purges of the military and other state institutions, the suggestion of another takeover has been met with scepticism by many observers.

“It’s really confusing because who is there in the military to mount anything like that?” said Ahmet Evin, a veteran political scientist and a senior fellow at the Istanbul Policy Centre.

Since the attempt to oust President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in July 2016, nearly 19,500 members of the military, including many senior officers, have been dismissed in purges targeting the religious sect said to be behind the plot.

“There’s a tradition in Latin America that the army is the only institution that has its own ways and means,” said Mithat Celikpala, deputy rector at Kadir Has University in Istanbul. “However, under the current circumstances I don’t see any environment in which a coup could happen.”

Nevertheless, Mr Erdogan’s backers insist the threat remains. “They’re still in the army, the press, the police, the bureaucracy, the municipalities and in politics,” Ersin Ramoglu, a columnist for the pro-government Sabah newspaper, said last week.

Rhetoric about a fresh coup threat has come ahead of Wednesday’s anniversary of the 1960 putsch against Adnan Menderes, the first prime minister of Turkey’s multi-party era.

In the past, Mr Erdogan has compared himself to Menderes, who was hanged following the first of four successful military interventions, the last of which came in 1997.

According to the president, both leaders struggled against military “tutelage” that repressed Islam in public life in the name of preserving the secularist model prescribed by Turkey’s founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

“Menderes is remembered fondly because that was the first departure from the Kemalist regime, so [Mr Erdogan’s] group likes that very much,” Mr Evin said.

Recent claims of a conspiracy to remove the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) from power have tied a possible plot to the opposition.

Early this month, Mr Erdogan accused the Republican People’s Party (CHP) – founded by Ataturk and now the largest opposition party – of “still yearning and burning for coups, tutelage and juntas.”

In the following days, a number of pro-AKP figures spoke out about a potential coup, often in violent terms.

“You say ‘We will overthrow Tayyip Erdogan, we will execute him’,” journalist Fatih Tezcan said in an online video. “How will you protect your wife, your children from us? The blood of millions will spill for a single drop of Erdogan’s blood.”

Writer Sevda Noyan sparked outrage when she appeared on television to complain that her family “could not do what we really wanted to do” during the 2016 coup attempt before going on to claim she had prepared a list of targets and could “remove” 50 people.

Murat Emir, a CHP MP for Ankara, said the conspiracy claims aimed to paint the government and its base as the targets of secularists.

“With the current government, every opposition figure who expresses the need for change is accused of hinting at a coup,” he said. “Later, certain writers and journalists bubble into a rage. These and similar claims always have one purpose – to cover the real agenda with a perception operation.”

Mr Emir added: “The real danger is that while those who blacklist neighbours and plan mass murder remain unpunished, people like Sevda Noyan and Fatih Tezcan are able to find the environment and courage to openly express their twisted thoughts.”

Rumours of a takeover came after the government lost major cities such as Ankara and Istanbul to the CHP in last year’s local elections. It has also been disturbed by the popularity of opposition-run municipal aid programmes during the coronavirus pandemic.

Mahya depicts Turkey's national flag which is installed between the minarets of Camlica mosque, as the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues in Istanbul, Turkey, April 28, 2020. Picture taken with a drone. REUTERS/Mehmet Emin Caliskan

epa08389478 A handout photo made available by the Turkish Defence Ministry of Turkish soldiers loading medical protection equipment into a Turkish military cargo plane to be donated to the United States at the Etimesgut airport in Ankara, Turkey, 28 April 2020. Turkey sent protective face masks, protective suits, and other medical equipment to the USA for their fight against the spread of the pandemic COVID-19 disease caused by the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, with the instruction of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. EPA/TURKISH DEFENCE MINISTRY HANDOUT HANDOUT HANDOUT EDITORIAL USE ONLY/NO SALES

A flight crew member stands on a tarmac in front of a donation of medical supplies from Turkey, Tuesday, April 28, 2020, at Andrews Air Force Base, Md. The donation to help fight the new coronavirus in the United States included surgical masks, sanitizers and protective suits. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Medical personnel participate in a briefing at Istanbul University Cerrahpasa - Cerrahpasa Medical Faculty Hospital's ward dedicated to patients with coronavirus (COVID-19) in Istanbul, Tuesday, April 28, 2020. Turkey has seen a decline this week in the number of daily deaths and rates of infection since it started to grapple with the novel coronavirus pandemic last month. The government has refrained from imposing a total lockdown, fearing its negative impact on the already fragile economy. (AP Photo/Mehmet Guzel)

FILE PHOTO: An aerial view of Eminonu district during a two-day curfew imposed to prevent the spread of the coronavirus disease in Istanbul, Turkey, April 11, 2020. Picture taken with a drone. REUTERS//Umit Bektas/File Photo

epa08392157 Women walk with face masks in Istanbul, Turkey, 29 April 2020. Turkish President Recep Tayip Erdogan announced that there will be another curfew in 31 big cities, including Istanbul (the country's most populous urban agglomeration), between 01-03 May due to the ongoing pandemic of the COVID-19 disease caused by the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus. The government has also decreed the cancellation of public events and has temporarily shut down schools and suspended sporting events amid the pandemic. EPA/SEDAT SUNA

Esat Sahin, Imam of the iconic Fatih Mosque, holds a prayer held without public due to the coronavirus restrictions in Istanbul, April 24, 2020, during the first day of the holy fasting month of Ramadan. (AP Photo/Emrah Gurel)

epa08392155 A man sleeps with face protective equipment on street in Istanbul, Turkey, 29 April 2020. Turkish President Recep Tayip Erdogan announced that there will be another curfew in 31 big cities, including Istanbul (the country's most populous urban agglomeration), between 01-03 May due to the ongoing pandemic of the COVID-19 disease caused by the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus. The government has also decreed the cancellation of public events and has temporarily shut down schools and suspended sporting events amid the pandemic. EPA/SEDAT SUNA

TOPSHOT - Health workers help a woman who tested positive for the novel coronavirus COVID-19, at Bagcilar in Istanbul, on April 28, 2019, in Istanbul. / AFP / Bulent Kilic

A Turkish military flight crew member, right, bumps elbows with a FEMA worker as crews unload a donation of medical supplies from Turkey, Tuesday, April 28, 2020, at Andrews Air Force Base, Md. The donation to help fight the new coronavirus in the United States included surgical masks, sanitizers and protective suits. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Health workers help a woman who tested positive for the novel coronavirus COVID-19, at Bagcilar in Istanbul, on April 28, 2019, in Istanbul. / AFP / Bulent Kilic

TOPSHOT - Employees of Ankara Metropolitan Municipality youth center sews face masks, in Ankara, Turkey, on April 28, 2020, amid the spread of the novel COVID-19 coronavirus. / AFP / Adem ALTAN

Employees of Ankara Metropolitan Municipality youth center sews face masks, in Ankara, Turkey, on April 28, 2020, amid the spread of the novel COVID-19 coronavirus. / AFP / Adem ALTAN

TOPSHOT - A man sanitises the room as Syrians who returned from Turkey rest at a quarantine facility in the countryside of the town of Jisr al-Shughur, west of the mostly rebel-held Syrian province of Idlib, on April 27, 2020 during the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic. / AFP / Abdulaziz KETAZ

Customers wearing protective face masks maintain social distancing while queuing before the opening of a bank branch in Istanbul, Turkey, on Monday, April 27, 2020. Coming off a brief recession just over a year ago, the urgency is mounting for Turkey to loosen the screws on the economy as its currency and reserves come under pressure more than a month after it introduced social-distancing measures. Photographer: Kerem Uzel/Bloomberg

A health worker measures the temperature of a man at a quarantine facility for Syrians who returned from Turkey in the countryside of the town of Jisr al-Shughur, west of the mostly rebel-held Syrian province of Idlib, on April 27, 2020 amid the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic. / AFP / Abdulaziz KETAZ

Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality workers spray a street with disinfectant to prevent the spread of coronavirus in Istanbul, Turkey, on Monday, April 27, 2020. Coming off a brief recession just over a year ago, the urgency is mounting for Turkey to loosen the screws on the economy as its currency and reserves come under pressure more than a month after it introduced social-distancing measures. Photographer: Kerem Uzel/Bloomberg

A lone pedestrian walks across an empty Taksim square during curfew in Istanbul, Turkey, on Sunday, April 26, 2020. Coming off a brief recession just over a year ago, the urgency is mounting for Turkey to loosen the screws on the economy as its currency and reserves come under pressure more than a month after it introduced social-distancing measures. Photographer: Kerem Uzel/Bloomberg

As the CHP’s municipal schemes have been targeted – Mr Erdogan said they were an attempt to establish a “parallel state” – the government has removed dozens of recently elected mayors in the Kurdish-majority south-east by linking them to terrorism.

Talk of a potential coup seems to have been sparked by comments from Canan Kaftancioglu, chair of the CHP in Istanbul and a leading party figure, at the end of April when she predicted a change in government “through early elections or some other way”.

Although she later clarified her remarks, they were seized on as suggesting the AKP’s removal by non-democratic means.

However, others suggest the worsening outlook for Turkey’s fragile economy under coronavirus is another factor in talk of a fresh putsch.

The Turkish lira hit an all-time low against the dollar this month as the effect of the pandemic on exports and tourism adds to a growing current account deficit. The International Monetary Fund has forecast that Turkey’s economy will shrink by 5 per cent this year, pushing up inflation and unemployment.

“Erdogan’s speculations about a potential coup is a convenient ploy to divert the public’s attention away from the economic crisis and financial mismanagement at home,” said Aykan Erdemir, senior director of the Foundation for Defence of Democracies’ Turkey programme.

Mr Evin added: “The economic situation is absolutely miserable and, regardless of who is in power, under these circumstances conspiracy theories abound. The whole atmosphere is conducive to this kind of thing because of the situation of instability.

“Things don’t seem to be adding up in a coherent way and there’s a tendency to exaggerate and find conspiracies behind anything.”

Updated: May 25, 2020 02:48 PM

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