Many rumors have been circulating since the failed coup attempt. DW talks to the head of the Heinrich Böll Foundation in Istanbul about speculation, scanty evidence and the division in Turkish society.
DW: At the moment we see many images of pro-Erdogan demonstrators celebrating the failed coup. Are there different opinions being heard on the streets of Istanbul?
Kristian Brakel: There are also very many critical voices. They are heard less on the streets, but more so on social media. The country is deeply divided. You can see it clearly in two Twitter hashtags. One, mostly used by the nationalists, is “I want the death sentence” – for the coup plotters. The other is “Not a coup. Theater,” which implies that the government staged the coup. This shows that the brief moment of unity during the coup attempt is gone.
There are also many people who suspect that Erdogan is behind this very amateurishly led coup attempt. What does that say about the attitude towards the government?
There are always many conspiracy theories circulating in Turkey – that’s not anything special. The striking part of it in this case is that non-AKP supporters’ faith in the government is so marginal that they think the government is capable of doing something like that.
What do you think? Is it possible that Erdogan took part in the coup in any way?
Look at the images of the president making the first statement that was broadcast by CNN Turk: He is sitting in a type of photo booth and talking on his iPhone. I think a president who knows how to stage a good media appearance would have chosen another medium, and not an amateurish one that did not lend his words power. And you see a man who does not look like he has the situation under control at that moment. These are all arguments against the idea that the government staged it.
Moreover, many arguments that are seen as evidence of a conspiracy are not evidence at all. For example, you do not need as many people for a coup as many would think. They just have to make sure that other parts of the army and security forces are far away enough from the action so they cannot intervene. The coup plotters did try this to some extent.
So far, there has been no evidence of Erdogan’s involvement. That is why I think it is highly unlikely.
What do you think is likely?
All speculation at the moment goes along the lines that Erdogan himself mentioned in his press conference at the airport. At the beginning of August, the highest military council will be convening for its annual meeting. There, it usually discusses who will be promoted or who will retire. According to Erdogan, there were rumors that some officials would be hit hard by decisions made there. So it is not unlikely that among them some people have now joined forces. But this is only speculation because we know far too few people.
Erdogan is a hero after the coup attempt. How much stronger has he come out of the failure of the coup plotters?
It has surely cemented his image as someone who overcomes all problems and can get the country under control, like a hero who can withstand all odds, even the old elites in his country, to which the military also belongs. It is an important signal to party members in the conservative Islamic wing of his party. All of this, of course, greatly reinforces his power and it would not surprise me if the introduction of a presidential system will now gain momentum, partly because many former AKP critics would support the idea now.
In total almost 6,000 suspects have already been arrested. Among them are not only military members but also judges and prosecutors. Even before the coup, Erdogan was accused of undemocratic actions. In which direction is the country developing now?
I think it is very unlikely that all these people in the justice system have anything to do with the coup. They are people who may have connections to the Gulen movement and are perhaps otherwise critical of the government. The fact that this opportunity is being used and that there was apparently already a long list of people is not a good sign of how things will go.
It is not good for any country when there is a person at the top who is not subject to any control mechanisms. Basically, the problem is not the presidential system – it exists in other countries – but also the curtailment of judiciary independence and restriction of parliament. If decisions in the country are only dependent on very few people and there is no room for the opposition to be active, things cannot go well.
Kristian Brakel is an Islam studies scholar who currently heads the Heinrich Böll Foundation in Istanbul.
DW’s Nicolas Martin conducted the interview.