The failed coup of July 15, 2016 has irreversibly transformed Turkish politics. Although the coup attempt was thankfully thwarted, the path that Erdogan chose to take after the coup—using the state of emergency powers he was given to go specifically after coup plotters, to embark instead on a much broader campaign against all dissidents, many of whom possessed no ties to the coup in any form—highlights an unfortunate truth about the country: Turkey is in a deep crisis.
Almost a century has passed since the Ottoman Empire was dismembered and Mustafa Kemal set out to build the modern Turkish state on its ruins. Twenty years ago, no one in the West would have called into question the achievement of the man who eventually, with considerable justice, styled himself Atatürk (“Father of the Turks”). But many now fear that the political and cultural revolution he instigated in the 1920s will be overturned and that Turkey will cease to function as normal nation state, turn on the West, and try to upend the existing order in the eastern Mediterranean, the Balkans, and the Middle East.
The phrase “the struggle for Turkey’s soul” once served as shorthand for the perceived conflict between the country’s secular democratic values and Muslim religious values. With the July 8, 2018 inauguration of Recep Tayyip Erdogan as Turkey’s President, democratic values and Muslim values now struggle with hyper-empowered Erdogan’s personal political goals and his devilish acquisition of authoritarian power.