Dr Necati Anaz, an expert on security employed with the Turkish National Police Academy, was among those who thronged the streets of Istanbul on 15 July, braving rolling tanks and soldiers marching with guns. He believes that following the coup attempt, Turkish people are more united and are taking all the problems — crisis in Syria, ISIS (Daesh), Kurdish rebels, Gulen — more head-on. In a tête-à-tête with The Sunday Guardian, he shared his reading of his country and its relations with the world. Excerpts:
Q. How do you evaluate Turkey after the 15 July coup attempt, particularly with regard to the widespread purges conducted by the Erdogan regime in the bureaucracy, army, academics, media, etc?
A. The 15 July coup attempt was unprecedented in the history of Turkey. Over 800 high-ranked and decorated army personnel led this attempt to upstage the democratically elected government. Luckily, it ended up uniting the Turkish people in a historic way. They promptly responded to the call of their leaders, came on the streets, fought the armed military officers, laid down their lives and saved democracy in the country. Actually, for the first time, all the opposition parties, including the CHP, MHP (main opposition parties in Turkey), showed solidarity with the ruling AKP of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. As far as the post-coup purges and arrests are concerned, most of them are being done to facilitate the probe into the coup attempt, and to reset the country to avoid any such eventuality in future.
Q. How did this impression in media come about that the coup attempt could also have been a manipulated move by the Erdogan regime to bestow itself more credibility and power to rule over the country?
A. I consider such a view a nonsensical one. It was peddled by the western media, which has been creating a malignant impression about the present regime for a long time. See how most of the western leaders reacted so ambiguously during the course of those fateful events on 15 July. I am afraid they would have welcomed had it become a successful coup. No leader, however grotesque he may be, would kill his own people on such a grand scale just to remain in power. Erdogan already is hugely popular among the Turkish people. His popularity has only been rising steadily. He would be utterly foolish to stage a coup to make him more popular.
Q. Turkey identified cleric Fethullah Gulen’s network as agent provocateur of the 15 July happenings, and that’s why we see a widespread crackdown against people associated with Gulen. How did the Turkish authorities discern so precisely that Gulenists were behind the coup attempt?
A. As I said earlier, there were around 800 senior army personnel at the forefront of the regime change exercise on 15 July. If you could count stars on their uniform, you might assemble a whole galaxy. All these army generals were found to be directly linked with Fethullah Gulen’s network in the country. Besides, there have been such attempts in Turkey by Gulenists in the past too. Even those who are being arrested because of their links to Gulen are the people who somehow help the activities of the movement. Some even donate a part of their salary for the financial assistance of the movement. You see, only until a few years ago, 60-70% army personnel used to be Gulenists and there were about 80% Gulenists in the Turkish police force. Such was their penetration into the Turkish system. It was not difficult to identify them.
Q. How do you see Turkey reconsidering its relationship with the West? Is it looking for an exit from NATO?
A. The western nations (Turkish allies in NATO) did not open-heartedly support the cause of democracy during this coup attempt and it doesn’t cast them in good light in the eyes of the Turkish people. They failed the democracy test. They have also treated President Erdogan as some sort of a pariah figure. Nevertheless, I don’t see Turkey opting for an exit from NATO. Neither Turkey nor NATO can afford leaving one another.
Q. In neighbouring Syria, which is burning for the past five years, Turkey had started its mission as “mission regime change.” But, recently the Turkish government has relented and seems ready to accept Assad for the transition period. Why did this change in policy take place?
A. Turkey still wants Assad to go, but the cause of peace has taken precedence over the hardline policy. Policymakers in Turkey have realised that big powers like the Unites States and Russia may help bring Assad to the table of dialogue and then come up with a solution to the festering crisis. But stakeholders in Syria, including Russia and US, know that without Turkey, there will not be stability in Syria.
Q. Turkey right now seems to have two worst enemies, ISIS (Daesh) and Kurdish rebels (Kurdistan Workers’ Party or PKK). How do you evaluate threats from them?
A. Daesh doesn’t have deep roots in Turkey. Some of the Daesh attacks in Turkey have been carried out by people from outside Turkey. There could be around 2,000 people in Turkey supporting or being sympathetic with the group. They are a threat, but are being tackled satisfactorily. People in PKK, unlike the perception outside Turkey, are not working for the Kurds. People in the Eastern region of Turkey (the Kurdish population areas) vote for the ruling AKP. The largest section of Kurdish population in the entire world lives in Istanbul city, not in Diyarbakır as it is believed. Turkish policies towards Kurds have become more humane, more concise and more communicative.
Q. But only last week, the Turkish air force bombed Turkish (Kurdish) locations inside Iraq and Syria. Even Turkish tanks entered into Kurdish areas inside Syria for the first time in recent history. Is it humane?
A. Turkish tanks entered Syria as part of a military operation backed by Turkish and US-led coalition warplanes to clear the ISIS from the Syrian border town of Jarablus. Jarablus is not a Kurdish city, but let me continue on Turkish government’s treatments of Kurds in Turkey. There was a time when bodies of Turkish (Kurdish) rebels used to be dragged by vehicles of Turkish armed forces. There was a time when even singing love songs in Kurdish language was banned. Even mothers who used to visit their sons in jail were supposed to talk to them in Turkish language and not Kurdish. Hence, there used to be no dialogue between them. They could only cry together. All this has changed. Now, there is a Kurdish TV channel. Schools imparting education in Kurdish language are being opened. There are talks of proposals to make Kurdish the second language of Turkey. All this is humane.
‘The coup ended up uniting the Turkish people in a historic way. They promptly responded to the call of their leaders, came on the streets, fought the army, and saved democracy.’
Q. India was among those countries that made a strong statement supporting the cause of democracy in Turkey after the failed coup on 15 July. Later, even the Foreign Minister of Turkey visited New Delhi shortly after that event. How do you see India-Turkey relations going into future?
A. Turkey will never forget India’s strong call for democracy during that urgent hour. Turkey will definitely honour that gratitude. Both are developing nations and cordial relations between these two nations will only help them tide over many of their problems.
Q. India has the second largest Muslim population in the world. Will Turkey, which is a powerful member of the Organisation of Islamic Countries (OIC), help India become an OIC member? Similarly, India may support Turkish’s case for European Union membership, though Turkey has recently opposed India’s bid for a permanent membership in the United Nations Security Council.
A. Perhaps right now, we can’t be very hopeful of that because of Turkey’s close relations with Pakistan, but in future such a scenario may definitely emerge. There is no reason why Indian Muslims should not become part of the Muslim world.