If you have traveled to Europe or the United States on a Turkish Airlines flight in the past few months, chances are you found a booklet entitled FETO’s Coup Attempt in Turkey: A Timeline, with the header “Democracy Triumphs in Turkey,” in your seat pocket. In the introductory remarks to the eighty-eight-page photo reportage, the state-run Anadolu Agency purports to give
a complete account of the events of July 15-16 2016, when the most brutal coup attempt in Turkey’s history was made by the Fetullah Terrorist Organization (FETO), [detailing] the Turkish nation’s firm resistance against the July 15 coup attempt, a day that will henceforth be remembered in Turkey as ‘Democracy Day.’
Since the very first hours of the attempted putsch, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his government have pointed the finger at exiled cleric Fetullah Gulen – a former Erdogan ally turned arch rival – as the coup’s mastermind. Parroting the government’s line, the booklet presents allegations against Gulen as established facts. The publication notes that “69,779 state employees [have been] suspended amid a nationwide operation aimed at eliminating FETO members from the state bureaucracy,” adding that tens of thousands of soldiers, police officers, judges, prosecutors, and civilians have been taken into custody in connection with the coup.
Since the attempted coup, the government media campaign against Gulen has been relentless. This week, a top Erdogan adviser even suggested possible links between Gulen and the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the United States.
As evidence of Gulen’s ties to the putschists, the government has presented confessions from officers and soldiers arrested in the massive sweeps that followed the attempted military takeover. It is very likely, however, that these ‘confessions’ were extracted under torture. As Amnesty International has reported, “credible evidence [shows] that detainees in Turkey are being subjected to beatings and torture, including rape, in official and unofficial detention centers in the country,” in order to “make them talk.”
It is beyond doubt that many people in Turkey, including both supporters and opponents of President Erdogan, fiercely resisted the coup attempt. During those dramatic two days, messages poured in from all over the world in solidarity against the attempted military takeover. A special section of the booklet is dedicated to some of these statements from heads of state and ministers, along with pictures of anti-coup protests in different locations around the world.
Notwithstanding the coup’s clear unpopularity, it has clearly become a useful tool for Erdogan. As demonstrated by the staggering scale and extent of the ongoing purge, the president and his allies have been using the coup as an excuse to rid all state institutions of their political opponents. Neither academics, activists, nor media outlets have been spared. As the Financial Times reports, “[t]here are now 148 journalists in prison in Turkey, 114 of them arrested or detained since the coup attempt. This total far surpasses China and other authoritarian countries.”
The current situation in Turkey is a far cry from a ‘triumph for democracy.’ No amount of government propaganda – Turkish Airline’s booklet included – can possibly change that.