Like many people, I have been more than a little confused about the situation in Turkey recently. I have visited that country as a tourist a few times, and always found the people welcoming and easy to get on with. I also know many people in the UK of Turkish origin, mostly restaurateurs, and barbers. They have always been around since I was a young Londoner, and very much a part of my life growing up.
But the atmosphere in Turkey seems to have changed, at least since my last visit there, in 2003.
I confess that I don’t keep up with events in that country. Despite its importance as part of NATO, and its proximity to countries engaged in ongoing conflict, most of us regard it as a holiday destination; a place steeped in its own marvellous history, as well as offering good weather and excellent beaches. I watched a news report this year about the shift back to a more Islamic lifestyle by some of the citizens, but this was contrasted by TV advertisements for the new technology industries there, and others urging tourists to visit the diverse places the country has to offer.
Since the fall of the Ottoman Empire, and the Turks choosing the ‘wrong side’ during World War One, the image of Turkey has changed a great deal to the outside world. Not helped by their annexation of Northern Cyprus in 1974, or their harsh treatment of Communists and Kurdish separatists in their own country, their governments have been observed to have become rather militaristic and harsh. Before the recent events, Turkey has been subjected to at least three military coups since 1960, as well as other attempted ones.
Tourism is an important part of Turkish income, it is worth an estimated $40 billion a year to the country. So civil unrest, the increasing influence of Islamic clerics, and not least gunfire on the streets of Istanbul, can only result in a sharp decline in tourism from western countries. The current leader, President Erdogan, has been portrayed as a friend of the west in the past, and known to be keen to negotiate his country’s membership of the EU. Despite suppressing the free press in Turkey, and having a dubious record on human rights, his government’s collaboration over the refugee crisis has led to him being praised by some western leaders.
Then we are all shocked to read about the news of an attempted coup, with the associated violence, and severe recriminations that followed its failure. Like most people, I had never heard of the man credited with the following that caused the revolt, Fetullah Gulen. So I read a little about him, and was not surprised by what I discovered. This man is a former ally of President Erdogan, who was implicated in a financial scandal before fleeing to ‘self-imposed exile’ in the USA. The Americans currently refuse to extradite him to face trial, and he resides in Pennsylvania, apparently living quite well. His policies appear to offer a more social-based version of an Islamic society, and it was supposedly his followers who backed the recent coup attempt.
It looks as if it will be impossible to get to the truth of any of these issues. Gulen would seem, at least to this cynical observer, to enjoy the support and backing of America, who may well have been heavily involved in the recent coup. Erdogan has used this incident to clamp down on any suspected follower of his opponent, with tens of thousands of Turks either arrested, or dismissed from government jobs. After all the dust settles, the only real losers will be the people of Turkey, of that I am certain.