A botched coup, and Turkey’s slide into authoritarian rule

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Successful coups alter the course of history, but even botched ones can profoundly change the direction of a country. So when, on this day last year, the first late-night reports emerged of tanks on the streets of Istanbul and men in uniform taking over the state broadcaster in Ankara, Turkey appeared to be at a fateful turning point. In the 12 months since, however, it has become clear that that abortive, short-lived putsch would serve not as a watershed but merely as an accelerant for a trend that was already in train: Turkey’s slide into authoritarian rule.

The coup, led by factions within the armed forces, was quickly suppressed in part thanks to ordinary people who took to the streets to face down the tanks. What followed, however, was a systematic series of purges, starting with anyone with any hint of allegiance to the exiled cleric Fethullah Gülen, whose followers the Turkish authorities say orchestrated the coup, but ultimately encompassing anyone deemed a threat by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan: judges, prosecutors, academics, pro-Kurdish politicians, journalists and civil servants. The numbers are staggering: more than 50,000 alleged Gülenists have been arrested, and the authorities have sacked more than 100,000 state employees and suspended a further 33,000.

More than 50,000 alleged Gülenists have been arrested, and the authorities have sacked more than 100,000 state employees and suspended a further 33,000

Over the past year 110 media outlets have been shut down for alleged links to Gülen’s network, and the press accreditation of 715 journalists has been revoked. A state of emergency declared in the aftermath of the failed coup remains in place 12 months later, giving the authorities sweeping powers to restrict individual rights.

Erdogan’s own position as president, which looked decidedly shaky as recently as June 2015, when his Islamist Justice and Development Party lost its parliamentary majority, is now unassailable. A referendum in April approved Erdogan’s long-held wish for an executive presidency, giving him immense new powers and curbing the parliament’s ability to constrain him.



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