Fearful of Another Coup, Erdogan Supporters Build Informal Militia

The Turkish president said few days after the failed military coup attempt that he learned about the putsch from his brother-in-law. It was President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s relative who informed him about the biggest challenge to his 14-year rule.

And now it has befallen on the shoulders of another of his relative to build an informal militia to prevent another possible military coup. Orhan Uzuner, father of Turkish president’s daughter-in-law, appears to be forming a wide network of communication and social mobilization, and according to media, a paramilitary force — a people’s militia, to form the first line of resistance in case of another military insurrection or a coup attempt.

Autocracies are no stranger to such a parallel army designed to protect the supreme leader. In Iraq, Saddam Hussein’s infamous Republican Guards or shabbiha militias of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad are prime examples.

In an audio recording of Mr. Uzuner that leaked to the media on Monday, he was talking to party members on methods and preparations about how to mobilize the public with lightning speed in order to respond to a possible putsch in the future.

As Turkey still reels from after-effects of a failed military uprising last year, Mr. Erdogan’s deep mistrust against the Turkish army whose members have been savaged and brutalized en masse in prisons, pushes him to take a different set of measures that fall outside of the legal realm. Mr. Uzuner’s leaked audio record gives a glimpse of what those measures might look like.

Mr. Uzuner has formed a group called “Keep fraternity, Turkey” and relatedly found hundreds of WhatsApp groups for coordinating his efforts. Once deeply loathed and detested by President Erdogan and his government, social media technology proved to be a game-changer in most critical hours of the attempted coup. Mr. Erdogan’s entourage and relatives again eye to use all available social media platforms for nationwide mobilization and immediate action to crush another attempt. 

A detailed report by Cumhuriyet daily delves into group’s inner structure and workings. Group members receive 4 types of training; 36-hour drone training from the Civil Aviation General Directorate, first aid from the Health Ministry, building wireless communication tools, activating mobile advanced communication devices to alert people in shortest possible time in case of power cut and Internet blackout across the country. It means installing megaphones and sirens on buildings, in cars and in every possible mobile or static vehicle for quick communication, for calling mass mobilization.

Mr. Uzuner is now establishing communication systems in every town and city, wireless communication tools, walkie-talkies through smartphones, high-tech or manual means of communication like hand-held megaphone or siren. He plans to name 3 men for communication coordinators in every town. There are 300 members of a network connected through ‘Zello,’ a walkie-talkie application on smartphones, and the password into the group is ‘1071,’ a historic date marks Turks’ entry to Anatolia after a triumphant war with Byzantium Empire.

For that purpose, Mr. Uzuner even established a new company for radio broadcasting on the Internet and is eyeing for regular radio broadcasting after purchasing terrestrial frequencies under its radio license. Radio now broadcasts programs about July 15 coup attempt and mystify heroic action of brave people who stood against tanks. It promotes Uzuner’s speeches, preparations, announcements and notices about the activities of the group.

In the speech laced with emotional charges and nationalist sentiment, Mr. Uzuner said “Whatever they do, we will not be divided, we are Turkey altogether.”

“We closed ranks around President Erdogan, our leader and symbol of our freedom. We do not want any harm to him.”

The formation of the group by Mr. Uzuner came after July 15 coup attempt which has unsettled Turkey since then as President Erdogan launched a massive purge campaign in civil service and bureaucracy to scotch likelihood of another attempt. Not only coup plotters have been dismissed or jailed, but also political opponents of all stripes found themselves at cross-chairs. As of today, more than 140,000 public officials from all departments and institutions became victims of Mr. Erdogan’s zealous and ever-expanding purge.

Mr. Uzuner’s initiative reflects Mr. Erdogan’s changed priorities as he leaned toward some mafioso groups who are pretty well versed in strategies and formations for quasi-state violence, as part of political re-alignment.

Sedat Peker, a rumpled nationalist firebrand and a notorious mafia boss, has declared allegiance to Mr. Erdogan. To prove his loyalty, he frequently threatens Mr. Erdogan’s opponents in incendiary speeches, vowing to “drown critics in rivers of their own blood.” Another mafia leader Alaattin Cakici whose hitman broke nose of former Prime Minister Mesut Yilmaz in a visit abroad in late 1990s, also offered his service. Though last year he, who is still in jail, turned down Mr. Erdogan’s overture to work together, he has appeared eager to do now.

In a country beset by bloody political strife in 1970s when 5,500 people were killed, preventing the formation of militias for political causes, and linked with political parties, has long been a bipartisan staple of state policy. Assembling parade-in formations, or German Stormtroopers of Nazi era, critics say, will plausibly corrode public integrity, social peace and the rule of law.

Mr. Erdogan’s proclivity to create his own militia is poised to set a dangerous precedent, and a setback to 1970s when police departments were paralyzed by political affiliations either to right or left, when political violence shattered the basic tenets of public and individual security as neighborhoods and urban landscape were virtually and physically divided along political lines. For instance, in Istanbul it was a dangerous endeavor or a great risk for a nationalist citizen to wander into a leftist-held neighborhood and vice versa.

Founder and legendary leader of Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) Alparslan Turkes was blocked from entering Diyarbakir for a political rally in late 1970s was another case in point. Politicians from both left and right had become victims of assassinations and executions in broad daylight.

“We have, as the group, obtained all needed and essential equipment. Our smallest device is a whistle. I have a megaphone in my car. We have weapons for use when necessary,” Mr. Uzuner said at a January meeting with group members. “We need to make preparations like this,” he concluded.

After the revelation of the leaked audio about the meeting, Mr. Uzuner revised his statement and rejected ‘weapons’ part during his speech. He said he meant sirens not weapons. But still, his denial does little to palliate jolted nerves of the public leery of increasing reports of preparations for a potential civil strife. 

The government-sponsored calls for armament among Mr. Erdogan’s supporters will plunge Turkey into an uncharted territory riven with great pitfalls and unpalatable risks.

Last week, two officials from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) warned over the outbreak of a civil war if the presidential system is rejected by prevalence of No vote in referendum scheduled for April 16.

Just weeks after the military coup, Ankara’s flamboyant mayor, Melih Gokcek, said “everyone who gets a hand on a rifle takes it home” in anticipation of a possible coup.

Fear-mongering has become a new method of political and psychological warfare conducted by government members, including Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus, to scare public for the worse if its bid is overturned by popular mandate. But alacrity to form a party militia to save political skin of a leader is a far more dangerous path, critics argue, that would open Pandora’s Box, and push Turkey into a permanent state of civil strife. In that scenario non-state actors would impose their mandate on others, and take justice into their own hands. 

This piece is originally appeared on The Globe Post.

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