Turkey's Coup: The 'Valkyrie' Of Our Times

In the 2008 film Valkyrie, a faction of the German military fight the Nazi regime, attempting a military coup in order to overthrow a totalitarian regime led by Adolf Hitler. But after initial optimism, the "July plot" fizzles out as it loses popular support, and terrible punishment is meted out to the plotters. The true story behind this coup is eerily similar to the events in Turkey in the middle of July coup.

It appears a faction of the military attempted to oust Turkish strongman Recep Tayyip Erdogan, to restore the constitution, as the rebel leaders claimed. The autocratic Erdogan, supposedly occupying what the constitution says is a ceremonial position, has demanded a new regime that would provide a "presidential system" or one that would make him as powerful as Putin is in Russia.

To make matters worse, Erdogan used the example of Hitler in a positive way to justify creating the new government. But voters didn't give him enough votes to create the new system. So Erdogan took steps to change that, calling a new election, waging war against the Kurds, while doing little to stop the infiltration of ISIS into his country.

Erdogan blamed moderate cleric Fethullah Gulen, living in exile in the United States, of orchestrating the coup. In fact, Gulen's group condemned the coup while momentum was with the coup. But that doesn't matter. Enemies of the state are determined by their opposition to Erdogan, instead of their opposition to democracy anyway these days.

Besides, Erdogan pretty much purged the military of any Gulenists already. Yet Erdogan claimed the coup was run "from Pennsylvania" (where Gulen lives), and demanded his extradition. Unless the USA wants to refrain from murdering a moderate Muslim cleric who shares many American values, it should ignore this request, as it has wisely done beforehand.

It could be a similar story with the Kurds in Turkey. Though the HDP, their political party, also condemned the coup, actions taken by Erdogan to mend ties with Assad seem to have an eye on destroying the Syrian Kurdish group PYD, the only force effective enough to fight ISIS.

Coups are the wrong way to go about when starting up or restarting a democracy. Another bad way is creeping authoritarianism, which Erdogan seeks to deftly practice. As Michael Rubin wrote in the Middle East Forum, Erdogan had this to say of democracy, while serving as Istanbul's Mayor. "Democracy is like a streetcar," he claimed. "You ride it until you arrive at your destination and then you step off."

Erdogan called the military coup attempt a "Gift from God." Surely he didn't mean killing the brave Turks who stood up for democracy as a beneficial thing, right? What it meant was almost as bad: Erdogan would now have the power to stamp out anyone and everyone he dislikes.

As of now, Erdogan fired nearly 3,000 judges, even though there's no evidence that judges were out in the streets overthrowing the government. They have blocked Erdogan's political power grabs in the past, so they made the list. And after ISIS attacked the Istanbul airport, Erdogan responded by shutting down pro-Gulen media outlets.

But is it really a case similar to Operation Valkyrie, which occurred on July 20, 1944? There is a lot of Internet chatter that suggests that Erdogan orchestrated the whole thing, to disassemble the military. Unlike the case of Hitler, there wasn't a lot of popular support for the coup. The HDP, Gulen groups, and other political parties denounced the coup. Yet those who denounced it are the ones likely to suffer Erdogan's purges, the same way Claus von Stauffenberg, Erwin Rommel and his allies were killed off after an enraged Hitler survived the anti-Nazi coup.

Turks took to the streets to disrupt the anti-Hitler coup, and even Erdogan's enemies condemned the military takeover. But like the end of the movie Valkyrie, lots of people, including loyalists, are likely to face terrible punishment or retribution, guilty or not.

John A. Tures is a professor of political science at LaGrange College in LaGrange, Ga. He can be reached at jtures@lagrange.edu.