Turkish people at large termed Fetullah Gülen, a cleric under refuge in the United States, his affiliates and his sponsored Fetullah Gülen Terrorist Organization (FETO), blamed for the July 15th, 2016 failed coup, still a threat. After the failed coup attempt, Turkish people openly question the role of USA and NATO as allies, demands Gülen extradition, witnessing changes in society like freedom and peace flourishing, considers democracy as the only solution to their grave issues while thinks President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan emerged as a strong leader.

It was the bloodiest coup attempt in Turkish history when a segment of the military launched a well-coordinated operation to topple the democratically elected government and oust President Erdoğan. Ankara, Istanbul and other cities witnessed tanks at roads, fighter jets and helicopters attacking government buildings, parliament and directly at common people, explosions and destruction in matters of hours. It was the bloodiest dark night Turkey had ever seen. it was all set that Turkey is going to face another deadliest military coup but suddenly the situation went all the way around.

Turkish nation on July 15th, 2016 – witnessed an unprecedented national consensus in favour of democracy and state, when 251 Braveheart’s sacrificed their precious lives, while several injured, to save their country, democracy, people and also to cleanse the country’s armed forces. Turkish people along with their brave police force, thwart foreign designs, vested agenda and terrorist plot, to hijack their free-will and democratic norms with their bravery, courage and resilience.

On the eve of the commemoration of July 15th, I have contacted Turkish citizens to talk, although reluctant, but some turned-up. Respondents were all common Turkish citizens, who were at the forefront to save Turkish democratic values and institutions, and were affiliated with a variety of professions. The discussion was primarily focused on Turkey, its society, government, and president, Turkish allies, FETO, its influence, Gülen after the failed coup and the threats haunting Turkey.

Turkish society & democracy after FETO failed coup:

Since 2016, Turkish society has largely felt safer terming members of FETO as traitors, they are now grading democracy, freedom and peace considerably at higher levels, terming democracy, the only solution to their problems. According to them, though Turkish democracy is not perfect, it’s not the worst either, some fine-tuning would do (the trick) but in reality, democracy is now in much better shape. Turkish people are accepting that a lot has changed since the failed coup, but at the same time complains that they “don’t see any tangible changes in their life”.

A recent university graduate, 24, was tipping the series of historical events, saying “I remember the Arabian spring, subsequent Gezi uprising in Turkey in 2013, coup attempt, bombings, ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) and recent economic difficulties. I really do not know, what is normal, I don’t know, what is normal (he repeats)”. “Maybe in countries like Turkey full democracy is never possible, there are so many ethnic backgrounds; people always try to exploit democracy”, a graduate student further added.

Vanishing FETO influence in Turkey:

Turkish public views that apparently nothing is clear, FETO largely minimized but not completely vanished, it’s still visible in society but enhanced trust in state institutions is the real strength against all odds. A renowned Turkish business owner, 52, was of the view, “I am sure there are some (positive impacts after the action against FETO), but the most noteworthy thing for me is that people who previously used to praise that so-called “cleric” [Fetullah Gulen] all day on TV, now accuse everyone else of being a traitor.”

A female office worker, 39, has described how Turkish state institutions got strengthened after a failed coup attempt in 2016. She said, “People now have more trust in the judicial system, among other state institutions”. While a young entrepreneur affirmed that positive impacts are observed after minimization of FETO influence. “Now, we have the opportunity to become a more prosperous and easy-going nation. The most apparent positive impact is the increased and developed production levels in-terms of the national defence industry and national weaponry”, the young entrepreneur asserted.

What does FETO mean for Turkish people?

In entire Turkish history, July 15th, 2016 – A dark day and an even darker night, but Turkish nation rose up to the occasion, 251 laid down their precious lives, in-front of military, tanks and bullets to stop them, made a shield to cover fellow citizens from fighter jets and gunship helicopters, resultantly Turkish citizens with their unity, saved constitution, democracy and democratic institutions, protected the progress and substantial prosperity achieved during recent years, moreover secured the country from being another Syria or Libya because vested designs were somewhat identical in Turkish peninsula.

A young lady 39, elaborated the day and night of 15th July, said, “The night of the attempted coup was an immense, hectic and bloody exam for the whole nation. We went through a lot that night. It was a very dark day and we lost many of our people. Mentioning those words, or even thinking about them is nothing more than insults for the fallen ones. We basically hate to hear anything related to those (FETO) people and their ideology, let alone their leader”.

Turkish people termed FETO sponsored failed coup as a terrible thing to happen, and says, nobody deserves this but depicting that soon after 2016, painful episodes started to happen. Such words (mostly related to FETO, Fetullah Gulen or any other) have become a taboo for some, source of hatred for some and a great for confusion for the rest. “A great majority feels uncomfortable when hearing these words, and they try to avoid them at all costs,” a young man said while expressing his views on July 15th.

How does the 2016 episode impact Erdogan political stature?

After 2016 terrible events and the success of Turkish nation in dealing with such affairs, Turkish public thinks Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has proven to be a strong statesman, strong president but most of all, a strong leader, having a strong presence, everywhere, at every issue. A young vibrant lady, 33, believes President Erdoğan passed the testing time, including the FETO issue, through which he emerged victoriously. She said, “I believe, he passed the test with flying colours, he did well. The whole nation stood by him, he emerged stronger from that night but the support of people was incredible.”

15th July, still haunting Turkey?

Turkish people still don’t believe FETO ended, they realize defeat of menace but still believe it’s haunting Turkey. Many are still under psychologically and mental anxiety. Turkish citizens (who had expressed their views to regional rapport) are also criticizing illiteracy, blaming segments of religious fanatics, unnecessarily usage of religion to forward political agendas, driving people to their own will and creating anarchy within the social fabric. In response to a question, a merchant raised a series of queries, he asked, “for me, there are two things: One, are those people still organizing behind the scenes? – Two; many people in many different state institutions have been removed from their posts. Who replaced those people? Are all the replacements from a single group or faction? If yes, isn’t that dangerous?”

“I believe that the organization (FETO) is still present in Turkey. Particularly in higher levels of the army as well as some key state institutions that concern national security. I have no doubt about it. But the problem is, the “tracks or footprints” are on top of each other, it is difficult to say who is who?”, a salesman responds in the same way but very confidently. Many in Turkey don’t like to talk about that night (July 15th, 2016), but they still think, it’s always a burden and a haunting factor for all of them, at the same time there is a general belief, that unfortunately, the threat is not completely removed.

Is Fetullah Gülen (FETO) still a threat for Turkey?

Turkey has demanded the extradition of Fetullah Gülen soon after the failed coup attempt in 2016. Some Turkish media reports suggest US willingness to expel the cleric, a permanent U.S. resident lives in Pennsylvania. Many experts believe that Washington is still diplomatically playing with Ankara’s persistent demand and using it as leverage on Turkey amid bilateral/regional crises including that of Turkey’s role in Syria and Libya.

Internally, Turkish society termed Gülen as a threat and strongly agreed to see FETO either wiped-out or completely neutralized. They depict Fetullah’s photographs and videos (most from his younger days) circulation through the papers and web as his presence in society. A young worker said, “Nothing is over yet, we know and believe that they (FETO) still have some sort of organization within us, even if to a smaller degree than it was in the past”. He explains that “They (FETO) may not pose a great threat at the moment, but I believe they are waiting for the right time to reveal their hideous side again”.

Some Turkish like a young female office executive expressed her thoughts by saying, “as long as he (Fetullah Gülen) lives, he will be a liability. If he dies, he will become a hero for some people. His name is written with blood in history, and it will not be forgotten for a long while”. She further said, “Yes, he (Gülen) is still a threat in many ways. Even if he has lost his capacity, people around him make him a threat”.    

Many believe extradition of Fetullah Gülen, arrest and fair trial is a must to ascertain real facts behind his intentions and his plotted but crushed coup attempt, but some considering Gülen as a tool of regional/global powers, and used to destabilize Turkey, either those powers are apparently, with Ankara or against. An academician thinks, “He (Gülen) never dies before a substitute is found, so it’s not Gülen but the ideology behind him that is dangerous. A few years back, Bin Laden was killed, and not long after we had a new villain called Baghdadi, with his radical followers”.

How did Turkish people see the US?

Turkish public, without naming US/NATO or any other, somewhat believes that allies and enemies are seemingly working against Turkey. They are blaming those, setting traps at different levels including the one on July 15th, 2016. Having said, they think events happening at the moment are in violation of universal law or simply illegal, Turkey is being victimized. They are of the view that if there are allies (like the US), it means there are mutual benefits but instead, what is happening right now is rather an attitude that is spoiled, thoughtless and it would only be displayed by someone who is “bragging” about their “superiority”.

A learned lady openly describes this situation by saying, “USA and NATO are supposed to be allies, but we don’t get anything other than hatred and backstabbing”. She further elaborated, “In Turkey, the recent uprising in the US is seen as payback by many people in Turkey”.

Some criticized the role of the United States in giving refuge to an anti-state element, continuously involved in destabilizing Turkey and termed it “Unacceptable” while a student thinks Turkey has only a few trusted natural allies and raised his question, “Do we really have a sincere ally other than Pakistan and Azerbaijan?”    

Note: The author has sought public views about the post-coup developments in Turkey, all comments of the Turkish people are without attribution and their locations to maintain identity secret, acknowledging their utmost respect and honour to all. The author is thankful to all in Turkey (Ankara and Istanbul) for their great contribution, sparing valuable time in gathering real-time people sentiments. He pays special thanks and credit to former Turkish Journalist- renowned translator Mr Onur Dulkadiroglu, Social worker Mr Ekrem Akurgal, student Behram Özbekhan. 

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy and position of Regional Rapport.