What an extended state of emergency means for Turkey

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said it would be in the country’s best interests to extend the state of emergency enacted after the July 15 failed coup attempt. How might that affect Turks?

Courtesy of: AP
Courtesy of: AP

Turkey will continue fighting whatever powers seek to undermine the government, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan vowed last month as he addressed a massive flag-waving rally in Istanbul in the wake of the country’s abortive July 15 coup.

Updated Sep 30, 2016

What is a state of emergency anyway?
Confronted with unusual and often unparalleled dangers (natural or human-made), a government may suspend usual judicial procedures and temporarily enact a state of emergency. Sometimes this means that due process is suspended, or warrantless searches are allowed, usually to deal with an immediate threat.  

In Turkey’s case, the clear and present threat materialised itself on July 15, with tanks rolling in the streets of the capital Ankara and Istanbul, jets screaming over city centres and helicopter gunships firing on the house of parliament during a bloody coup attempt.

That sounds intense, isn’t it un-democratic?
Most people maintain their rights. In some special instances, the importance of protecting the state may affect the individual rights of citizens.

Even during normal times a state has the responsibility to protect its citizens and itself. Sometimes these two needs bump heads. For example, a person may be free to travel, but will be stopped at an airport and searched. This may be an infringement of rights, but it’s a compromise that is made to protect society. 

But isn’t that a lot of power? Couldn't it be misused?
With great power comes great responsibility. There are international agencies keeping an eye on things, looking out for the rights of people and their governments. These same agencies might also help governments distribute aid to areas hit by natural disasters, or conflict. 

There have been some instances where a state of emergency was abused. For example, in 1991 an attempted coup took place in the former Soviet Union (USSR).  The coup leaders invoked a state of emergency which fantastically backfired when, following the coup’s failure, the USSR ultimately dissolved.

Other nations have imposed strict curfews and essentially imprisoned their citizens. Eritrea, which has been in a state of emergency for 17 years, has abused those powers to conscript people into its military indefinitely, which the United Nations said amounts to a form of slavery.

Erdogan has issued sweeping changes to Turkey's military in the wake of the failed coup, bringing the armed forces further under civilian authority.

So far, Turkey's government has received some criticism for detaining suspected coup plotters.

Turkey argues that its use of detention and arrest is a short term measure, used in order to secure the state.

So, which other countries are in states of emergency right now?
The list is long. Hundreds of areas across the world may be under a state of emergency at any given time. Some more recent and prominent examples are:

  • Last week in North Carolina, after riots broke out following the police shooting of Keith Scott.
  • Last month in Italy after earthquakes caused massive devastation.
  • Last year in France after the Paris attacks.
  • Myanmar has declared several states of emergency due to ongoing sectarian violence, natural disasters, and disease outbreaks. 
  • In 2001, the entire United States of America was put under a state of emergency, which remains in effect until today, following the September 11 attacks.
  • Since 1998, Eritrea has been operating under a state of emergency, following a war with neighboring Ethiopia. For 17 years, the nation has essentially stopped all political, social and economic progress in lieu of national security.

All of these areas enacted a state of emergency which remain in place, but not all have used those powers in the same fashion. Some are likely to be lifted soon, while others may not. How a government acts during troubled times receives either international acclaim or criticism. People are watching and waiting to see what Turkey is going to do.

Ok, so it’s not that out of the ordinary
Sure, it’s not the normal way that governments run themselves, but neither is it extremely rare. A state of emergency may for last days, months, or go on for years.

So how have Turkish people been affected?
The psychological trauma following the failed coup attempt is still fresh in the minds of many Turks. Ankara is busy dismantling what it calls a "parallel state." The normal day-to-day affairs of the average citizen may look similar to the pre-coup era, but the hard-won fight for democracy has left scars that are still healing.

The question remains, how will an extension of the state of emergency affect the people of Turkey? Many expect more of the same. Turkish authorities have already launched a series of mass purges of the armed forces, police,  judiciary, and education system, targeting followers of accused coup leader Fethullah Gulen, who operates an extensive network of schools and foundations.

Investigations are underway. Some people have been detained, questioned, and released. Others have been arrested and face criminal charges. There's no clear answer as to when this will all be over, but many are cautiously optimistic.

"The Turkish nation is brave and confident," businesswoman Nur Teksoz said.

She added that bringing the plotters to task is one way to prevent another coup from happening, but expressed concerns over the way it is carried out. 

"I’m sure some of the people being let go or suspended, that’s good for the country. But we must make sure that innocent people don’t get caught up in the net. So I’m kind of in the middle right now," she said.

Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan told Al Jazeera, "We will remain inside a democratic parliamentary system, we will never step back from it."

"However, whatever is necessary for the nation’s peace and stability will be done. I don’t think we have come to the end of it yet."

TRTWorld and agencies