Thursday, July 21, 2016

Best laid plans

I’m a planner. I like to know what’s going to happen. That makes me a good strategist. It also means that I’m not necessarily the most spontaneous person in the world. The trick, of course, is when life happens and things interrupt well laid plans – how nimble one is in adapting is critical. Like most of us I’m a work in progress as to being flexible. In some areas of my life as I age I am much more ‘go with the flow’ while other areas I seem to be getting less amenable. Politics requires a lot of pliability and if you’re planning a coup – you really do need to have your ducks in a row.

On July 15 for several hours there was an attempt to take over Turkey’s government. According to the BBC: “It looks as if the coup attempt was staged mainly by the gendarmerie [national police] and air force personnel.” The rest of the military were not on board and ‘order’ was restored within a day.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has fired tens of thousands of workers and thousands of military personnel in a purge to rid the country of traitors. To many it looks like the megalomaniac President who just declared a three month “State of Emergency” is using the failed coup as a way to solidify his power.

Most U.S. news outlets and indeed the State Department itself seemed surprised by the uprising. I wasn’t. In 2015 the Boston Gay Men’s Chorus (where I serve as Executive Director) became the first LGBTQ chorus to perform in Turkey. It almost didn’t happen. A short documentary tells of all the details – but the top-line narrative  was that the President of Turkey in his re-election bid canceled the concert. The event went on with thousands in attendance though the state media were prevented from covering it.

Rainbow formed from the water canon used against LGBT people @ Pride Parade 2015

The next day the Chorus was scheduled to lead the annual LGBTQ pride parade. When we arrived at the starting point we were turned away by the police who informed us the parade was cancelled and unless we disbursed everybody would be arrested and detained. We complied though many then went back individually and watched water canons and tear gas used against Turkish citizens by the police.

The LGBTQ community in Turkey fiercely stood up for themselves and in the election that followed Erdogan didn’t win a plurality – and was forced to form a coalition government. LGBTQ forces helped sway the election 18%. When that effort failed new elections were held. ISIS attacks began in-country Erdogan used the politics of fear to win a majority in the new elections. He immediately began instituting new policies and was working on a new constitution giving him more authority.

PRI, a leading international publication wrote in July 2015 “How Erdogan Spurs LGBT Hatred for Political Gain.” A year later the police shut down the LGBTQ pride parade for a second year in a row.

In addition to being courting the extreme right Islamists in Turkey, President Erdogan has a low tolerance for criticism. And he keeps track. In 2015 Reuter’s reports: “Stephen Kinzer, a former Turkey bureau chief for the U.S. daily, traveled to the southern city of Gaziantep expecting to be made an honorary citizen for his reporting 15 years ago which helped save endangered Roman mosaics. His embarrassed hosts at the city council had told him the award had been canceled on the personal orders of Erdogan due to a column he wrote in the Boston Globe in January.”

In 2014 the Presidential Palace that Erdogan designed and cost $615 million was under criticism from the opposition party for excessive spending. The President’s response to the accusations was to threaten to sue and jail those who made the claims.

Politico reports: “Turkey is a longtime strategic partner of the United States that houses a vital U.S. airbase and a small U.S. arsenal of tactical nuclear weapons.”

When a country is taken over by a megalomaniac who responds to criticism by lashing out and jailing people, it is a problem. When a President lashes out against a community of people (like the LGBTQ community) to pacify his right flank, it is a problem. That’s all true in Turkey and in the United States. Now let's plan that next coup.

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