Turks in Scotland reflect on political turmoil at home

Government supporters wave Turkish flags during a protest in Taksim Square, Istanbul, on July 19. Picture: AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti
Government supporters wave Turkish flags during a protest in Taksim Square, Istanbul, on July 19. Picture: AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti
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THE failed coup d’état attempt in Turkey has dominated the news agenda in recent days. While the world looked on as events unfolded last Friday, the Turkish diaspora overseas watched with a mixture of fear and disbelief.

The plan to remove President Recep Tayyip Erdogan from power was reportedly organised by a faction within the Turkish Armed Forces, under the command of a shadowy ‘peace at home’ council. The Turkish authorities claim to have crushed the uprising within 12 hours, but details on who was ultimately responsible remain vague.

A Turkish policeman stands guard in front of a damaged building inside a special forces base which was attacked by warplanes during the failed military coup. Picture: AP Photo/Hussein Malla

A Turkish policeman stands guard in front of a damaged building inside a special forces base which was attacked by warplanes during the failed military coup. Picture: AP Photo/Hussein Malla

For Turks living abroad, with many friends and family back home, it is a time of great uncertainty.

There are an estimated 6,000-8,000 Turks in Scotland, according to the Turkish Consulate General in Edinburgh. Around 2,000 Turks staying north of the border voted in last year’s Turkish general election.

But a consulate spokesman said the number of Turkish-Scots could be much higher, when the children of migrants were considered.

The coup caught many expats in Scotland by complete surprise.

Burcu Henderson, from Istanbul, moved to Scotland last year. She is worried about the future of Turkey, post-coup. Picture: Contributed

Burcu Henderson, from Istanbul, moved to Scotland last year. She is worried about the future of Turkey, post-coup. Picture: Contributed

Özgür Akgün, an academic at the University of St Andrews, has lived in Scotland for seven years. The 30-year-old was on holiday in Turkey with his wife Emine when the coup began.

“Even though we are very experienced in Turkish politics we were shocked - a military coup seemed very unlikely in modern day Turkey,” he said.

“It’s very hard to know exactly why the coup attempt took place. But it has become obvious that the public does not support the coup in any way.

“Now that the coup has seemingly failed, the opposition is very worried: Erdogan might use this to turn Turkey into a one-man-state. His past record combined with the initial purge of top officials do not give us a lot of hope.”

READ MORE: Leader comment: Turkey’s coup raises concerns for west

Turkey has a long history of political coups. But this was the first time younger Turks had the chance to witness one for themselves.

“The older generations experienced the last coup in 1980, and my generation was brought up with stories of how coups destroy the country and the life of the people,” said Rahmi Kopar, a law PhD student at the University of Dundee.

“That’s why it was the younger generations especially who took to the streets and lay down in front of the tanks.”

Rahmi, from Istanbul, said he was at home in Dundee when he found out about the coup “while surfing the internet like everyone else”.

He added: “My friends, my family, everyone that I know was on the streets by the first hour of the coup attempt.

“None of them were afraid of the F16s flying above and bombing randomly, or terrorists that shoot directly at people. Everyone felt that they would fail and face justice and so they are.”

Other Turks view the events of recent days as the culmination of a growing divide in Turkish society.

Burcu Henderson, from Istanbul, married her British husband, Spencer, two years ago and moved to Scotland in November.

The 40-year-old said she was “shocked, surprised and scared” by the failed coup, and is worried about the government crackdown now taking place.

“I believe Turkey will be a worse place, that democracy and everything Atatürk fought for will be fully destroyed,” she said.

“Turkey has become a one man autocracy, rather than a democracy, in the last decade. There is no freedom of speech, freedom of press or respecting others’ lifestyle.

“Half of the country are fundamentalists who elected this government and are constantly suppressing the other half, who are more secular and modern.”

She added: “After the attempted coup, my family, friends and like-minded people are not optimistic about the future. Everyone wants a life of peace and happiness - however no one wants to stay in Turkey, no one wants to raise children in this environment.”

READ MORE: Dozens dead after military in Turkey launch attempted coup