Aim and Methodology of the Research

Between November 2016 and March 2017, Center for Public Policy and Democracy Studies (PODEM) conducted a study to understand how key social groups in Turkey perceived developments in the political and social fields following the July 15th coup attempt. In the context of the present report, researchers staged in-depth interviews and a workshop, each involving representatives from groups in the “laicist/secular demographic in Istanbul. The current report reflects the most significant findings from these two sources, including the views of a broad range of secularists representing the media, civil society organizations, academics and the business world.

The “laicist” demographic is not a homogenous group, but includes great variety and diversity in its own right. It is not possible to conduct research from the assumption that everyone in “the secular community” holds the same ideology or viewpoint, or to claim that all people with laicist/secular concerns in Turkey represent a laicist bloc.

One of the main reasons behind this is that secular-minded individuals across this spectrum are further divided across a variety of social identity groups. For example, secularists in Turkey cannot be neatly defined in the same way as more distinct identity groups, such as the Kurds. Similarly, the vast majority of Alevis highly value secularism, but for many Alevis the predominant element in their identity is Alevi, rather than “secularist.”

Despite these complex social dynamics, we intended this report as a snapshot of July 15th and its aftermath from the “secular” worldview, reflecting as many of the perspectives in this diverse demographic as possible. We do not claim that the findings of this report or the perspectives contained in it form a comprehensive depiction of the views of the laicist/secular community in Turkey, but we present our observations and analysis as broadly illustrative of the major themes.

Primary findings from the research are:
  • The July 15th coup attempt and its aftermath saw fractures within the secular demographic. It is possible to observe three trends— the first one is unification along the nationalist line. The second one does not contain any issues with nationalism, but rather worries about the future of the country over the claim of rising conservatism. The third trend is simply hopelessness for the future of Turkey.
  • Feelings of doubt and fear are common among the secular community. There is no trust in the legal system. The majority believe that current policies are enforced arbitrarily.The secular community’s sense of being excluded from society and from politics reached a climax with the aftermath of July 15th. It is argued that the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) is not making any attempts to offer inclusive policies, and that there will be fewer reasons to do so in the upcoming period.
  • The secular community sees the period following July 15th as part of a continuous period of mismanagement which dates to 2012, and which has become clear during the Gezi Park protests in 2013.
  • It is held that uncertainty dominates Turkey’s future. There is a wide variety of questions over what kind of country Turkey will be in 15-20 years. In certain circles, the overwhelming concern over the perceived rise of social conservatism has the priority. Concrete examples include the fear of conservative trends in education and the narrowing space for public life.
  • A minority within the secular community considers the Kurdish issue an important subject. Otherwise, there is a general indifference to the topic.
  • While political outbursts against the West are satisfying to a degree, Turkey’s deteriorating ties with the West are also increasing concerns over isolation and economic decline.
  • There are multiple perspectives in the business world. Some characterize the tumult as temporary and say a fast recovery is possible, while others point out that with global and regional issues as they are, economic recovery in Turkey will not be easy.

The July 15th Coup Attempt from the Perspective of the “Secular Community”

Looking at the period from the July 15th coup attempt to the present, one can observe a number of different trends within the secular community. The first to emerge is that of doubt and fear.

Study participants suggest that when most members of the secular community first heard reports of what was happening on the night of July 15th they did not give much credence to the idea that a real coup attempt was occurring. As the shock of the initial moment passed and the days that followed brought more information to light, fewer people questioned whether the coup attempt was real or not. Even in the midst of a lingering feeling of surreality, the perspective spread that the country had avoided a major catastrophe.

It is clear that there is a disbelief that July 15th was staged with a strong denunciation of any kind of coup. Participants emphasize that July 15th is a shameful episode for every Turkish citizen and it is unacceptable that Turkey has gotten to the point that such an event could occur. There is a common perception, however, that the period following the coup attempt was not well-managed with the violations of rights and pressure on freedoms. The participants report that they feel as if they were living in an empire of fear and their psychology has utterly collapsed.

“As a citizen of the Turkish Republic, I was ashamed on July 15th. It was shameful to me that such a thing could happen in our country. We found it difficult to explain it to our partners abroad.”

However, there are also some who believe that the coup attempt, while not planned by the government, was carefully manipulated once it took off. People holding this view believe that the government became aware of the coup shortly before it occurred and allowed the uprising to take place in order to suppress it publicly. This would allow the government to take control of the period following the coup to protect itself and silence the opposition.

“What happened was a controlled coup. They received the information and ensured it would be under control. At a certain point, it turned into a witch hunt.”

According to this perspective, what happened on July 15th is still not entirely understood— even if a coup attempt occurred, there are still many questions pertaining to that night. Many parts of the story are still unclear, and despite all the time that has passed since, a clear picture has still not been provided. The events following the coup attempt have confirmed these concerns. A few examples include the academics removed from their jobs, civil society organizations being shut down, and the enormous pressure on the opposition, all as a result of administrative decrees (KHKs) issued under the state of emergency.

“The night of July 15th is still complicated. As a journalist, I am putting together a timeline but there are still some blank spots. And then everything that happened in the aftermath justifies these suspicions.”

 “I think that unless the coup attempt is brought fully to light, people will continue to whisper and suspect for another two generations.”

Importantly, though, it is also possible to see reflection and self-criticism over positions taken on July 15th and in the immediate aftermath. Many now see that it was wrong for secularists not to take to the streets. They emphasize that there was a historic opportunity and obligation to participate and show that just like the conservatives who blocked the coup in the streets, the secular community also opposed the coup. Another group claim that because they themselves were not responsible for what happened (which they characterize as an outcome of the failed policies of the government and the AK Party), it was not incumbent on citizens to take to the streets.

“The ones who took to the streets were AKP supporters, and we made a mistake by not going out too. When you just watch what is happening you lose out, we should have gone to the streets. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity and we missed it.”

“As much as we criticized the Kurds for not getting sufficiently involved during the Gezi protests, on July 15th we were the ones caught up short.”

“We didn’t feel responsible so we didn’t get involved. We were no part of it anyway [it wasn’t us who took so many Gülenists into the services]. We thought, ‘let them clean up their own mess.’”

The secular community was pleased that political leaders came together to show their unified position against the coup while it was still happening, on the night of July 15th and the morning of July 16th. Despite many not agreeing with the policies of Erdoğan , they were pleased to have a strong leader like President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to face this brutal uprising. The dominant view is that with a weak leader, Turkey would not have been able to give the decisive response necessary to see off the coup.

Participants described the Yenikapı Rally, organized in the weeks following the coup attempt, as a moment when they felt events had come to a turning point, after which their hopes for the future reached a climax. The fact that the AK Party, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) and the Republican People’s Party (CHP) could share the same platform increased their pride and confidence in Turkey.

The Western response to the events in Turkey, which some participants saw as merely indifferent and others saw as wrong, brought Turkey’s political leaders together to give a joint response. This unprecedented cooperation excited nearly everyone. People yearning for unity in Turkey were suddenly hopeful that the coup attempt might indirectly serve as a means to bring about a lasting spirit of consensus.

The State of Emergency (OHAL) and Differentiation in the Secular Community

Regarding the period following July 15th, the majority of the secular community shares the following perspectives:

  • The fact that the coup could be prevented is an undeniable success for Turkey.
  • Events offered a chance, in fact a critical opportunity to meet on common ground, but that opportunity was not properly appreciated.
  • Today we are in a period of increased polarization and political tension.

Minds are clear and support is strong regarding the struggle started against the Gülenists, and there is agreement regarding the need to purge Gülenists from state institutions and punish those involved in the uprising. Yet it is argued that in the months following July 15th the policies conducted passed far beyond the struggle against the Gülenists, and has taken the form of a series of operations aimed at neutralizing all opposition and sources of alternate viewpoints.

Current politics is understood as “the policy of taking revenge from everyone with different views” and is frequently described as worrisome and frightening. Lack of fair treatment under the law is among the primary factors listed as the source of fear. Participants in the study expressed the concern that there was no obstacle to their being accused of an invented crime and themselves arrested, before facing arbitrary trials. The increase in numbers of arrests, firings and suspensions from work, and the lack of transparent criteria for any of these policies and accusations, have all been critical in establishing a state of fear.

Regarding operations against Gülenists, participants mention a number of breaking points in particular, such as the police raid of a symbolically important institution like the Turkish daily newspaper Cumhuriyet, the arrest of their reporters, and the suspension of academics from work.

The coup attempt and subsequent OHAL split opinions within the secular community. Along with the concern observed among nearly everyone over current events, there is also notable division over the subject of the country’s future. There are three main trends with regard to these views within the secular demographic.

The first trend is the unification along the nationalist line. For the people in this category, the idea of the nation is the highest priority. They believe that the nation is entirely under threat, and that during this time of grave danger all other objections should be set aside for at least a brief period. They say the discussions on various social identities should not be in the agenda today. In accordance with this belief, they do not see themselves as opposed to the current government.

“They wanted to take over Turkey, and we have to show a united stance against that.”

The second trend is the increasing visibility of discomfort against conservatism. Although those with this view are close to the nationalist line, they believe AK Party has consolidated its power after the July 15th coup attempt and thereby, religion has now more impact on public life and politics. It is underlined that the coup attempt was undertook against the entire country, that Turkey was left to defend itself alone against this threat, and that unity is required. However, they are unable to find themselves a proper place in politics. Due to serious concerns over their ability to preserve their lifestyle and pursue their plans for the future, they are experiencing difficulty trusting the current political establishment.

On the other hand, they indicate clear support for the struggle against the Gülenists. The President and the AK Party are praised for their success in extricating the country from the difficult situation it was in. On this point, the feeling of “exclusion” is very clear. They are conscious of the fact that the political party they feel they belong to is not able to cope with changing circumstances, and they do not ascribe any likelihood to the possibility of its renewal of the party. In this situation, they are forced to tie their hopes to people and leaders from the AK Party, and accepting this creates a dilemma for them.

Their greatest concern is related to secularism. The question of to what extent secular values will remain a part of the new system while Turkey is being rebuilt is a major concern. For exactly this reason, the inclusion of the CHP leader, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, in the Yenikapı rally was reassuring for them, and they say they need to see more of this kind of display of unity. No matter how much they criticize CHP for its failures of leadership, they see it for historical reasons as a guarantor of secular values.

At this point it is necessary to state that many members of this demographic have begun a period of questioning and self-criticism on the question of what secular values actually are. When this debate comes up, reference is most frequently made to concepts such as Kemalism, loyalty to the Republic, social liberties, and everyone’s right to live as they choose. In this respect, secularists are beginning to confront their past failures in living up to these principles. They are beginning to internalize the self-criticism that the reason for the social polarization Turkey has come to today may be the long years of repression against religious conservatives, and moreover, the transformation of Atatürkism into a kind of religion that made even the slightest criticism unimaginable.

The third trend is to simply abandon all hope for Turkey. For those with this view, every issue is overshadowed by fear. They believe that the aftermath of the July 15th coup attempt marks the final moments for those pursuing a secular lifestyle in Turkey. They perceive the likelihood that Turkey could recover in the near future and become a country they could live in to be essentially impossible, or very low.

The members of this last group feel that they have been rapidly ostracized from politics and even from society in Turkey. Their relations with other social groups are extremely limited, and those that exist are essentially to unavoidable work relationships. This isolation is not itself a problem for them; the cause of concern is the perception that with the passage of time the number of individuals sharing their lifestyle is steadily decreasing to the point that they will be reduced to the status of a minority. It is difficult to say that this category of secularists are open to the criticism of Kemalism or to debating the mistakes of the past. They are also close to self-criticism. In fact to the contrary, they can be said to live inside a kind of Kemalist nostalgia. After July 15th the most frequently discussed topic among this set was leaving Turkey or preparation for leaving. No matter how small a subset are actually prepared to turn these words into action, this group is constantly discussing the topic of trying to find other places to live in the future.

Secularists across the first two trends described above unite in their criticism of the people constituting this third, nostalgic, group. They are described as having relatively large numbers but no potential for transformative political power, because they talk but never move to action, due to their total unwillingness to take any risk. Some point to these as the greatest obstacle blocking social progress in Turkey today.

“This demographic is out in front of us like the last, most difficult hurdle. If it can be solved then maybe the road ahead will be easier and open up quickly.”

A glance at Kurdish issue, economy and foreign policy

When it comes to the Kurdish issue, there is an overlapping approach visible across the three trends’ perspectives. The majority of the secular community support both the struggle against the Gülenists following July 15th as well as the ongoing struggle against the PKK. Those speaking out against the crackdown criticize the current politics as “reflexive opposition.” While it is not possible to say that the entire secular community is indifferent to the Kurdish issue, the majority especially reacts against Kurdish politicians and believe that they deserved the ongoing government crackdown.

Participants assert that the majority of secularists who supported People’s Democratic Party (HDP) and HDP co-chair Selahattin Demirtaş, specifically in the June 7th 2015 elections, say that if the election occurred today, they would not take the same position as before. There is a general belief that the number of people who regret the support they gave at the time is extremely high.

“This community would not necessarily have an issue with the OHAL if the [daily] Cumhuriyet or the chancellor of Boğaziçi University had not been targets; there is concern only as long as they themselves become targets.”

“There are some in this community who care about Demirtaş and the HDP members being arrested, but they are in the minority. Some blame him and they are in the majority.”

Unlike the Kurdish issue, economic concerns are at the center of the debate. Turkey’s increasingly fragile state in the face of global economic developments, the difficulties brought about by regional crises, and the difficulty of doing business given Turkey’s deteriorating image are all frequently discussed. People also frequently suggest that economy has been mismanaged and exploited for popular politics.

“Of course security is important; however, we must not forget the economy. If the economy improves, there will for sure be less complaints in the society.”

From the economic standpoint, despite some people making the comparison that “Turkey has become Egypt,” those inside the business world have a more positive view of the economy, and believe that if the right moves are made, a swift recovery would be possible. They remember a time when Turkey was seen as an “economic shining star,” and claim that with proper management, a return to that dynamic is possible. Although investor confidence in the country has diminished, investment has not gotten to the point of fleeing the country, and new investors’ time horizons are longer. These businessmen emphasize that as long as the OHAL is extended, however, foreign investors will remain cautious about Turkey.

When it comes to foreign policy, there are two primary views. The majority does not object to existing foreign policy in a particularly strong way. More than the policies themselves, criticism is directed to the implementation. Many secularists are pleased to an extent to move from merely being an observer in the Middle East, and to be able to talk back to the West when necessary. On the other hand, there are concerns and doubts about the outcomes of current policy.

Despite all mutual criticism, the West is described as a crucial partner that Turkey must not lose sight of that.

“We shouldn’t look to the Shanghai Five or to the Middle East, but to Europe. There is no way we will do well without Europe.”

The topic of Syria is particularly sensitive. Having Turkish soldiers in a neighboring country is a troubling situation, and nationalist passions are fading when this topic on the table. The source of the worry is the increase in the impact of Syria’s state of war inside Turkey, and the possibility of becoming more of a target because of that involvement. The increasing number of terror attacks inside Turkey constitute a serious fear. There is a tendency to hold the AK Party and its recent politics responsible for these attacks.

Breaking Points for the Secular Community

The political stance accompanying the July 15th and its aftermath are described as turning points for secularists. This is not the first turning point with which their feelings of exclusion began, however. From the secularist standpoint, the first rupture happened during the Gezi demonstrations. Secularists generally praise the Gezi demonstrations as a time when people took to the streets to voice their demands for democratic rights. They claim that after Gezi, the government completely ignored these demands, and by violently suppressing the demonstrations, they moved decisively down the path to an authoritarian regime. It was at this point that people across the secular community felt displaced and began to think that Turkey no longer had a place for them.

“Erdoğan reached out to everyone. He sat down with the Kurds, he started to improve relations with Syria, it’s only with the secularist community that he made no attempt at all to empathize. The reason for this he is increasingly securing his dominance over this community over time.” 

“The way in which we have come to an unmanageable state of affairs started with Gezi. That was when the AK Party lost the moral high ground.” 

Study participants indicate that the secular community sees the period before 2012 as having been more inclusive, and that it was after this date that polarization in society and in politics began to reach a fever pitch. According to some, this polarization has been intentionally built up by political leaders. They claim that there was a desire to rule Turkey through politics of tension, so they made use of the rising polarization to serve this atmosphere.

Participants also claim that this heightened polarization created a conducive environment for  the coup attempt itself. After 2013, with the impact of the Gezi demonstrations, every level of government became much more confrontational: unreceptive of even constructive criticism, and conducting business based on whom they trusted rather instead of what would succeed. This paved the way for the Gülenists to infiltrate key positions in the state. Participants assert that this was when the system of political checks and balances went out of control, and AK Party struggled to reestablish its power.

“The Gülenist groups within the Army trusted the 49% [who voted against the AK Party]. The coup plotters weren’t stupid. They thought the 49%, the discontents of the political  rule, would be their supporters.”

“In Erdoğan’s view of society, I don’t exist. The state doesn’t work for us.”

The secular community believes that their relations with the state have grown problematic since the AK Party came to power. They have begun to feel not only that the state has moved away from the community they feel a part of, but that the state has been “taken out of their hands.” Despite this, there are also some who praise the steps taken toward democratization, the reforms underway, and the new approaches to foreign policy. In their own words, dissatisfaction only began to surface and to be remarked upon when AK Party policies began “to affect [secularists] themselves.” The discomfort and demands of the Alevis and events occurring in the context of the Kurdish issue were simply not on the radar of the majority of the secular community — until the Gezi events occurred and the secular community came to believe that they had entered the crosshairs themselves.

“The current government has done a lot of work for the advancement of Turkey. Nevertheless, at this point I feel hopeless.” 

“We have seen that what has been done against the Kurds can be done against us as well.”

The feeling of isolation that began with the Gezi Park protests intensified in the period of the general elections between June 7th and November 1st, 2015. This period marked the second breaking point. Along with the feeling of helplessness, a deep feeling of fear also arose.

Participants argue that on the political level, the results of the June 7th election were not seen acceptable, and for this reason new elections were called. The feeling that on the one hand, alternative political parties would not show any skill in managing the country, and on the other that the people were prisoner to a government they had not chosen, pushed a majority in the secular community into hopelessness.

“We have no chance to ask or to see any kind of positive change at all.”

“Anger toward the MHP leader Devlet Bahçeli has always been high; the CHP does not inspire much hope; change is only possible through a split in the AK Party itself. We are only able to wait for that.”

The actual fear resting under the secular community’s feelings of exclusion was the perception of increasing conservatism. It is argued that conservatism has grown both more intense and more visible. Concrete examples that participants gave to this are narrowing areas for secular lifestyle, intrusions into secular lifestyle, and the prevailing conservative approach on the education system.

While there are disagreements on the matter of intrusions into lifestyle, there is consensus on the narrowing of social spaces. Study participants report that people have all withdrawn into their own environs in return, and go to exclusively a couple of familiar neighborhoods to socialize in Istanbul while avoiding interaction with other social groups to the greatest extent possible.

“We live a life stuck between Nişantaşı and Sarıyer. Kadıköy and Bebek are also in fashion. The places serving alcohol around the Istiklal Street were put under pressure. The locations that reopened were not given back liquor licenses. There is a reality of fractionalization, polarization, ghettoization.”

“I don’t think the society has gotten more conservative but it is true that ghettoization is happening. The walls are going up but the reason for this is not Islam or anything; the worlds are separating, and concepts used are becoming ever more different.”

The primary field in which this increasing conservative trend has been seen and where it is most frightening is education. Participants claim that the quality of the education system has fallen and that the number of Imam Hatip (vocational) schools offering religious education has increased, so that private schools have become indispensable. An education expert among the study participants pointed out that the ongoing increase in emphasis on religion is less a matter of the increase in the number of Imam Hatip schools and more the way in which extra-curricular activities in state schools have become almost entirely linked to religion. The largest motivation among those expressing a wish to relocate overseas is to ensure their children receive a good education.

“Religious-nationalist values are infecting all educational curricula, Eğitim Bir-Sen [Educators Solidarity-Union] is the strongest union. The secular community is too obsessed with the Imam Hatip topic, and the other block exploits this secular obsession.”

These debates show the discomfort of the secular demographic at religion entering so much into the practice of public life. In addition to this widespread concern, there is a more extreme caricature of the conservative transformation, describing it as “Iranization.” Many people and women especially feel that they are increasingly under threat from this state of affairs. Violence against women has become commonplace, and the increasing conservative trends in lifestyle practices are feeding concerns that women will be pushed even further out to the margins of public life.

“The woman issue is very important. They want to make women submissive. Stay at home, look after the kids or work simple jobs. Powerful female politicians are being removed from politics and replaced by tokens. They are replaced by women trapped inside the patriarchal paradigm, and of course wear headscarf.”

“Our generation’s biggest fear is Iranization. People think Turkey is slowly entering this path. Being forced to wear the headscarf is a genuine fear.”

From the perspective of the secular community, the enforcements accompanying the July 15th and the following period constitute the final breaking point. The feeling of insecurity from the ongoing war in Syria and the increasing intensity of the PKK terror campaigns have catalyzed concerns into real fear. Campaigns of mass terror have made the security situation appear completely out of control.

“We are going down a hill in a truck with no brakes. It’s hard to tell when we’ll crash and how hard it’s going to be, but certainly there will be a crash. To come back from this point without any damage is impossible.”

The dominant perception is that in the period after July 15th, pressure and censorship on the media have increased and freedoms have been curtailed, swiftly taking Turkey closer to an intimidating future. Study participants lament that the media, which was already problematic, has become divided in two camps – the “pro-government” and the “concerned”. It is stressed that even individuals are self-censoring before they make the slightest criticism. Given all this, there is general fear that in 20-30 years, Turkey will be only more oppressive and conservative, and the number of those feeling that they will have no place in this picture is increasing.

The next common perception among the secularists is that the future is dominated by uncertainty. Those who are trying to find a more positive outlook on the future describe it as uncertain, and claim that the picture can turn into a positive one if desired. However, it should also be noted that the tendency to think positively in this way is not strong. The majority, who feel pushed out to the margins, are looking at the future with anxiety or fear, and describe their uncertainty not with optimism but as a desperate, hopeless state.

Is Social and Political Compromise Possible?

Both in interviews and in the workshop, participants mentioned the notion that a new narrative was born in Turkey after July 15th, and that we have entered a process of reestablishment for Turkey. In this reconstruction process of the state, the question of what role the secular community will play is a matter of debate.

Aside from social reconciliation, it is deemed necessary to compromise with the current political level to a certain degree. From the perspective of the secular community, the first thing that the government needs to do in order to include them is to restore trust. They insist that the divisive attitude underpinning the political developments of the past half-decade must be put aside.

The question of how secular values can find a place in this process of reestablishment forms the basis of achieving reconciliation and rebuilding confidence. Participants assert that within the broader secular/laicist community is a “nationalist-Eurasianist” wing that is eager to take part in the reconstruction of the state along these lines, and are willing to cooperate with the conservatives to do so.

Of the concrete steps that must be taken the first involve putting principles of rule of law into practice. Participants claim that after July 15th the legal system, which was already flawed, has entirely collapsed, and that as a result, Turkey, with its population of eighty million, is being managed lawlessly. It is argued that without a robust legal system there is nothing to stop rights violations, and the chance that this will engender outright social conflict is not insignificant.

Research findings indicate that the results of the April 16th referendum and the policies in its aftermath will be decisive in determining whether or not social reconciliation in Turkey will be possible. The secular community is waiting to see the stances of other parts of Turkish society and especially those by leading politicians, rather than articulating a strong position in advance. Few expressed any optimism that in the near term there will be a way out from the present state of instability. Instead, there is widespread pessimism that whatever the results of the referendum, the country will not escape from the crisis of leadership, and that problems in the economy, the struggle against terror, and foreign policy will continue. As a result, even if the level of pressure inside the country diminishes, most assert that Turkey will not quickly return to a democratization agenda.

Even if members of the secular demographic are not hopeful about what the presently proposed system will bring, they are not coming out in universal opposition to a change in the system of government. On the outlook to the referendum process, there are also those with different approaches or those who see opportunities for compromise. Everyone agrees that the referendum could have been used as the basis for building consensus on reform, but this window of opportunity has been missed.

Groups looking at this process pragmatically are uniting in the search for a powerful and effective leader, which they view as the only way out of the existing chaos. Other secularists criticize this view and point out that there is already a powerful and effective leader, and argue that those who thought that was necessary for stability have in fact condemned themselves and the country to the chaos they are trying to solve. Many secularists, including retired soldiers who were unjustly persecuted in Ergenekon and Balyoz cases, and those in their orbit, see the aftermath of July 15th as a new existential struggle for Turkey. This group, which is not categorically opposed to changing the constitution, finds a problem not in the content but in the timing of the reforms, and think it is wrong to organize a referendum under the state of emergency (OHAL) declared immediately after the coup attempt. With that, most of those holding this view believe that it is correct to follow a security-focused policy for the state to rid itself of the existential threat it faces.

Those in the secular demographic who are uncomfortable with this security focus, those who feel that every passing day is further limiting their personal freedoms, those who feel that more, not fewer, freedoms are necessary, cannot find any place for themselves in this coalition.

Participants make clear that it is necessary to take up systemic change, including a comprehensive constitutional reform, and that as long as this does not occur the country’s problems will only grow. Many bring up the lack of any attempt by the AK Party to reach compromise with the CHP, and point to the fact that this systematic change is being attempted through a narrow coalition between conservatives and nationalists as another sign of the lack of a consensus-based politics. This situation has deepened the secular community’s feeling of exclusion.

In a noticeable part of the secular demographic, people are internalizing the reality that the country does not “belong solely to themselves,” and that they should make the effort to co-exist with others. Some of the self-criticism that has occurred after July 15th is rooted in the recognition that social conservatives were excluded throughout the history of the Republic and the secularists remained silent over this injustice. It is important to note that this acceptance can pave the way for the conditions for reconciliation and compromise. Despite the fractionalization and the withdrawal of many social groups into their own communities since July 15th the current tense atmosphere has resulted in the formation of some shared political values. Although not everyone opposed the coup in the same way, a large majority of the population found common ground in opposing it and they still share this common ground today.

Today, the secularist demographic is open to reconcile with conservatives. The problem is simply the inability to develop a method to do so and overcome the present impasse. It seems that living in a given system since the first years of the Republic, and not having felt any need to understand or come together with different social groups as a result, makes it difficult today to find even a starting point for reconciliation, much less to take action to solve the problem.

Although it is not possible to say this for everyone, some groups in the secular community who think on this matter have begun to overcome their prevalent psychology that “the state used to be ours, but not anymore.” It is possible to sense a change in mood from the bitter mentality that “those who are not from our side cannot govern” to the more realistic approach that “whoever is apt should govern.” It is argued that if there is a return to the good administration of the pre-2012 period, there will be significantly less support to complaints and prejudices against the ruling government.

Members of the secular community are stressing the pressing need for moderate leadership on every opportunity. If the political discourse changes to avoid the harsh, inflammatory provocations currently being used for short-term political gain, and instead opens a constructive, inclusive dialogue based on shared values, this will have a positive effect on the secular demographic, and reduce their feeling of isolation and exclusion from Turkey’s shared future.



We would like to extend our sincere gratitude to Serdar Erener and Sırrı Yırcalı for all support they provided while carrying out the interviews for this study.


Dr. Aybars Görgülü
Sabiha Senyücel Gündoğar
UK Foreign & Commonwealth Offices This project was carried out with the financial support provided by the UK Foreign & Commonwealth Offices’ Bilateral Programme Fund.