Turkey coup attempt: Human rights v responsibilities

Does the West deem only itself worthy of values, or is it stuck in the racist class society of Athenian democracy?

Attempted coup d''etat in Turkey
The Turkish nation's historic response to putschists on July 15 is an indubitable manifestation of the harmony of state and society, writes Aktay [EPA]

In 1983, at the University of California Berkeley, French philosopher Michel Foucault, in one of his six series seminars, spoke on the Greek philosopher Socrates, within the scope of the term parrhesia.

Socrates described himself as a gadfly sent to the Greek authorities. And parrhesia in its most general sense was “telling the truth”. Yet, this is an asymmetrical and unsettling act; from student to teacher, citizen to ruler, employee to employer.

Despite all the risks, truth-telling is a duty, a direct verbal activity aiming to reveal the opinion without hesitation and usually in an asperity that is outside of etiquette. It is “the said” that matters, rather than the sayer, and that’s the unsettling part of it.

Nevertheless, parrhesiastic attitude cannot always find room in social and political spheres simply because of its disturbing character.

Generally, the identity of the sayer averts the said, and that’s the moment when the argument becomes conditional.

In this way, the ideals harped on the same string are subjected to double standards. This is particularly the case for our shared values such as justice, human rights and democracy as well.

Inflation of rights

Within the conceptual inflation of rights, such as social and economic rights, women’s rights, labour rights, animal rights, environmental rights, consumer rights, etc … the scale of the violation of rights is unprecedented. It is simply because rights in today’s world are only for some. And it is the West that gets the flak.

As for the Muslim world, according to the common assumption, the term human rights is above all an unpleasant term for Muslims.

There are no rights, but duties and this stems from religiosity and culture of obedience. Religion is built upon duty rather than rights. But, is that really so? And are the rights and duties that incompatible?

A comparative analysis on the embracing of human rights in Eastern and Western societies would reveal a paradigmatic difference between the two.

Our people's reaction to the putschists is exemplary. Millions of unarmed civilians from various political affiliations spilled out on to the streets and at airports in order to say 'No!' to the coup plotters.


Crudely, the idea of human rights in the West is based on the theory of subjective natural rights.

Especially after the rise of human will against the church, aristocracy, and even God throughout the Reformation and Enlightenment, the idea of freedom and self-interest superseded state-centred ideas of duty. Self-interest is so dominant that it provoked the disaffection of religious and traditional cultures.

In fact, such a distinction seems to be quite superficial. The right of the one, after all, is the duty of the other. Rights and duties – whether passive as providing ground for rights, or active as direct involvement – are always interconnected.

The unique case of Turkey

Turkey in this sense, has a distinctive place through its ability of reconciling both. Under the rule of the Justice and Development party (AK party), Turkey concomitantly put central emphasis on empowering civil society and responsible governance.

Freedom without duty can destroy the freedom itself. Therefore, Turkey’s latest successful policies rest upon a political vision that consolidates responsible governance in political society and wide spheres of freedom in civil society.

In this sense, the Turkish nation’s historic response to the putschists on July 15 is an indubitable manifestation of the harmony of state and society.

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Nevertheless, in the aftermath of the coup attempt there has been no serious reaction from the global media about the extent of the terrorist attack and no strong condemnation.

Instead, on the very next day, some media sites began to express worries about the judicial process for putschists jailed pending trial.

This is, on the one hand, to ignore the heroic defence of democracy, and, on the other, it is an insult to the Turkish justice system.

Yet, based on fabricated reports of torture, they maintain a hostile attitude in order to influence public opinion.

A moment of real parrhesiastic attitude

Let’s think about the other scenario. What would happen if the coup had succeeded? How many journalists would be in prisons? How many news media outlets would be shut down? How many stadiums would be crammed full of people as concentration camps?

Considering the fact that a vast majority of Turkish citizens were on the streets resisting the coup, the extent of oppression and retribution would be unimaginable.

Undoubtedly, the coup attempt is the severest human rights violation. Order established by a putsch is based on force and all notions of rights are suspended. It is the wholesale slaughter of all democratic values.

The Turkish nation’s unprecedented resistance represents the climax of a determined will to protect human rights and freedoms, and therefore fairly deserves a strong emphatic salute.

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Our people’s reaction to the putschists is exemplary. Millions of unarmed civilians from various political affiliations spilled out on to the streets and at airports in order to say “No!” to the coup plotters.

It was clearly a parrhesiastic attitude, and the power of truth let the guns slip through the putschists hands. It is the high level democratic culture and the strength of the legitimate ground of politics that led to such large-scale opposition.

At the same time, the coup attempt is a precise assault on European values. Therefore, it is a test for the West to show their unconditional commitment to democracy, freedom and rule of law.

Does the West deem only itself worthy of these values? Or, are they still stuck in the racist, class-based society of Athenian democracy?

Justice for all

In a general sense, Western reaction to the latest events in Turkey clearly indicates the extent of ignorance about Turkey’s social and political structure.

Those who raise concerns about the rights of the putschists should first doff a hat to the real unconditional democrats: The Turkish nation. Then they should remember that Turkey is a country based on the rule of law and had long ago modified its legal system on the basis of persistent commitment to human rights and zero tolerance to torture.


Justice in Turkey is justice for all.

Civil rights and political duties are interdependent. We principally pay regard to the said, rather than the sayer.

Parrhesiastic attitude is not disturbing here, but rather awakening, and we are proud of gadflies in our pluralist society.

Yasin Aktay is a Justice and Development Party member of the parliament and head of the Turkish Group of Inter-Parliamentary Union.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.