The Rebellion in Turkey: An Attempt to Snare Erdoğan Falls Short

The Rebellion in Turkey: An Attempt to Snare Erdoğan Falls Short

The would-be coup has greatly altered the picture in Turkey, both domestically as well as in terms of the country’s foreign policy. Several key factors today are at play.

Factor No. 1.

Events have shown that, despite years of efforts by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the Turkish military is not willing to relinquish its demands for a prominent role in political life – and also that the tradition of military coups is still alive and well there. Military coups in 1960 and 1980 were staged to the accompaniment of pro-American rallying cries. There is no conspicuous proof of the rebels’ pro-Washington sympathies during the events of July 2016, but indirect evidence suggests that if the coup had been successful, the generals who took power would have maximized their partnership with Washington at the expense of their country’s newly rebounding relationship with Russia. There is a good reason that one of the centers that laid the groundwork for the rebellion was located inside NATO’s Incirlik Air Base, and according to Turkish authorities, the base commander, Gen. Bekir Ercan Van, asked the US for asylum, but was refused and subsequently arrested by the Turkish police. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu has also claimed that Incirlik Air Base was involved in the attempted coup.

It is further telling that most prominent American media outlets have been sympathetic to the rebels’ cause. The New York Times, for example, ran a headline declaring, «Erdoğan Triumphs After Coup Attempt, but Turkey’s Fate Is Unclear». And the voice of the American business community, the Wall Street Journal, emphasized that the Turkish rebellion had its origins in the long-standing dissatisfaction of the military brass with Erdoğan’s policy of Islamizing the country. That newspaper claimed that the events in Turkey expose «Weaknesses in Turkish President’s Control of Military». That’s a very questionable headline, given that the vast majority of the army did not support the rebels.

Factor No. 2.

The military coup attempt is part of a bigger picture of protests against President (and former Prime Minister) Erdoğan, dating back to at least as early as the summer of 2013 in Istanbul’s Taksim Square. Back then the opposition managed to rally as many as 2.5 million people under its banner of anti-government protests, but in the end that was not sufficient to bring Erdoğan down. Both then and now the government has accused US-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen of orchestrating the anti-government protests.

This combination of large-scale protests, propaganda attacks, and efforts to win over a sector of the military is a classic example of the type of toolkit employed by «color revolutions». It seems, however, that it was the rebels’ very ties to Western headquarters of power that became the military’s biggest obstacle to securing mass support for its uprising, preventing it from expanding on its initial success. «The military, which tried to seize power Friday night, sought Erdoğan’s ouster, but in the end made him even stronger. The public did not obey the military and did not hide in their homes. They heeded the calls of the Justice and Development Party and took to the streets. They gathered together, but to encircle Erdoğan, not the tanks», noted Turkey’s T24 news broadcaster, commenting on the events.

Factor No. 3.

Turkey is a key US ally in the region, but nonetheless has a complex relationship with the European Union. For Ankara this opens up some space to maneuver politically and haggle over a wide spectrum of political, economic, and financial issues. The suppressed military coup and the investigation into the arrest of the rebels appear to offer Erdoğan some additional tools to use to pressure Washington and Brussels. As the Financial Times rightly noted«While the Obama administration has been frustrated with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan... the US relies heavily on Turkey».

Factor No. 4.

The military coups of 1960, 1971, and 1980 effected only temporary and limited changes to the country’s social and political life. After a few years, the military governments, like the civilian ones that replaced them, reverted to their predecessors’ policies and to Turkey’s traditional, authoritarian style of governance. «The years that followed were not free of further attempts by the military, citizens and government to sort out, with varying levels of success and varying levels of violence, who best upheld the constitution. That disconnect evidently continues to this day», writes Time Magazine.

Factor No. 5.

The ties to the US (be they real or imaginary) that were used by the orchestrators of the failed coup in Turkey – just like Erdoğan’s intention to investigate the influence of an «external factor» on the planning of the revolt – will prompt a definitive redrawing of Ankara’s foreign-policy roadmap. And although Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım’s accusation that the US is «the country that is harboring the leader of a terrorist organization that is complicit in the coup [a reference to Gulen and his movement – P.I.] is no friend of Turkey», can be written off as mere zealous propaganda, it is obvious that Turkish-US relations will see some changes now that this coup attempt has been suppressed.

Tags: Turkey  Erdogan