Author: Abdullah Topçu
A desperate Erdoğan, unable to convince NATO and the West that there was an unquestionable coup attempt against democratically elected Turkish government changed his tactics fully at the end of nine months after the attempt. This came after numerous trials of convincing in different tones and formats. The inability to convince is eclipsed by efforts to portray NATO and the West as the ones behind the attempt to degrade the value of their statements and reports aiming at removing obscurity from above the event.
2. Within the Nine Months after the Coup Attempt
In the early days, there was certainty that it would be possible to convince the West, as all Turkish media cried wolf in unison. But this attempt did not yield the intended effect as it worked wonders in Turkey, where the burden of proof has shifted and independent judiciary became a thing of the past. NATO Allies asked for concrete evidence rather than shady confessions from prisons and a narrative troubled with myriad of holes and questions. Result has so far been worse than dismal for Turkish government. The general tendency in response to government arguments has constantly been: yet to be proven.1 But government’s visible efforts to suppress the truth, which became most clear in the fashion parliamentary investigation commission managed not to unearth realities behind the coup2 seems to have further enforced the narrative that it was either a controlled coup3 4 or a self-coup staged by the President Erdoğan himself. 5
As lack of evidence and Erdoğan’s questionable past contributed to this inference, the steps taken in the aftermath of the attempt justified more worries than sympathies. A NATO member and once EU candidate Turkey’s declaration of state of emergency on July 20, 2016 and its severe violations on democracy, rule of law, personal freedoms and freedom of speech based on this pretext was viewed with apprehension by West. This was mainly because both sympathizing with and criticizing Erdogan had their prices. The West preferred not to see the elephant in the room, as a middle way strategy until recently in an attempt not to estrange Turkey. The main fear in the Western capitals has been Turkey’s cancellation of refugee deal and expedience provided by her adjacency to Syria and Iraq, where Coalition operates.
Erdoğan understood those concerns well and utilized them efficiently so far. Cognizant of the mismatch between his Islamist autocratic ideals and Western liberal values, he first packaged such silence as the West behind the coup. Especially NATO, US and Germany were labeled as the backers of coup plotters. This gave him a free hand to drift country’s axis from West to East. Then came the covert blackmail, as Turkey courted with Shanghai Cooperation Organization threatening the West with becoming a member of the Eastern Security Community. Newly found regional alliances were solidified as an intelligence-sharing agreement between Russia and Turkey resulted in the latter’s joining the intelligence pool shared between Iran, Iraq, Syria and Russia. This agreement put the West in an awkward situation where it had to share intelligence with the same Turkey within the Alliance and Coalition.6 On the military side, Turkey conducted a joint air operation with Russia and also started talks on buying Russian S-400 SAM missiles, all of which put great question marks on Turkey’s commitment to NATO.7 As most recently, Russian press outlet Pravda.ru contended that Turkey begged for credit for the procurement of S-400 missiles, which was not denied by Turkish authorities.8
Whenever the West increased the pitch of criticization, Erdoğan’s tactic was intimidation by using the refugee card.9 Actually, Turkey has as much to lose in this front as the west. Being used as a political card has certainly created a disillusionment amongst Syrians. This was a great deviation from a point where Erdoğan had voiced his plans to naturalize Syrians. Initially this plan was thought to provide him with the tipping point in the presidential referendum. However as the referendum nears, Erdoğan no longer brings up the citizenship to Syrians to the fore as he must have realized the increasing discontent among Turkish citizens.10 European side reacted to the refugee threat with a sharp criticism of Erdoğan. As one of such, a Liberal Democrat politician and former president of the Union of European Federalists Andrew Duff replied on his twitter account as “If you open your borders to Europe, most of the refugees will be Turks.” One day prior to this threat, European Parliament had urged European governments to suspend talks with Turkey on EU accession. Erdoğan’s threat worked well. EU showed on 13 December 2016 that it had understood what was at stake when European Parliament rejected this call.11
Alongside the failure of blackmail and intimidation tactics, Turkey decided to up the ante by confronting another NATO member. After Greek Supreme Court ruled not to extradite 8 Turkish soldiers based on their arguments that they did not take part in the coup and would not have a fair trial chance if they returned, Turkey rekindled an old flame by top military chief’s visit to Kardak Island in Aegean-sea.12 For those following the issue only superficially this move might look like a response to the Greek court decision. But unfortunately it is not. It was rather another attempt to create turmoil the President favors.
In the recent weeks, two statements following Erdoğan’s bullying marked a significant shift in reaction of the West. Erdoğan who managed to win all elections by portraying himself as the persecuted tried to create another persecution story by a headline on one of the major newspapers, Hurriyet. On the front page of the newspaper on February 25 it read “Unease at the military headquarters”, a reminiscient of coup threats where Turkish Military could pose a real threat against government. Erdoğan desperate to change equal Yes/No ratio in the referendum tried to create the same effect by bringing about a persecution story by manipulating the troubled relations with the West. In this sense, the scandalous events following a veiled minister’s attempt to enter Netherlands without permission, further bans on ministerial rallies in Europe, Erdoğan’s accusation of the Dutch as modern day Nazis and his accusations towards Germany for Islamophobia and harboring terrorists changed the tone and tide of the relations.13
On 18 March came the interview with German Intelligence Chief where he stated that there was a genuine coup but despite numerous attempts government had been unsuccessful in convincing Germany that Gulen was behind it. 14The GOP intel chairman David Nunes saying he found it hard to believe that the cleric was behind the coup.15 These two explanations have two significant meanings beyond whitewashing the cleric: First they show that the West, being pounded by Erdoğan for a long while now decided to make facts public about this coup. Second, it shows the discontent about Erdoğan and that they do not want to work with him anymore. Those two statements came after a leaked EU Intelligence Center Report dated August 24, 2016.
3. Persistent Turmoil
Turkey has been in great unrest since 2012. The omnipotent-wannabe Erdoğan wants to establish the legal framework for his illegitimate hold on whole power in Turkey with a constitutional amendment to be held on April 16.16 In his power quest, Erdoğan was forced to make a power sharing agreement with different groups to carry out extensive purges in whole state institutions and offices. He had two choices. Either he would face trial for his unlawful deeds or he would shake up whole statecraft.
He chose the latter and he really shocked the whole establishment. Erdoğan and his cronies recognized the value of turmoil to their agenda very early on. In the aftermath of the Ankara Bombing, where a suicide bomber had claimed the lives of 102 Turkish citizens, the Prime Minister Davutoğlu had blurted in a TV programme that after the bombings AKP votes had followed an increasing trend.17 Erdoğan, with this well professed tactics had hurled the country into chaos after the great loss in 7 June 2015 elections. The tactics had increased the party’s votes to a record high 49% in the next elections on 1 November 2015.
Turmoils bring utility for Erdoğan even when created by himself in many ways. First it gives the signal to the Turkish population that Turkey is struggling with great problems in and out of the country. This means such great problems highlight the need for great leaders. Then he makes speeches challenging the West that he blames to be the reason in most cases. This further makes him look greater. The image portrayed by Erdoğan is that, the West does not want Turkey to be great and that is why he is targeted, as the great leader of Turkey. Because, he is the one to make that happen. The turmoils create basis for the declaration and extension of state of emergency and illegalities perpetrated at the time. 18
Erdoğan benefits from the controlled chaos he creates to become more powerful. And, with the authority he grabbed through emergency decrees, he is busy with filling government institutions vacancies with youth loyal to him raised in foundations and schools under his tutelage. He also tries to build his own army, Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps which uses Ottoman Youth Authority for recruitment.19 It looks like, this army was tested on the night of 15th July 2016 for efficiency .
4. Greatest Tragedy: Turkish Military’s Demise
While a Republican Guard is being built up, Turkish Armed Forces, which has historically been the safeguard of a secular, modern Turkey standing within the Western liberal world ceased to exist as such after July 15, 2016. Erdoğan, following an agenda which was completely opposite to those values, had to knock down this last castle one way or another. Instead of disbanding the whole organization, he chose an easier alternative, i.e. plucking its brain. So far officially 149 (40%), but when those asked to resign included about 60 percent, of its generals has been purged. Its second layer within the three-tier officer pyramid, its general staff officers have been purged by more than 80 percent. This means effectively loss of planning ability based on institutional decision making processes. It is the same Armed Forces that fights against ISIL in Syria, against PKK within the country and has commitments to the Alliance it is a part of.
Until recently, Western world and NATO kept reticent in face of Turkey’s slide from its camp to the East. After the election of Trump, NATO had to deal with greater problems yet.20 The dynamics within NATO will be of great importance in determining the role of Erdogan’s Turkey and the path it will take in the near future. Regardless of that, though, it is clear that a deep crisis and instability awaits Turkey.
1 Gareth H. Jenkins, Myths and Mysteries: Six months on from Turkey’s Curious Coup, 26 January 2017, https://www.turkeyanalyst.org/publications/turkey-analyst-articles/item/572-myths-and-mysteries-asix-months-on-from-turkey%E2%80%99s-curious-coup.html .
2 Sibel Hürtaş, Turkey closes coup commission as key questions linger, 28 December 2016, http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2016/12/turkey-coup-commission-ends-work-questions-linger.html .
3 In his interview Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, Main Opposition Party Leader said: “15 July is a controlled coup attempt because there was need for justification for the coup on 20 July. With the declaration of state of emergency it was aimed to lay legal framework for creation of a dictatorial administration. Cansu Çamlıbel, CHP lideri Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu: Demokrasiyi savunuyoruz, 19 December 2016, http://www.hurriyet.com.tr/chp-lideri-kemal-kilicdaroglu-demokrasiyi-savunuyoruz-40310711 .
4 Demirtaş: Erdoğan’ın ‘Darbe girişimini eniştemden öğrendim’ demesi külliyen yalan, 4 October 2016, http://www.cumhuriyet.com.tr/haber/siyaset/609821/Demirtas__Erdogan_in__Darbe_girisimini_enistemden_ogrendim__demesi_kulliyen_yalan.html# .
5 Kjetil Stormark, NATO insiders suspect staged Turkey coup, 25 January 2017, https://www.aldrimer.no/nato-insiders-suspect-staged-turkey-coup/ .
6 Tom Parfitt, Turkey and Russia share military intelligence, 25 October 2016, http://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/turkey-and-russia-share-military-intelligence-pmjd8bcs9 .
7 Radio Free Europe RadioLiberty, Turkey Mulls Buying Advance Russian Air-Defense System, 19 November 2016, http://www.rferl.org/a/turkey-russia-s400-air-defense-system/28127748.html .
8 Turkey begs Russia for credit to buy S-400, 14 March 2017, http://www.pravdareport.com/video/14-03-2017/137099-s400-0/.
9 Kareem Shaheen, Patrick Wintour ve Jennifer Rankin, Turkey threatens to end refugee deal in row over EU accession, 25 November 2016, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/nov/25/turkey-threatens-end-refugee-deal-row-eu-accession-erdogan.
10 Lauren Zanolli, Syrian refugees: Struggles in Turkey intensify, 25 July 2016, http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2016/07/syrian-refugees-struggles-turkey-intensify-160717072943845.html .
12 The Guardian, Greek and Turkish warships in standoff in Aegean sea, 30 January 2017, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/jan/30/greek-and-turkish-warships-in-standoff-in-aegean-sea .
13 Simon Tisdall, How Erdoğan’s ruthless drive for more power is shaking a divided Europe, 19 March 2017, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/mar/19/ruthless-erdogan-leaves-europe-on-shaky-ground-turkey-referendum.
14 Martin Knobbe, Fidelius Schmid ve Alfred Weinzierl, ‘Coup in Turkey Was Just a Welcome Pretext’, 20 March 2017, http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/german-intelligence-chief-bruno-kahl-interview-a-1139602.html#spRedirectedFrom=www&referrrer=https://t.co/uOxnSx10Zh&ref=rss .
16 Noah Feldman, Bloomberg, 22 january 2017, https://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2017-01-22/turkey-s-new-constitution-would-end-its-democracy .
17 Davutoğlu’nun ‘Saldırısı sonrasında oylarımız artıyor’ sözü TBMM’de, 20 October 2015, http://www.sozcu.com.tr/2015/gundem/davutoglunun-saldirisi-sonrasinda-oylarimiz-artiyor-sozu-tbmmde-963995/ .
18 Mustafa Akyol, Why Turkish government pushes ‘global conspiracy’ narrative, 9 January 2017, http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/ru/contents/articles/originals/2017/01/turkey-believes-all-terrorists-are-united-against-it.html.
19 Michael Rubin, Related Topics Turkey Turkey is Headed for a Bloodbath, 03 November 2016, http://www.michaelrubin.org/19347/turkey-bloodbath .
20 Trump had stated that NATO was obsolete. Details can be found on a piece by Stephen Collinson on CNN, 18 January 2017, http://edition.cnn.com/2017/01/17/politics/donald-trump-foreign-policy/index.html.