(Photo Credit: Hurriyet Daily News)
By Joshua Tartakovsky
A key characteristic that must be adopted by those who wish to understand the world, dream of a multipolar world or take political action is to rapidly adapt to new realities rather than remain stuck in the framework of the past.
In today’s dizzying speed of global developments what was relevant one day ago may no longer be relevant today. An enemy of yesterday may become the friend of today. And the world’s sole superpower may seek to remove or topple an ally once he no longer serves its purposes or takes an independent position.
The coup against Erdogan
At the coup-attempt that took place on Friday night, the Turkish parliament was bombed by jets and helicopters as 10 people were wounded. The plotters entered forcefully into the state-sponsored TV station TRT and made a female news anchor read a statement at gunpoint. The central police station in Ankara was bombed. The Fatih Sultan Mehmet and Bosphorous bridges in Istanbul were blockaded by tanks. The Chief of Staff, Gen. Hulusi Akar, was taken hostage.
After President Erdogan called on the Turkish people to come to the streets on Face Time, the Turkish people bravely resisted the coup. Despite considerable risks, citizens of Turkey overwhelmed the streets with Turkish flags in their hands. All four major political parties denounced the coup.
The first key point to understand is that this coup-attempt was not just about removing Erdogan. It was an attack against Turkey as a republic. The parliament was bombed. Can anyone imagine how news agencies would cover developments if the German Bundestag was bombed by an F-16? If the US Chief of Staff would be held hostage, would the US not go to war at once and bomb the country from which the action was ordered? Is Turkish sovereignty as precious as French, German or American sovereignty or is Turkey a colony and its actions therefore can be dismissed as irrational and overly reactive? Those are some of the questions we need to ask ourselves.
Why did Erdogan lose favor in the eyes of the West?
When seeking to understand who was behind the coup attempt and what was its goal, the first thing to note is the reaction of the western press and US officials. For years, the western media and its leaders has turned a blind eye to President Erdogan’s silencing of dissidents and to his imprisonment of those who dared to mock him; his subtle support for ISIS, and his placing on trial journalists who exposed Turkish support for ISIS. US ambassador to Turkey claimed there was no evidence for Turkish support for ISIS, although Erdogan in fact imprisoned senior journalists who documented the transfer of weapons to Syria via Turkish security services. Obama did not seem very concerned about the Turkish crack-down on the Kurds in Diyarbakır in southeast Turkey despite the siege that lasted for months and the fact that bodies were piling on the streets and could not be retrieved due to the curfew.
However, a key turning point seemed to be the horrific terror attack, carried out presumably by ISIS in the Istanbul Atatürk Airport in June 29, 2016. Foreign Policy magazine claimed that Erdogan had it coming due to his support for ISIS. When Russia presented evidence in December 2015 that Erdogan supported ISIS, the US State Department responded by saying that “We frankly see no evidence, none, to support such an accusation.” Time Magazine said that such allegations “do not hold water.” Now, following the recent coup-attempt, the US leaders denounced Erdogan for purges of suspected saboteurs, while Foreign Policy magazine claims Erdogan can only blame himself for the coup.
If one looks at the way Erdogan is depicted by US media, it is clear that he had a falling from grace. Did he suddenly engage in human rights violations? Did he start to support ISIS just now? Did the operations against the Kurds begin just recently?
When Erdogan supported ISIS, the US media did not denounce him for this. But recently Erdogan has been changing his tune. He has formally reconciled with Russia and apologized for the downing of the SU-24. He is reconsidering a Russian-Turkish gas pipeline. He has reconciled with Israel after years of tension due to the Mavi Marmara incident. He even signaled he wishes to mend ties with the government of Syria, ending his support for rebels there.
Perhaps these latest moves explain why all of a sudden Erdogan became a mad dictator in the eyes of the US. Erdogan started reconciling with his regional partners while his internal policies remained the same more-or-less. One may wonder if the US in its current economic crisis does not wish to see countries of the region cooperate economically in mutually beneficial arrangements but profits instead from chaos and ongoing wars as it seeks to bring down global powers such as China, as it sees profits for its military-industrial complex grow, and sabotages trade routes between China and Europe. After all, the US seemed to have no problem with Erdogan when he supported ISIS, only when he sought to restore relations with Russia. One can reasonably argue that wars around the world ensure US will remain a safe haven for investment.
Who is actually behind the coup?
As one can imagine, there is little direct evidence at this point on who was actually behind the coup since no one would be as foolish as to leave such obvious sign marks. One may ask, however, the following questions:
- If Kemalists who seek to guard Turkey’s secular identity were behind the coup, why did they take action only now after years of Turkish support for jihadist rebels in Syria? Indeed, Kemalists welcomed close relations between Israel and Turkey. Why would they turn against Erdogan once he restored these mutually beneficial relations?
- If Kemalists were behind the coup, why would Turkey claim that US-based Muslim leader Fethullah Gülen (whose schools were raided by the FBI in the past and who some have argued that he has strong CIA links) was behind the coup via his alleged vast network in Turkey and is now demanding his extradition? Some may argue that Erdogan would wish to find a scapegoat for his short-comings and errors at home. But why would he risk his entire relations with the US for this purpose? Could he not find a more convenient scapegoat that would not unravel US relations? Turkish Labor minister, Mr. Süleyman Soylu, who is close to President Erdogan, claimed explicitly that the US was behind the coup. Why would Turkey, a respectable NATO member, fall into such dangerous allegations if they had no basis?
- If Erdogan is behind the coup and did so to illicit greater sympathy at home, why would he also seek to destroy his relations with the US in the process? Coups are a dangerous business. One may know how they begin but now how they will end. Why would Erdogan seek to enact a coup that could result in his removal? After all, he had the support of most Turks anyway.
Purge of the Gülen network
Since the coup-attempt, the Turkish government has been involved in a wide purge of suspects in the military, justice system and academia. While the Turkish government may be using the opportunity to silence dissidents who were not involved in the coup, fears of the Turkish government cannot be dismissed. One can only recall how the US created internment camps for Japanese citizens during World War II and approved of the Patriot Act following the September 11 attacks. And while one may criticize the mass arrests, they are not without reason due to the fact that conspirators managed to infiltrate leading positions in Turkey’s state institutions as the coup-attempt indicates. While one may rightly wish to critique the arrest of secular dissidents, Turkey’s new foreign policy aspirations of forming better relations with its neighbors and soothing its tensions with Russia should be welcomed, especially by those who do not wish to see a third world war taking place.
Erdogan was democratically elected and enjoys wide support from the Turkish masses. That he may impose restrictions on civil liberties and seek to reintroduce faith to public life is partially due to the fact that for decades the secular Turkish military elite that ruled the country looked down at the country’s religious masses as backward. In Erdogan they see their genuine representative since he is one of them. It is their time of triumph and revenge. When the Turkish economy did well, Erdogan pursued a pro-market policy. Now with the global stagnation unfolding, Erdogan has pursued nationalism. But the absence of a genuine socialist political party in the parliament (the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party is seen as a sectarian Kurdish party) could be partially blamed on the communists themselves who have stayed clear from religion alienating the Turkish masses in the process and not speaking to them in a faith-based language that resonates. While one may criticize the depth of the ongoing purge, the key issue that must be defended is Turkish sovereignty.
Turkey stands alone
Turkey is currently isolated. The US has turned against it while Turkey alienated Russia too due to the fact that people associated with Gülen brought down the SU-24. People who supported the Syrian government cannot forgive Erdogan for his support of Syrian rebels while liberals take issue with his crackdown on civil liberties. However, it is at this time that Turkey needs our solidarity more than ever. A country’s right to sovereignty is inviolable as long as it does not invade other nations. Erdogan has made mistakes and is far from perfect, though it is understandable that he would zig-zag in Turkey’s new path after years of repression by the military elite as he seeks to find his way on new terrains.
While Erdogan may have known about the coup in advance arguing that he was behind it does not stand the test of reason. The coup was an attack on Turkey as a state and revealed the speed with which the US can rush to dispose of its allies once they no longer serve its interest. One who is concerned about the future of Turkey and the region should support Turkey at this time. Turkey is in a particularly dangerous moment. The US may now seek to engage in another coup and may claim nuclear weapons placed in Turkey. An invasion of the country on a false pretext cannot be ruled out. Turkey should be forgiven for its past misdeeds, as it is currently under attack. The unraveling of Turkey or a civil war there is in no one’s interest. Turkey may have made mistakes as it was always in a sensitive position but its right to sovereignty is undeniable. A stable and independent Turkey is in everyone’s interest. Even when it comes to the Kurdish question there is no better candidate than Erdogan in reaching a solution as he has advocated far more lenient positions in the past. While Russia or Syria may rightly be skeptical about Turkey’s reliability, they must give Turkey a chance. After all, it probably paid heavily for its recent independent moves. A sovereign and independent Turkey is in the interest of all countries in the Middle East.