Sunday, July 31, 2016

After the Turkish Coup - Democracy, Development and the Struggle against the "Islamic State"

It has been 2 weeks since the attempted military coup in Turkey was aborted.  What will be its long term impact?  Clearly, the coup and its aftermath have degraded the quality of the once vaunted Turkish military, after Israel, the second most powerful in the Middle East.  The US coalition’s ability to defeat Da’ish has also been undermined.  However, the consequences of the coup go far beyond its military implications.

Much analysis of the failed coup has focused on the culpability of the Gulenist Movement, led by the exiled Turkish cleric, Fethullah Gulen.  Once an ally of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP), the Gulenists have come to be viewed, over the past several years, as the AKP’s mortal enemy.
US General J.F. Campbell, Ret.,who AKP magazine, Yeni Safak, accused of supporting coup
What has been particularly galling to Erdogan and the AKP is that Gulen lives in exile in Pennsylvania.  Not an insignificant number of Turkish politicians, and military and intelligence personnel, have (irresponsibly) implied that the US was sympathetic, if not involved, in the coup. Academics sympathetic to the Erdogan government have described the coup attempt as part of an ”international imperialist Zionist plot.”  In short, much rhetoric and hot air have been expended in an effort to explain the coup, but relatively little serious analysis.

The United States, the international community and even Fethullah Gulen have condemned the coup attempt for its effort to overthrow a democratically elected government.  Nevertheless, the international community has expressed its serious concern at the manner in which President Erdogan has used the coup to eliminate large numbers of Turks, whose loyalty he suspects, removing them from their positions in the military, intelligence services, state bureaucracy and secondary school system.
Turkish soldiers who purportedly participated in failed coup being beaten by civilians
What has been especially disturbing has been the arrest of large numbers of Turks immediately after the coup was suppressed.  To analysts of Turkish politics and society, this indicated that lists of suspected dissidents had been compiled long before the coup attempt, which provided a perfect pretext for mass arrests and dismissals of Turks from their government positions who the Erdogan regime suspected of disloyalty.

Since the coup, over 15000 Turks have been arrested and more than 60,000 Turks fired or suspended.  The purge of government positions has gone far beyond the military and intelligence services.  It includes large numbers of secondary school teachers, judges, and bureaucrats.  Further, Erdogan has labeled all newspapers and television stations, which do not tow his line on interpreting the coup, as part a Gulenist and foreign plot anti-Turkish and has suspended their licenses.
Turkish officers arrested after failed coup attempt-center former Air Force Commander Akin Ozturk
The following is a list of those suspended or detained after the coup (  The list is striking in the breadth of those who have been implicated in some manner in the failed coup attempt, even though, by the Erdogan government’s own indication, only 1.5% of the military joined the coup attempt:

·       42,767 people in the Ministry of Education including 21,738 suspended government workers and 21,029 public staff education members
·       8,777 Ministry of Interior personnel
·       2,745 judges and prosecutors have been listed for detention
·       1,700 soldiers -- including 87 generals
·       1,577 university deans have been asked to resign
·       1,389 military personnel from the Turkish Armed Forces
·       1,112 officials removed in the Presidency of Religious Affairs
·       673 staff members at the Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Stockbreeding
·       599 officials from the Family and Social Policies Ministry
·       560 Ministry of Science, Industry and Technology personnel
·       529 Ministry of Transportation officials
·       500 officials at the Ministry of Finance
·       300 Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources staff
·       300 TRT employees
·       257 officials removed from duty in the Prime Minister's Office
·       265 Ministry of Youth and Sports workers
·       262 military judges and prosecutors
·       221 officials Ministry of Forestry and Water Affairs
·       211 Turkish Airlines contracts have been terminated
·       184 Ministry of Customs and Commerce officials
·       180 Ministry of Labor and Social Security personnel
·       167 staff members at the Ministry of Environment and Urbanisation
·       110 Ministry of Culture and Tourism employees
·       100 Turkish intelligence service personnel
·       86 people removed at the Banking Regulation and Supervision Agency
·       86 staff dismissed at Ministry of Foreign Affairs including removal of Central Ambassadors Gurcan Balik and Tuncay Babali
·       82 Development Ministry workers
·       51 people at the Istanbul Stock Exchange while 36 have been terminated at the Capital Market Council
·       36 Energy Market Regulatory employees
·       29 Radio and Television Supreme Council workers
·       22 employees at the Housing Development Administration of Turkey
·       21 Turkish Statistical Institute workers
·       15 Ministry of Economy staff members
·       2 general directors, 1 deputy director general, and 5 department heads at Treasury

While the suppression of the coup has allowed Erdogan and the AKP to extend their control over Turkey as never before, the short-term benefits in increased political power will be far outweighed by long term losses.  What will these losses look like? 

First, the secondary school and higher education systems will be denuded of critical thought, already undermined by the "Islamization" of the Turkish education system.  Students will receive an education which, while perhaps continuing to be strong in STEM, will suffer in the social sciences arts and humanities.  This will alienate many urban, secular Turks and will foster emigration of many to Europe, the United States and other more liberal countries.  Creativity in all aspects of Turkish life will be a casuality.

The dumbing down of the quality of Turkey's school system and prestigious universities will be exacerbated by a muzzled press and mass media.  Only newspapers, television channels and official social media which support the AKP political line will be allowed to function.  The access of ordinary Turks to alternative perspectives on important political, social, economic and cultural issues will be severely curtailed.  Because freedom of expression represents a core component of democracy, Turkey will continue the process of becoming a thoroughly authoritarian state.  Already in 2013, at least two people were sentenced in to prison on “blasphemy” charges.

Turks who disagree with the AKP government of President Erdogan will have few avenues of redress because judges who disagree with the AKP regime have been or are in the process of being dismissed.  This effort to politicize the judicial system will not only undermine the rule of law – already severely comprised by policies enacted by Erdogan prior to the coup attempt – but discourage peaceful efforts to resolve political conflicts in Turkey, espocially the 30 year old war with the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK).  

In other words, the state takeover of the judiciary will make it easier for those advocating violence to silence those calling for peaceful change and resolution of conflicts confronting Turkey.  This effort will strengthen radical elements involved in the conflict between Turkey’s large and growing Kurdish minority.  Indeed, we can predict that the events following the coup will play into the hands of those who advocate violence rather than negotiation in addressing the Kurd's discontent resulting from their treatment by the central government in Ankara.

From the US perspective, the most ominous development following in the coup is the possibility that Turkey will reduce its commitment to NATO.  With the arrest of the former Turkish commander of the Incirlik Airbase, a vital facility for US airstrikes on Da’ish targets in Syria and Iraq, the US was temporarily suspended from flying sorties from the base.

Erdogan has never been an enthusiastic supporter in the fight against Da’ish – the so-called "Islamic State."  A bitter enemy of the regime of Bashar al-Asad, and sympathetic to Islamist sentiments, Erdogan has had to been cajoled by the US and its allies to fight the terrorist Da’ish and then only after Da'ish attacks on Turkey.

Over the past several years, thousands of Da’ish fighters have crossed the Turkish border to join the terrorist organization in Syria and large amounts of crude oil has been smuggled across the Syrian-Turkish border providing Da’ish with a large amount of monthly revenues.

The US can expect less cooperation from the Turkish military in the future. The Turkish military no longer enjoys the capacity as a highly effective fighting force which it enjoyed before the Erdogan government began purges of its ranks, beginning in 2011.  Indeed, the Turkish president is trying to convince opposition parties to support a constitutional amendment which would have the military and security forces to report directly to him (

Erdogan is also organizing his security forces in such a manner that they will exercise tight oversight of the Turkish armed forces.  Indications are that he will use the Iranian Revolutionary Guard model whereby "commissars" loyal to him will attempt to "coup-proof" the AKP regime ( .

The undermining of the quality of the military can be sees in structural efforts to organize the branches of the military in such a way as to encourage competition between them.  By dividing the reporting structure of the chief of staff  (to Erdogan), the army, air force, and navy (to the minister of defense) and the gendarmerie, police and coast guard (to the minister of the interior),  the organization of the security sector promotes inter-service rivalry, while placing security forces under more direct AKP control.  Indeed, following the coup attempt, generals sympathetic to NATO and "Atlanticistrs" have been fired, and those with Islamist and "Eurasian " proclivities have been promoted.

When the Justice and Development Party (AKP) first came to power in 2002, expectations that it would try to put Turkey on a road to an authoritarian form of Islamist rule did not occur.  After initial optimistic projections that AKP Islamism would try and resolve the 30 year conflict with Turkey’s Kurdish population, led by the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK), the situation changed.   

Once the left-leaning Democratic People’s Party (Halkların Demokratik Partisi), founded in 2012, attracted support, especially through creating a coalition between secular Turks and Kurds, Erdogan viewed this development with great trepidation and threat to continued AKP rule. If Turks and Kurds could find common ground, and outside AKP Islamism, which sought to bridge the Turkish-Kurdish divide, Erdogan might be outmaneuvered (

Compounding the problem were the elections of 2015 which demonstrated the power of the new coalition when it won a significant number of seats in national parliamentary elections. Even though the Democratic People's Party's support declined once violence between the central government and the PKK erupted once again, Erdogan always distrusted the negotiations which took place between 2013 and 2015 designed to find a peaceful solution to the violence.  

What most observers have failed to note is the role state corruption played in the efforts to find a solution to the 30 year old war with the PKK. The investigation, which began in 2013 into alleged corrupt practices of AKP officials in the Erdogan government, particularly when it implicated the Turkish leader’s son, Bilal, and the weakening of the Turkish economy, exacerbated Erdogan's anxieties, making him much less amenable to making concessions to Turkey's Kurdish community which would end the conflict.

The Turkish economy's decline in 2009 undercut Erdogan’s image as a leader who was bringing prosperity to Turkey.  Much of the economic development fostered by the AKP was concentrated in real estate and was speculative in nature, namely not built on a strong foundation. The corruption scandal of 2013 cast aspersions on the “Islamic” character of the AKP.  How could a party of devout Muslims be stealing from the public purse?
Highways pass towers under construction in Istanbul's Zincirlikuyu district  
Another outcome of the coup and Erdogan's response to it will be to create further impediments to Turkish economic growth.  Foreign investors will be much more cautious about investing in an unstable political environment and Erdogan's post-coup rhetoric and behavior has further dampened economic ties between Turkey and the European Union.

Recently, Erdogan apologized to Russia for Turkey's downing of a Russian air force jet near the Syrian-Turkish border in November 2015.  But will Turkey be able to reestablish the trade relations with Russia - the main supporter of Bashar al-Asad's Ba'thist regime - and will Russian tourists return en masse to Turkey?  Because Iran is likewise a strong support of al-Asad, it is not easy to see how Erdogan can turn to Turkey's historical geopolitical rival in the Middle East for economic support.
In a subsequent post, I will analyze the broader issues suggested by the current political crisis in Turkey.  The core questions relate to how the citizens of Turkey, and many other countries around the world, define their sense of political identity and community.  Unless secularists and Islamists, Turks and Kurds, and Sunnis and Alevis, just to name some of the cleavages confronting Turkey, can be addressed in a non-confrontational manner, we can predict increased political and social instability in a country which was, just a few years ago, seen as on the road to a transition to democratic governance and the MENA region's emerging superpower.