A Night on the Bosphorus Bridge
As the world watched the attempted coup d’état in Turkey utterly fail in a chaotic struggle, President Recep Erdogan had already rejoiced in his newly risen opportunity for power extension. The Turkish military, long seen as the guardian of Turkey’s secular and moderate institutions with a long history of stepping in when things become too unsettled, has reflected Turkey’s deep rifts. With more than 260 people killed in the coup attempt and over a thousand injured, Erdogan’s regime now seeks to capitalize on this “treason” and remove all with connection to the putsch.
Successful or not, the coup would not bring the type of government the West would like to see in place of Erdogan’s increasingly authoritarian regime. Coups are not popular revolutions. While many agree a more democratic change of power in Turkey is necessary, an abrupt change of power by force would be detrimental to any state’s long-term development in that direction. If successful, a likely outcome is simply the same game led by different players; an authoritarian regime under an altered ideology. Another outcome could be a civil war. Much of the regime’s opposition even criticized the coup in the knowledge that a forced and abrupt removal of the AKP is not worth the long-term consequences and the uncertainty that would follow.
Regardless, one thing that has certainly been made clear is that Erdogan is the winner of this ordeal. While he acts from higher ground with 50,000 soldiers, police, judges, civil servants and teachers suspended or detained so far within the past few days, many seem to think this situation has played itself too well into the hands of the AKP. A widely spread theory that Erdogan orchestrated the coup attempt himself to gain power is a difficult one to grasp. Many are criticizing the coup strategy as suspiciously weak for not capturing the head of government and immobilizing military equipment that could be used against them first. However, one should not assume a uniform approach for coup d’états and outline the failure to meet each strategic step. Instead, they initially demonstrated a show of strength with aircraft and tanks in the hopes of an ostentatious bandwagon effect to gain supporters. They also planned the putsch at a time when the President was away on vacation. This was not a mistake; it was rather an attempt to catch the leader off guard, similar to the power seizure by Tunisia’s former President Ben Ali of his (at the time) ill predecessor. However, as soon as the realization that much of the deeply rifted Turkish military was siding with the government came about, and thousands of Erdogan supporters flooded the streets, this hope of building momentum died out. The aforementioned conspiracy theory is improbable, especially with regards to keeping an operation of such size and planning in secrecy, but it is undeniably clear that Erdogan is the main beneficiary of the coup, at least for the time being.
With Erdogan’s current stance, we look now to what happens next, especially in regards to the consequences Erdogan’s undertakings have on Turkish-US and EU relations. President Erdogan brought the coup attempt on himself through increased authoritarianism and regime incompetence. However, the failed coup will only strengthen such problems, as he will use it as justification to gain supporters, frame the opposition, and remove all obstacles from his pursuit of increased power. The mass arrest of thousands of officials already underway demonstrates this. Now posed as the triumphant victor, the people seem to prefer an elected civilian government, no matter how undemocratic it may act, over a military regime that has seized power. One major development Erdogan may push further for is to rewrite the constitution and create an executive presidency, which will give him more power with which to thrust his agenda. “The coup attempt sought to turn Erdogan into a Morsi,” said Hassan Hassan, a fellow at the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy. “He’s now poised to become a Putin.”
Uncertainty arises between Turkey and both the US and the EU in recent days as well. First, as the putsch came to a close, President Erdogan was quick to put the blame on Fethullah Gulen, an exiled cleric and former political ally. Without going into too much detail about the Gulen movement, the coup attempt is said to have been supportive of it, which caused some aggressive rhetoric on behalf of Turkey in asking for extradition of Gulen from his current home in Pennsylvania. Using Gulen as a scapegoat has consequently led to the absolute denial of any connection to the coup attempt, and Gulen’s promotion of a peaceful and democratically elected transition in government, rather than a military takeover. Regardless, Washington’s unclear path to act on the extradition bid and Turkey’s seemingly quiet finger pointing at the West outlines a division between the United States and Turkey, (who, incidentally, possesses NATO’s second largest military). Washington wants Turkey to democratize and engage in a stronger effort in the fight against the Islamic State. However, democratization is clearly not going in the right direction, and in the coming weeks, Erdogan may use that US desire of further involvement in the war on Daesh to his advantage. Nevertheless, diplomatic talks are extremely important at this time, especially regarding the future of NATO and its bases in the region.
Second, with regards to EU-Turkey relations, the situation is uneasy and backsliding. With talks of Turkey joining the EU having long been underway, a major setback now arises: the death penalty. A member of the EU cannot have the death penalty, and Erdogan plans to meet and discuss the reinstatement of the death penalty with parliament in the coming days to punish those involved with the coup. He claims that the people demand it. Turkey abolished the death penalty in 2004 in hopes of joining the EU, and will now certainly not be allowed membership if the law is passed.
Turkey is one of the most strategically located states in the world, and with all eyes focused on the AKP regime’s victory, Erdogan’s cupidity for power will extend further into an authoritarian regime under the cover of democratic elections. The coming days will likely be bloody and filled with powerful political schemes. There is no doubt that the Republic of Turkey will not be the same as it was before this shocking coup-attempt.