What’s next for Turkey, Erdogan after failed coup?

Read few comments.

Questions:

1. Though Turkey has a history of coups and no matter what we think about President Erdogan he is pretty popular so what happened was totally unexpected, wasn’t it?

2. What’s next for Turkey, how might President Erdogan react?

Answers:

James Ker-LindsaySenior Research Fellow on the Politics of South East Europe, London School of Economics and Political Science

1. I was utterly astounded by the news of the coup attempt. When reports first emerged last night, I naturally assumed that it must be something related to terrorism. It seemed to be beyond the realms of possibility that it would be a full scale military uprising. Of course, 15 years ago that would have been the first thing to go through my mind.

This points to one of the most profound transformations that has taken place in Turkish politics over the past decade and a half: the apparent downgrading of the role of the armed forces. There have been a number of reasons for this, but it essentially comes down to the fact that the Erdogan has managed to bring the armed forces under complete civilian control – or so we had thought.

At this stage, it is not clear who is behind this. On the one hand, it could have been organised by the followers of an Islamic religious organisation (the Gülen Movement) that used to have close relations to Erdogan, but fell out with him a few years ago. Many believe that this is the most likely group, especially as it has strong networks in many parts of Turkish society, including the security services. Such claims have already been strenuously denied by Fethullah Gülen himself. Nevertheless, this is where many are already pointing the finger of blame.

The other view is that this could have been organised by those still loyal to the secular Turkish state established by Ataturk, the Kemalists. The problem with this theory is that the Kemalists have been severely depleted in recent years. At one time, anyone suspected of religious sympathies would have been purged from the armed forces. No longer. This means there are a lot of junior officers loyal to Erdogan and the AKP. Meanwhile, many senior officers have been put on trial for attempting to overthrow the government. At the same time, many other generals saw the writing on the wall and have taken early retirement. This means few believed that the Kemalists could arrange a coup any longer. On the other hand, one could argue that this lends some credibility to the reports that it was undertaken at the colonel level. However, even if true, it would really be a last gasp effort by the Kemalists.

It will be fascinating to discover who was behind this, and how they managed to organise what was by all accounts a very serious coup attempt.

2. Like many others, I am deeply apprehensive about what this will mean for Turkey. Over the last few years, the country has moved in an increasingly authoritarian, if not dictatorial, direction under President Erdogan. There have been many attempts to restrict civil and human rights, and curb civil society and the independence of the media. I think that these trends will now accelerate. Already, Erdogan has said that this coup attempt is a “gift from God” that will allow his government to “cleanse the military”. This could see a real attempt to crack down on all last remaining vestiges of opposition to his rule, not just in the armed forces but more generally. The regime is likely to become even more inward looking, suspicious and repressive.

David RomanoAssociate Professor, Missouri State University

1. It was a surprise, but not unprecedented. In 1960, the first time Turkey had a military coup, Prime Minister Adnan Menderes was very popular with about half the population in Turkey — roughly the same half that currently votes AKP (religious, conservative Turks from the less Westernized parts of the country). He was of course removed from power by the military in 1960 and executed, along with two of his ministers. So this was high stakes in Turkey.

2If Erdogan stay true to form, he will use the coup attempt to try and further consolidate power, push through constitutional changes to create a presidential system, and further erode civil liberties and democratic checks and balances. He was always paranoid, but as they say, paranoids also have enemies.

Michael Wuthrich, Assistant Director in the Center for Global and International Studies, University of Kansas

1. Yes, and no. Though the military has been quiet for the last decade, it is still the same institution that is grounded in the same principles that it has always had. Their reluctance to intervene has had more to do with the shameful way that former coup plots came out in the open, starting in 2007. While the military, for the most part, has subordinated itself to democracy and the rule of law, despite some pundits and analysts interpretations to the contrary, it has not totally been subordinated to the AKP and Erdogan in particular. Had social order broken down, and had the government gone against the popular will, a military coup would not have been totally unexpected. The surprise was the timing. There wasn’t a strong justification for a coup at this particular moment, and the military has generally tried to operate within the approval of the average Turk. Despite the major problems with Erdogan’s attempts to increasingly consolidate his personal power, an intervention now does not make sense, except for the very micro issues of retirements and rotations for the military coming at the end of August.

It appears that the plotters of the coup thought that the people would stay at home or rally around them. When it came down to an issue of pulling the trigger, their institutional mentality could not have prepared them to aggressively take over at the expense of the lives of masses of citizens.

2.  This is really the important, and most worrying question. The coup plotters could not have given a better gift to President Erdogan. In fact, if the President were to stage a fake coup himself, he couldn’t have scripted it better. For the plotters to have only taken over the State television station (TRT) and left the myriad of other pro-government stations opening and reporting the news from the government’s standpoint, including who was involved and why, established a beautiful illustrated narrative of the “treacherous” coup attempt from Erdogan’s perspective. For the most part, because so much information was floating around, the outcome of the coup was not certain, and so mainstream non-government aligned media outlets, simply parroted or retransmitted the reports of the pro-government press. With the media not turned off, everyone took the government line for fear of reprisals immediately following the coup.

In fact, one of the first actions of the day has been to round up a large number of judges and prosecutors (under the auspices of the coup attempt), and, of course, take many of the armed forces into custody, including generals who came out against the coup attempt right from the beginning. Using his conspiratorial narrative of the so-called Gulenist Terror Organization (Fethullahci Teror Orgutu, FETO), Erdogan has created a supposed linkage between people not clearly related to the coup that would be hard to challenge. Because most people are not directly associated with this religious group, it’s hard for anyone to say whether or not someone is or isn’t associated with that community. George Orwell would be proud of how Erdogan has used Fethullah Gulen, much in the same way Goldstein was used in *1984*, as a foil, explaining all opposition to his actions. Because many secularists in Turkey trust Gulen as little as Erdogan does, incarcerations in the name of being a part of the FETO group that would otherwise be seen as huge interventions in the balance of power receive a much more subdued reaction. One way or another, but especially through the Fethullah Gulen angle, it seems that Erdogan will use the security situation and his very public support and victory over the attempted coup, to further skew the balance of power in the country to his favor. How far he will take this is yet to be seen.

 

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