The attempted coup in Turkey ended quickly, but it is far from over. Exactly what happened remains a bit foggy for the simple reason that no one believes it was ever a serious coup. In a region wracked by conspiracy theories one simple fact stands out – complex machinations are often real.
Recep Erdogan has used the coup as an excuse to launch a massive purge which continues to reach beyond the power structure and into Turkish culture and daily life. The most recent victims include teachers – hardly part of the coup but clearly standing in the way of a complete makeover of Turkey in Erdogan’s image.
All of this is happening in a member of NATO which stands at the bridge between the West and the Middle East – our last reliable and powerful ally in the region.
The coup itself fell apart in about twelve hours for one simple reason – it failed to seize Erdogan, the powerful and popular President. The conditions for barely missing him were suspicious enough that it is common to say that the entire coup was staged for the purpose of launching this purge. It’s much more likely that, informed of what was up, he allowed it to play out so that the plotters would show their hand.
The popular uprising which stared down tanks and troops has done for Erdogan what no election could ever do – give him the means and the motive to seize complete control.
Erdogan himself is a moderate Islamicist. What exactly that means has always been debatable, but it’s clear that he has used faith to endear himself to the working class of Turkey as well as control them. This stands in opposition to the strict secularism of Turkey, laid down in 1923 by Mustafa Kemal, later known as Kemal Atatürk or “Kemal, Father of the Turks”. This political tradition has often been enforced by the military in a series of coups, but as of late “Kemalism”, as it is called, has gone more without saying.
Turkey stands at the crossroads of two continents both literally and figuratively as a result. The shaky ground upon which the state was built has lately been victim of the same separation that plagues the West, namely a great class division and feeling that change is occurring too quickly. Erdogan clearly played all of this to his advantage and is now poised to seize power.
In far too many ways this is analogous to the Iranian Revolution of 1979. The same forces are present with the same class divisions.
In this case, however, the result is particularly dangerous for the West. Turkey is more than a member of NATO, it is the launching point for all of our operations against ISIS / Daesh. Of the three great permanent powers in the region, which include Egypt and Iran (Persia), it is the only one that has been reliably favorable to the West.
It is also home to 50 hydrogen bombs, packed and loaded into US bombers based at Incirlik airbase for quick delivery to Russia, if need be.
The biggest problem with Erdogan’s power grab is that there is absolutely nothing anyone can do about it. It may become necessary to isolate him if he becomes too dictatorial, possibly even suspending Turkey’s NATO membership and flying home. But that would leave us without a single base in the immediate region near the most unstable parts of the region. It would, in essence, remove us from the Middle East save a few small bases on the Persian Gulf.
And if Erdogan fails? With the subjugation of Turkey’s institutions, any attempts to remove him would likely result in civil unrest. We have all seen how loyal his followers are now. But in a true civil war, the Kurdish population could easily rise up and create a situation not unlike Syria very quickly. If that were to happen, the entire region would essentially be in flames without any ability to put the fires out.
This has become a very dangerous situation for many reasons. The principles of Kemalism which held Turkey together and gave it some sense of stability on shaky ground are collapsing. Where this goes from here is of great interest not only to the West but for a region desperately in need of stability in the face of change.
As in Iran, there is only so much we can do. While great change has opened chasms between classes and ideas across the globe nations at the crossroads remain especially vulnerable to the collapse of open democratic government and values. Turkey, long a progressive partner, is being pulled in a dangerously autocratic direction.
The main purpose of this article is to provide context and background for what has happened and will happen in coming months regarding Turkey. Please follow the links for more information on topics from various sources.