It is not clear yet whether the July 15, 2016 failed coup in Turkey was an authentic coup by frustrated military officers, and conceived by the Turkish U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, as claimed by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, or an insidious plot by Erdogan to complete his dictatorial takeover of the Turkish state. In the process, he is set to destroy the last vestiges of the Ataturk legacy of Turkish secularism, guaranteed by the judiciary and the military. It would seem somewhat curious that Erdogan was able to escape from the so-called plotters who allegedly raided the hotel in the Aegean resort town of Marmaris, where the vacationing Erdogan had been staying during the coup. It is furthermore mysterious that the plane taking him back to Istanbul was miraculously able to avert the “plotters” jets and helicopters supposedly set to assassinate him while hovering nearby.
What is abundantly clear is that Erdogan did not wait an extra minute to execute his plan to destroy all of his perceived opposition. He issued a new presidential decree last Sunday that introduced sweeping changes to Turkey’s military in an attempt to bring the armed forces further under civilian authority, or more precisely, under his authority. A decree, the third issued under a three-month state of emergency declared after the attempted coup, gives the president and prime minister the authority to issue direct orders to the commanders of the army, air force and navy.
Erdogan’s government announced that it will discharge 1,389 military personnel, including Erdogan’s chief military adviser, who had been arrested days after the attempted coup; the Chief of General Staff’s charge d’affaires and the defense minister’s chief secretary. According to AFP, as reported by Al-Arabiya, President Erdogan said on Saturday (July 30, 2016) that he wanted to introduce constitutional changes to bring the Turkish spy agencies and the military chief-of-staff under his control after the failed coup. Erdogan said, “We are going to introduce a small constitutional package to parliament which, if approved, will bring the National Intelligence Organization (MIT) and the Chief-of-Staff under the control of the presidency.” Erdogan added that “military schools will be closed…and a national military university will be founded.” He also warned that “If things do not return to normal in the state of emergency, then, like France, we will extend it.” Erdogan revealed that to date, 18,699 people were detained in the crackdown following the coup, and 10,137 of those have been arrested.
Erdogan’s primary target since 2013 has been the exiled cleric Fethullah Gulen. Erdogan has blamed him for being behind the coup and is seeking his extradition from the U.S. It was the pro-Gulen press which exposed Erdogan’s corruption. It turned these hitherto allies into bitter rivals, and Erdogan has been seeking Gulen’s demise ever since. From his exiled home in Pennsylvania, Gulen has issued clear statements that he had nothing to do with the coup, nor had no knowledge of it. Still Erdogan has accused Gulen of being behind the rogue elements in the military.
Since assuming the office of President in August, 2014, Erdogan has been working assiduously to destroy Turkey’s free press. In December, 2014 he ordered the Turkish police to arrest the editor of Zaman, a major high circulation daily newspaper. Zaman has been one of the last critics of Erdogan, which had written extensively about Erdogan’s nepotism and the corruption around his government. Zaman’s editor, Ekrem Dumanly, was accused of trying to stage a coup. In March, 2016 the Erdogan government took control of the newspaper and began publishing pro-government articles. Erdogan accused the newspaper of having ties to the Hizmet movement of Fethullah Gulen, and charged it with seeking to establish a parallel state in Turkey.
In May, 2015 Cumhuriyet, the last remaining opposition newspaper, published video footage that showed Turkish Intelligence officers ferrying trucks filled with weapons to rebel groups in Syria. According to Reuters “The footage shows gendarmerie and police officers opening crates on the back of the trucks that Cumhuriyet described as weapons and ammunition.” The Cumhuriyet revelation coincided with pressure from the Obama administration, which previously called Erdogan its “best friend” in the Middle East to join the fight against the Islamic State (IS). In November, Erdogan’s government agents arrested Cumhuriyet top editors, Can Dundar, editor-in-Chief and Erdem Gul, the Ankara bureau chief, on charges of espionage. Reuters reported (March 25, 2016) that the two editors “stand accused of trying to topple the government with the publication last May of a video purporting to show Turkey’s state intelligence agency helping to truck weapons into Syria in 2014.” Erdogan placed himself as the plaintiff in the case, and a judge ordered the trial closed to the public.
It turned out that Erdogan, the so-called U.S. ally and a NATO member, most likely provided these arms to such Islamist terrorist groups as Jabhat al-Nusra, an Al-Qaeda affiliate. In addition, the Erdogan government allowed IS recruits to enter Turkey and cross safely into Syria, where they joined the IS ranks. Rather than join the fight against IS, Erdogan chose to bomb his Kurdish citizens in southeastern Turkey, and bombard the U.S. Kurdish allies in Syria, the only reliable fighting force against the IS.
While the Turkish economy grew, Erdogan’s brutality was overlooked. Soon after gaining political power, Erdogan launched a sinister campaign of destroying his political enemies. He ordered the imprisonment of hundreds of journalists, university rectors, military officers, judges, and aid workers on trumped-up charges and fabricated evidence. Seeking more power following his three terms as Prime Minister, Erdogan was elected President of Turkey in 2014, and immediately went about changing the nature of the presidency from a ceremonial title to executive power. Fresh from an election victory last November, Erdogan “demanded constitutional change that he wants to gain sweeping powers, and vowed to ‘liquidate’ Kurdish guerrillas in a defiant speech that gave no quarter to those hoping for conciliation.” Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) won 317 seats in the 550 seat Turkish parliament, coming up 13 seats short to be able to call a referendum on constitutional changes.
In his drive to reach absolute power, Erdogan sacked his former longtime partner, Ahmet Davutoglu, who until May, 2016 served as Turkey’s Prime Minister. The riff between the two had to do with Davutoglu’s reservations about an executive presidency. Some in the Turkish media described Davutoglu’s dismissal as a “palace coup.”
Now that Erdogan has cleared away all of his rivals from within, he has aggressively demanded that the U.S. extradite his only remaining serious rival – Fethullah Gulen. It would be unconscionable and immoral for the U.S. to comply with the wishes of a power hungry and merciless dictator. Unlike Erdogan, who is a product of a traditional Sunni Turkish Islamist movement and close ideologically to the Muslim Brotherhood, Gulen’s movement has been apolitical, tending towards the more mystical Sufi tradition. Gulen’s primary involvement has been in education, including secular education. Moreover, the schools Gulen has established in Pakistan and Central Asia have a moderating influence on Muslims compared to the Saudi Arabian Wahhabi funded schools.
When the smoke has finally cleared and the truth is revealed about the recent coup in Turkey, we may discover that Erdogan himself has engineered it as an excuse for a final crackdown on the opposition and to solidify his autocratic rule.