With the attempted coup over, Turkey is waking up to a new reality.
As many feared, Turkish president Recep Erdogan has emerged from the chaos stronger than ever. The attempted putsch has given him a mandate to crack down on his opponents; a mandate he is already exploiting. Already, over 3000 soldiers, 8000 police and 120 Generals and Admirals have been arrested as Erdogan attempts to purge the military of coup supporters and dissidents. The rights of these political prisoners to contact family, make phone calls and meet with lawyers has also been suspended.
But the purge hasn’t been limited to the military. Turkey’s president has already used the coup as a pretense to consolidate his grip on the courts and isolate political opponents. 3000 judges have been fired and Erdogan has leveled the blame for the failed coup on Fethullah Gulen, a former ally, now living in Pennsylvania. Erdogan has demanded his arrest and extradition, with Turkey’s labor minister even accusing the U.S of complicity if Gulen is not turned over.
It is important to note that none of Erdogan’s enemies actually backed the coup publicly. All opposition parties and the Gulanists condemned the takeover, even early on when it seemed possible the government might fall to the putschists. much of Erdogan’s obsession with Gulan is part of Erdogan’s political narrative. A “Gulanist” in modern Turkey is like a “Kulak” in Stalin’s Russia. It is simply a way of branding someone as an enemy, whether that enemy actually supports Gulan or not.
The media, academia and civil Service have also been hit. News websites have been blocked and journalists fear major crackdowns on free speech. Over 9000 Interior ministry staff, 47 provincial and 30 District governors have been sacked. 15,500 education department officials have been suspended and 1577 University deans have been asked to resign. Turkish academics have also been banned from traveling abroad.
This total purge of Turkish society has so far claimed over 35,000 officials, staff and soldiers and is getting broader and more repressive by the day.
Erdogan’s power grab is also being felt on the streets where violence has broken out between pro-Erdogan Islamist mobs and Kurdish and Alevi minorities. Soldiers have also been attacked as Erdogan is urging supporters to stay on the streets following the coup attempt.
This failed coup is likely beginning the end of Turkish democracy. like Hitler after the Reichstag fire, Erdogan now has a mandate to crack down on his opposition and any enemies he can find. Right now, his sights are set on the “Gulanists”, Army and Judiciary, but it is unlikely to end there. Erdogan is likely to use the coup push for constitutional reforms that would concentrate even more power into his hands.
Erdogan’s actions have already strained U.S- Turkish relations, but they are likely to fall much further. The Turkish government has already stoked anti-American sentiment and tensions over the Gulan issue, but an autocracy in Turkey would likely permanently damage relations.
The United States prides itself in promoting human rights and allying with nations that share the same democratic values. The death of democracy in Turkey would fundamentally change the nature of the U.S-Turkish relationship, possibly endangering the alliance between the two nations, as well as other NATO allies.
Already cracks are beginning to show. In the immediate aftermath of the coup, the Turkish government cut power to Incirlik Air base where several pro-coup air force jets had taken off. The U.S has been using the base to fly missions against ISIS and was forced to rely on back up generators to sustain operations. The incident prompted widespread fear regarding the security that the 40 B61 nuclear bombs housed on the base and calls to relocate them to a more stable country.
Turkey’s own military is also in trouble. The mass purge of officers and generals has no doubt chopped the head off of the armed forces, and priorities are now shifting toward internal security. This will certainly have an impact on the fight against the the Islamic State and Turkey’s NATO obligations. I need not remind you of the results of Stalin’s purge in 1939 that turned the Soviet forces into a paper tiger (bear?) in the Winter War.
Economically, it’s likely that Turkey will never be allowed EU membership. And, while it still has links to Europe through NATO and organizations like the OSCE, engagement will likely be stunted along with foreign investment. Tourism is also likely to take a huge hit as repression increases and images of war machines attacking protesters and bombing Turkish cities is still fresh in peoples minds.
Erdogan’s power grab will essentially isolate the Turkish state diplomatically, military and economically. It would be the only autocracy in NATO, an organization which enshrined democracy in Article 2 it’s charter. It will also kill it’s bid for EU membership. This is the price of autocracy.