UPDATE: THE COUP HAS FAILED. ERDOGAN HAS WON. THE PERPETRATORS ARE UNDER ARREST AND NOW PRESIDENT ERDOGAN IS THREATENING AMERICA WITH DIPLOMATIC RETALIATION UNLESS IT EXTRADITES FETHULLAH GÜLLEN, WHO NOW CALLS PENNSYLVANIA HOME. THE FBI HAS LAUNCHED AN INVESTIGATION INTO THE MAN’S BACKGROUND, AND RUMORS PERSIST THAT HE IS SOMEHOW RADICAL, WHICH IS SHOCKING, GIVEN HIS COMMITMENT TO THE MYSTICAL–AND RELATIVELY PEACEFUL–FORM OF SUFI ISLAM. I AM BEGINNING TO SUSPECT THAT THIS IS AN ATTEMPT BY THE OBAMA ADMINISTRATION TO DISTANCE ITSELF POLITICALLY FROM ANY NOTION THAT IT WAS SUPPORTING GÜLEN. ALSO, IT SEEMS THAT THE MAJORITY OF SECULARISTS CHOSE NOT TO SIDE WITH THE COUP BECAUSE THEY FELT ALIENATED DUE TO POOR POLITICKING ON THE PART OF THE GÜLENISTS. WHAT A SHAME. ERDOGAN WILL NOT AID THEIR CAUSE, IF THAT’S WHAT THEY THINK. MAKE NO MISTAKE: THE VICTORY OF ERDOGAN IS A TRAGEDY FOR DEMOCRACY. AN ISLAMIST WINTER HAS NOW FALLEN UPON TURKEY, A PRIMARY NATO ALLY.
HERE IS THE ARTICLE AS IT APPEARED DURING THE COUP. PLEASE ENJOY. THANK YOU.
Turkey’s Besieged Moderates Push Back–Finally (But Will They Win?)
“He [Turkish President Erdoğan] was gripped with this obsession of killing the parallel state.”
On the heels of the Bastille Day terror attacks, a shocking turn of events has occurred in the long-time NATO ally of Turkey. As I outlined in my recent article, “The Truth About the Terror in Turkey,” the current regime ruling Turkey is Islamist. The current leader, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, has been aggregating more and more power that has made many of his critics and foreign observers intimate that he yearns to emulate the Ottoman Sultans of old. Indeed, Erdoğan belongs to an ideology known as Neo-Ottomanism, which seeks to reestablish the Ottoman Empire of old. As I detailed in my article on Turkey last month, Turkey has been lending support to various Jihadist groups fighting secular strongman dictators (i.e. Muammar Gaddafi and Syria’s Bashar al-Assad), in a bid to expand its sphere of influence into the former Ottoman imperial holdings of the Middle East. In so doing, Turkey has moved increasingly toward the Islamist camp. Despite the fact that Turkey is a predominantly Sunni-Muslim country, and the ruling Islamist Justice & Development Party (AKP) has, until recently, enjoyed considerable popular support, there is a strong strain of of secular modernism that cuts throughout the country–particularly in the country’s military.
With the recent coup attempt (which is still underway), it is quite possible that the forces of moderation (and, possibly, secularism) have had enough. Kemal Atatürk was the founder of modern-day Turkey. A former soldier in the Ottoman imperial army, he left the service after the Ottoman Empire’s staggering defeat in the First World War. Dissatisfied with the Allies plans for postwar Turkey, Atatürk founded the Turkish nationalist movement and successfully assumed control of the country. Once he assumed control of the country, he disbanded the Islamic sultanate that had ruled the Caliphate from Turkey for centuries and created a secular, modern state. Due to the overwhelming popularity of Islam among the Turkish people, Atatürk ruled with an iron fist, in an attempt to “modernize” his country, in order to make it more competitive with the Western European states of Europe.
Despite the fact that Atatürk and, later, his fellow nationalists ruled Turkey with an iron-fist for decades, the fact was that the Islamist elements had to be suppressed, if secularism was to remain in power. Thus, when the military junta left power in the late 1990s and elections were held, the Islamists immediately rose to power in the form of the AKP. Today, President Erdoğan’s rule has been marred by extreme corruption, harsh authoritarian practices, resurgent imperialism, and barely-veiled support of Jihadist groups in the Middle East–including, but not limited to, the Islamic State of Iraq and Al Sham.
By 2013, given the corruption charges lobbed against Erdoğan and his AKP ruling party, coupled with a declining economy, as well as his strict illiberalism (there is no such thing as a free press in modern-day Turkey), people began to sour to his rule. This has continued, unabated, despite the government’s efforts to suppress popular discord, since 2013, when protests raged across the country. Now, it is believed that elements of the country’s national police and military forces have instigated a coup against Erdoğan’s rule.
We in the United States are normally averse to coups–particularly in allied states, such as Turkey. We generally tend to assume, also, that the coups are usually the forces of illiberalism aimed at ousting the forces of liberalism in fledgling republican governments. However, as was the case in Egypt during the Egyptian military’s countercoup against Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood President Mohammed Morsi, and as I believe the case is today, the forces of modernity comprise the ranks of the coup plotters. Indeed, recent Turkish government statements on the coup lend credence to this notion, as key elements are blaming the outlawed Gülen Movement.
The Gülen Movement derives its name from the Turkish Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen. It is believed that Gülen belongs to a mystic subsection of Sunni-Islam, known as Sufism, that is known for its moderation and sympathy toward modernity. Sufism is a minority belief set that has often been persecuted by the rest of Islam–particularly the Wahhābīst movement (please see Yes, Iraq Still Matters to America–More Now Than Ever, for more information on Wahhābīsm) from which the current Jihadists are a part of. Indeed, the AKP ruling party in Turkey is far more sympathetic to Wahhābīsm than any government should be comfortable with.
Gülen started his political career as an ally of President Erdoğan but, slowly, began to turn against him the more draconian and radical Erdoğan’s rule became. By December 2013, Gülen, who lives in exile in Pennsylvania, moved away from his support of Erdoğan, based on the massive scale of the alleged corruption within the Erdoğan administration and his ruling AK Party. As early as 2009, it was reported that there was essentially a counter-government operating from within the Turkish military and police forces, all loyal to Gülen and his movement.
As of this moment, not much more is known about the status of the coup, other than it is ongoing. Of course, at this point, President Erdoğan has announced that his forces are not only still fighting to keep him in power, but that the coup plotters, not representing a significant majority of the Turkish people or government, would fail and that there will be, a “strong response,” and that the plotters will “pay a heavy price.”
“If you asked someone how did you manage to get into the secret intelligence unit, they would answer: I prayed and got in. We had friends who spoke six languages, were top of their class, and were standing guard outside police stations. And others who were a lot less qualified got the top jobs only because they were connected with the Gülenists.” – From an old article on the Gülen Movement in Turkey from The Guardian. The Gülen Movement’s influence is widespread and persists, despite official government crackdowns on the group. They may not hold the most powerful positions in the military and police, but they hold the mid-level bureaucracy, which very often is far more influential than the top guys.
The fact of the matter is, no one is really a winner in this situation. Least of all democracy. While I do believe that the Gülen Movement is a far more moderate version of Sunni-Islam than Wahhābīsm, the fact is that the rule of Atatürk and his military junta that succeeded him in Turkey was just as authoritarian and draconian–if not more so–as the Islamist AKP rule has been. Still, like Egypt, the choice for America and the world is between a double-dealing Islamist government that claims to be opposed to Jihadist groups, like the Islamic State, but then secretly lends support to them, or a mostly modern government that claims to be republic but, due to the large presence of Islamists in their population, has a rabidly authoritarian bent. For the purposes of the United States, I believe, it would be in the best interests should a Gülen Movement coup succeed. It would normalize relations with the West, reaffirm Turkey’s commitment to defeating Jihadism, and assist in the stabilization of the Middle East. Plus, the removal of Erdoğan and his ruling AK Party, I believe, will help the West to concoct a sustainable stabilization plan for Syria, as I discuss in part two of The Weichert Report’s four-part symposium on Stabilizing the Situation in Syria.
The coup remains in progress, as of now. If the reports coming in from Turkey (which has shut down all social media access, so I am relying on friends overseas to relay information to me as well as the insufficient mainstream media sources) are accurate, then it would appear that the Islamist forces are currently counterattacking and the potential Gülen Movement-backed coup is incomplete. The longer the coup remains incomplete, as a history of coups shows, the more likely that the government forces will be able to reestablish control, and root out all insurgent elements. Also, it should be noted, that the history of militant secularism within the military in Turkey has led Erdoğan and his AK Party to systematically purge the military of any secular and modern elements, which may explain why the coup has yet to be declared “victorious.”
“Democracy is like a streetcar: you ride it until you arrive at your destination and then you step off.” – Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan
I believe that this coup will indicate the future course of Turkey, not only as a state, but as a vital NATO member. Should Erdoğan and his AK Party win, we should expect to see a series of brutal reprisals against suspected opponents and a general Islamist Winter befall Turkey. This will have direct, negative consequences for Turkey’s position vís-a-vís the ongoing Global War on Terror, specifically, the ongoing Global War Against the Islamic State, as well as the ongoing Syrian Civil War. Should Erdoğan prevail, I suspect that a pro-Western stance in Turkey will be fleeting, and Turkey will move more stringently in support of Islamist groups everywhere, in a bid to expand its influence into the former Ottoman territories.
We must keep in mind, that this coup is the last ditch effort of the remaining moderate, modern elements of Turkey. The reason I say this is due to the fact that the demographics of the region–all of the Middle East–is working against the secular, moderate, and modern elements within Turkey. The unfortunate reality is that, more often not, it is the youth bulge of the Islamic world that supports the more stringent Islamist parties.
Unless the coup can pull it off–and right quick–then Turkey will be lost to an Islamist Winter.