By Eric Vandenbroeck
Currently in Antwerp, my daughter and I yesterday travelled for a day to Amsterdam to do (not related) archival research and found out that (like in Antwerp where there are believed to be more than 20,000) many Turks live there of which most are sympathetic to Erdogan. In both cities, the police had to step in to defend followers of the Gülen-movement or those who are critical of Erdogan.
Arriving in Antwerp late last night I noticed the news media were in a buzz about the reverberations of the failed coup in Turkey.
One item that drew attention is the fact that the Greek newspapers dispelled the widely disseminated myth that rebel jets supposed to have had Erdogan's plane in their sights. The Greek Air Force countered this today: Erdogan was not chased by fighter jets during coup.
On 18 July I had posted on my website the comment by EU commissioner dealing with Turkey's membership bid, Johannes Hahn, who based on documents he received concluded that the Erdogan government had prepared a list beforehand of the people they wanted to arrest. Whereby Hahn added: "I'm very concerned. It is exactly what we feared.
Soon other articles started to mention metaphors like Turkey’s Weekend of “the Long Knives” and so on.
Turkey is a country with a deeply chequered reputation on human rights, a reputation that is, sadly, not unjustified. Unlike its Middle Eastern neighbors, Turkey is a member of the Council of Europe and is bound by the European Convention of Human Rights. It is also a longstanding signatory to the United Nations Convention Against Torture. So it would be fair to assume that it has been valiantly working to end torture practices. But this is not the case.
As reported on 18 July in Turkey, the minister of justice has given an order forbidding political prisoners from talking to their lawyers. In addition to the numerous Kurdish political prisoners being tortured and grossly abused by the Turkish authorities, there are now thousands who have been arrested in the wake of the failed coup who will be met with the same fate.
Even before the last shots were fired in the small hours of Saturday, it was clear that President Erdoğan wouldn’t let a coup attempt go to waste.
There are those like the American reporter Mustafa Akyol who seriously claim the Gülenist's and their parallel State are behind the coup, and that Gulen must face trial, and for this, the US government must extradite him to Turkey. Whereas most others will quote Gülen himself who said he is not the one who orchestrated the coup.
I suggested in my article published on 16 July that while the Gülenist's might have been an important tool* by a number of dissenters, a variety of secularists and pragmatists were likely behind the coup. *A video (although it is not clear from what date the video itself is) posted on You Tube today shows Gülen urging followers to secretly infiltrate Turkish state institutions.
Erdogan and his government have been warning for months about the possibility of a coup, so the event itself should surprise no one. It is now certain that there was a coup in fact being plotted.
The coup plotters probably erred in their assumption that there was wide support at senior levels in the Turkish military for a coup. The generals, who once would have been natural opponents of Erdogan’s ambitions, had been severely punished in their first encounter with the then prime minister in 2010-11. A series of show trials claiming that the senior officers were involved in plotting against the government based on very flimsy evidence removed many upper ranks, replacing them gradually with Erdogan loyalists. Many of the officers so convicted have only recently been released from prison but, having been out of power for years, they have not retained any ability to take action against the government.
The coup plotters may have approached one or more of the new Erdogan-appointed generals, without whose support a coup could not succeed, expecting a sympathetic hearing. In all likelihood, they were received cordially but the senior officer immediately reported their overture to the president, setting the stage for a trap.
The rest followed course somewhat as planned. The plotters heard from sympathizers in the judiciary or police that they would soon be arrested so they started the coup before their plans were complete and almost caught the government by surprise. They were few in number so they must have hoped that they would be joined by others. They were not successful and loyal army and police units quickly organized to resist them. Erdogan also was able to call on his civilian supporters to take to the streets and gather at the airport in Istanbul. The results were predictable and the coup was crushed.
Gülen himself has rejected all accusations against Hizmet, and suggested that the coup may have been staged, while some of his supporters say the coup was likely orchestrated by secularist military officers who were unhappy with the flare-up of tensions with the Kurds and the instability on the border with Syria and they question the extent of the purges.
Meanwhile, Turkish leaders are fearful that there may be a second attempt at a military uprising in Turkey following the failure of the recent coup. Several important military units are confined to their bases and President Erdogan has been slow to return to Ankara from Istanbul, apparently because the capital has not been deemed completely secure.
Fears of a second coup attempt stem from the realization by the Erdogan administration that the infiltration by pro-coup forces of the senior ranks of the 600,000-strong armed forces and intelligence apparatus went far deeper than originally suspected. Some 85 generals and admirals or almost a quarter of the total of 375 were jailed on Tuesday by a court, a sign that the government privately believes that the plot involved many more senior officers than the small clique it has publicly claimed was behind the abortive putsch. Other sources suggest that the true figure for generals detained is 125.
Late on Tuesday then Ankara once more piled pressure on the White House by announcing: “We have sent four dossiers to the United States for the extradition of the terrorist chief. We will present them with more evidence than they want,” Prime Minister Binali Yildirim told parliament, according to Agence France-Presse. Using increasingly aggressive rhetoric, he vowed to remove the Gulen movement “by its roots” so it can never pose a threat to Turkey again.
U.S. President Barack Obama discussed the status of Gulen in a telephone call with Erdogan on Tuesday, the White House said, urging Ankara to show restraint as it pursues those responsible for the coup attempt.
In parallel talks, U.S. Defence Secretary Ash Carter and his Turkish counterpart discussed the importance of Turkey's Incirlik Air Base.
Later, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said that Turkey had submitted materials related to Gulen and the administration was reviewing whether they amounted to a formal extradition request. Earnest added that a decision on whether to extradite would be made under a longstanding treaty between the two countries, and wouldn't be made by Obama.
The extradition demand is likely to strain U.S.-Turkey ties as the Obama administration refers the matter to the Justice Department, which will determine whether the Turkish government has established probable cause that a crime was committed.
The state-run Anadolu agency said former air force chief General Akin Ozturk had confessed to being one of the leaders of the coup, but private broadcaster Haberturk contradicted this, saying he had told prosecutors he tried to prevent the attempted putsch. In a statement to prosecutors, the general insisted: "I am not the person who planned or led the coup."
Stirring thus tensions across the country the amount of soldiers, police, judges, civil servants and teachers have been suspended or detained since the coup are staggering. By now the purge has affected already well over 58,000 people.
Here is a breakdown:
The purges suggest the net is cast extremely wide and the presumption is guilty by association rather than innocent until proven guilt.
The question is also that along with creating a climate of fear and distrust in Turkey, another effect of the purge will be many parts of the state bureaucracy grinding to a halt as workers hesitate to make any controversial decisions or do anything that could draw unwanted attention. The military now also faces serious deficits and divisions after the detention of thousands of its soldiers, including dozens of senior officers in key roles.
Turkey furthermore bans religious funerals for coup supporters.
Arrests at a high level also have continued with Edrogan’s advisor on the air force, Lt Col Erkan Krivak, arrested on Tuesday. Soldiers from the Second Army, which is fighting a widespread Kurdish rebellion in the south east of the country, have been ordered to stay in their camps in the embattled region. The Second Army commander, General Adem Huduti, is the most senior military commander arrested. The gates into the main base of the 3rd Corps in Istanbul, theoretically part a Nato rapid reaction force, are blocked by municipal dump trucks and heavy vehicles according to eye witnesses.
“They are fearing another attempt at a coup,” says Asli Aydintasbas of the European Council on Foreign Relations in Istanbul, pointing to the extensive nature of the purge of the senior officer corps and judiciary, a quarter of whose members have been dismissed. Those arrested for secretly backing the original coup include some from Erdogan’s inner circle such as Ali Yazici, his military secretary. Soli Ozel, professor of internationals relations at Kadir Has University in Istanbul and a columnist at Haberturk newspaper, says that “the number of Manchurian Candidates” in the upper ranks of the government is extraordinary – a reference to the film about secret agents and “sleepers” who infiltrated the top political leadership in the US in the 1950s at the height of the Cold War.
It is true that Erdogan and his administration evidently see the coup as an excuse to cleanse the army, state apparatus and civil service of all who are not loyal to them. But government officials genuinely believe that there is a very widespread conspiracy by Gülenist “sleeper” agents, not all of whom have been detected and may still be capable of armed action. When the Gülenists were allied to the AKP seven or eight years ago, they were at the cutting edge of a purge of the armed forces of secular sympathizers and were well placed to replace those dismissed or jailed by their own cadres. The AKP appears to have known about some but not all of these Gülenist networks which is why it is now casting the net so wide.
Other situations remain in flux, for example fourteen Turkish navy ships remained at sea and unaccounted for amid concerns that their commanders may be coup conspirators seeking to defect.
Admiral Veysel Kosele, the commander of the Turkish navy, has been out of contact since Friday night’s botched coup, a source confirmed. It is not known whether he was an instigator of the attempt to oust President Erdogan or is being held hostage by collaborators on the run.
Foreign policy implications
The coup turbulence is likely to affect the list of Erdogan’s foreign friends as he drags Turkey even faster down the road of an authoritarian, party-state rule. One should have no doubts that Erdogan this week kept a tally of which countries condemned the coup attempt, which kept silent and which waited to see who would prevail. The support of two countries — Russia and Iran, both Turkey’s rivals in Syria — must be thickly underlined in his book now.
Unlike Ankara’s Western allies, Iran did not wait for the coup’s soon to be failure to speak up. Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif voiced support for the government in Twitter messages in the early hours of the unrest. In a subsequent phone call, President Hassan Rouhani told Erdogan the coup attempt was “a test to identify your domestic and foreign friends and enemies.”
Another prospect in the coup aftermath is the possibility of further rapprochement with Russia and Iran to settle regional problems. The two Turkish pilots who downed the Russian jet are reportedly among the arrested putschists, which could help to expand the revived dialogue with Moscow.
Also in the case of Syria Erdogan has two options: to maintain the status quo and ride the wave of solid nationalist-conservative support, or to take further steps toward change by boosting cooperation with Russia and Iran. The second option merits stronger consideration, given the additional external factors at play. Yet even an eventual policy shift would not necessarily mean a moderation in Turkey’s fierce objections to Kurdish autonomy in northern Syria. The institutional constituents of both the state and the government reject Kurdish self-rule on the other side of the border as long as the Kurdish problem at home remains unresolved.
But also other states across the Caucasus and Central Asia are contending with potential changes. Regardless of whether Islamic militancy or growing political dissent are to blame for elevating risks, countries throughout the region have resorted to political centralization and security crackdowns to mitigate them.
Falling wages and climbing unemployment have compounded domestic discontent in the region, often fueled by low oil prices. In response, states across the region have clamped down on security and increased executive power to cope with public unrest. Even before Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan's constitutional amendments were proposed, Tajikistan changed its own constitution to abolish term limits.
Ankara also might revoke the refugee deal.
Even as they sought to show continued support for the deal, which is seen as crucial to the bloc’s overall migration strategy, EU diplomats and officials said they would be watching closely in coming weeks to see whether Turkey continues the crackdown or resumes trying to fulfill the last handful of 72 legal “benchmarks” required for the visa waiver. Erdoğan has said that without the visa liberalization, the deal would be scuttled.
Another consideration is whether the unrest in Turkey would lead to a change in its status as a safe haven country, a requirement under the Geneva convention for returning refugees. But Mogherini said there had been no discussion among EU foreign ministers about questioning Turkey’s safe-haven status.
As for NATO, Turkey is too important to the alliance, both strategically and geopolitically, for Western politicians to be able to do all that much to counter Erdogan. In addition, Article 13 of the NATO Treaty states that a member of the alliance can leave voluntarily. Whereby NATO has no mechanism with which to impose sanctions against its members.
NATO partner Turkey had already become alarmingly unstable even before July 15. In the southeast of the country, the military has rekindled fighting in a hopeless war against Kurdish guerrillas. And the putsch attempt has now further weakened the state and the army.
In recent days, Erdogan has had around 100 generals and admirals arrested, about one-third of the military leadership. Many of those suspected to be behind the putsch held important positions within the armed forces, including Adem Huduti, the commander of the Second Army, who coordinated the deployment against the Kurds in southeast Turkey, and Bekir Ercan Van, chief of the Incirlik Air Base, which is used by the US and Europe in the fight against Islamic State.
That is not welcome news for the Pentagon: The US holds NATO's largest stockpile of nuclear weapons at Incirlik. It should not come as a surprise that there will be calls to move these somewhat useless weapons.
On Monday WikiLeaks said its website was attacked after promising to publish hundreds of thousands of documents on Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his political party, AKP. “We are unsure of the true origin of the attack. The timing suggests a Turkish state power faction or its allies,” WikiLeaks said in a subsequent message. “We will prevail & publish.”
The group said it planned to release 300,000 internal emails in addition to another 500,000 documents. The leaked emails slated to be released starting Tuesday date through July 7, 2016, nearly one week before the Turkish military staged the insurgency, WikiLeaks said.
Operational Tuesday morning WikiLeaks went ahead with publishing the Erdogan Emails on Tuesday, adding that all 300,000 are internal to Erdogan's Justice and Development Party.
Most interesting will be the upcoming 500,000 documents from in the wake of the failed coup.
Erdogan late on Wednesday told al-Jazeera he believes a foreign power may have been involved, and said it would be a big mistake if the United States decides not to extradite Gülen, who lives in the U.S.
Also today, Turkey issued a ban on professional travel for all academics, and Bloomberg just came out with the news that a countrywide state of emergency will be declared.
In Turkey, the least bad, Erdogan’s survival, has prevailed. That does not mean much worse will not follow.