By Eric Vandenbroeck
As I mentioned in my two previous articles on the subject (here and here) a successful overthrow of Erdogan, could have sent Turkey spiraling into conflict. The intrigue in the aftermath, including irrational conspiracy theories like the above, however, are helping justify a wide crackdown, with currently more than 60,000 soldiers, police, civil servants and other officials detained, suspended or under investigation.
One should also briefly mention here that at times conspiracy theories have spiced up Turkish crises amid the struggle between Islamists and secularists to shape the country, with superpower America often accused of fuelling the fire. Erdogan blamed foreign powers for stirring up nationwide anti-government protests three years ago.
Sometimes the perceived enemy is less formidable.
During contentious local elections in 2014, seen as a referendum on Erdogan's rule, power cuts disrupted the count. Turkey's energy minister blamed a cat, saying it had walked into a transformer unit, drawing ridicule from social media users who portrayed a "cat lobby" threatening the government.
In 2013, authorities detained a bird on suspicion it was spying for Israel, but freed it after X-rays showed it was not embedded with surveillance equipment, local newspapers said.
Nevertheless, Turks take their conspiracies seriously and the latest tensions are providing fresh material.
Today according to many Turkish observers, including Ibrahim Karagul, an editor at Yeni Safak, a prominent newspaper that favors the governing Justice and Development Party (AKP), was only one stage of a grand offensive against the Turkish government waged by the United States, members of the European Union, and Israel working together to destroy Erdogan and to occupy, or perhaps partition, the Republic of Turkey. To this end, Karagul has called upon his readers, he has about 220,000 Twitter followers and appears regularly on television, to rally around their president, transform the country into a "fortress of relentless resistance," and prepare for a "new national struggle" against subversive forces.
Gülen lives in a secluded compound in Pennsylvania's Pocono Mountains. But as I pointed out before, Erdogan has good reason to worry about the reclusive cleric's reach inside Turkey.
In 2013, his followers in the police and judiciary opened a corruption probe into business associates of Erdogan, then prime minister, who denounced the investigations as a foreign plot.
"Why don't they hand him over? Why do they keep making insinuations? He (Gülen) lives there. "Why does he live in the United States? These are details we notice."
As explained in an earlier comment, and why I mention the above incidents, is because they form part of a larger tendency.
One of the problems here is Erdoğan’s shallow understanding of how democratic governments work. He views other countries through the lens of his own autocratic ways. For instance, in April 2009, Turkey objected to Danish prime minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen’s appointment as Nato’s secretary general. In the aftermath of the Danish cartoon crisis, Ankara’s reasoning was that Rasmussen had allowed Prophet Muhammad’s cartoons to be published in Danish media.
This said Turkey had been a partner in the international coalition against Islamic State, and a partner in stabilizing Iraq and Afghanistan. The U.S. has supported Turkey’s national security priorities of battling against the armed insurgency known as the Kurdistan People’s Party, which Washington has joined with Ankara in branding a terror group.
However today, the two nations aren't in sync in regards to the Gülen organization, which Turkey elevated to a national security threat equal to Islamic State and the PKK last summer. In May, Turkey declared the Gülen movement a terrorist organization.
So far, citing legal procedures, the Obama administration hasn't followed suit. This, however, might also be in part because of a view in Washington that the campaign against Gülen was part of a campaign of repression and political retribution against rivals of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP.
If US courts reject his request for Gülen’s extradition, Erdoğan will certainly blame the White House. Subsequently, the Turkish leader will have two options. First, he may link the extradition issue to anti-Isis co-operation. If Turkey were to present the US with an ultimatum, this would backfire, and the US would move its anti-Isis operations from Turkey to Mediterranean aircraft carriers and the Persian Gulf bases. Alternatively, Erdoğan could retaliate by simply pulling the plug on anti-Isis co-operation with Washington.
In short, Turkish foreign policy now stands at a crossroads. If Washington does not convince Turkey of its commitment to a thorough review of Ankara’s request for Gulen’s extradition, Ankara may turn to Russia. And should Ankara bring back capital punishment, which looks highly likely, the EU-Turkey ties and refugee deal are likely to fail.
As for understanding the larger picture one needs to also look at Turkish history.
Coming back to the basics
Starting in late 18th century and continuing well into the 20th one, a new Turkish elite was forged and educated in a alien epistemology, which in time led to a sizable segment that viewed itself through Euro-Centric eyes. Everything in the “East” was given negative attributes, while the “West” was described using positive and progressive terms. One should not assume that late Ottoman history did not have internal contradictions, it did, but these were magnified and deepened with the adoption of the Euro-Centric epistemology. Certainly, the educational and intellectual system was designed to alienate the society from its epistemological roots. In due time, the newly emergent and intellectually colonized elite produced economic, educational, political and social institutions that set in motion the process of internal transformation of the state and all its machinery.
The new elite was assigned - and in a way embodied - the European colonial attitude of being a custodian over the lives and future of the “backward” societies to usher-in a civilizational project. In this context, the colonized elites of the global south acted to cement the colonial structure through using an “indigenous” façade but acting to further external interests. Being given the needed tools by colonial powers and trained in modern modes of control, the role of this intellectually colonized elite is to constantly intervene to prevent any change in the political, social, economic and educational colonially designed structures.
The colonialized elites continued to reproduce themselves even after the colonial period came to an end, by sending their children and grandchildren to study in the same colonial mother lands.
Here, we must not separate the colonial from the post-colonial regarding the epistemology and the constructed worldview since it remained founded on colonial and inferior terms. Time and again, the post-colonial period witnessed interventions by these elites through unleashing military coups to supposedly “rescue” the nation from an impending evil or a deep crisis. All along, the crisis to be prevented was no more than an attempt to assert real independence and sovereignty in the post-colonial period.
In modern Turkish history, the coups and military interventions were carried out to prevent and “rescue” the nation and maintain a steady march toward the elusive true “democratization” project. Democracy had to be rescued from itself, and military coups were the instrument of choice in the post-colonial period. Considering the long and intense efforts at undermining the independence and sovereignty of the military institution itself starting in late 18th century during the Ottoman Empire and continued to the most recent past, the military coup strategy is intended to weaken the strength of the society and grant the external colonial mediator a privileged re-entry into dictating the affairs of the ex-colony.
The claim from Western powers is that they need to guide the democratic process, the adherence to the law and the protection of human rights in Turkey, all important matters that deserve attention from every leader and government (on a side note, these high ideals and recommendations should have been kept in mind before invading Iraq and Afghanistan and setting-up torture centers around the globe). However, Western powers have supported one military coup after another, not only in Turkey but across the Global South, always aligning their interests with military dictatorship and massive human rights violations. The intervention and support of the military coup is intended to maintain the same sphere of influence and control over existing elites and prevent change or assertion of independence and sovereignty from taking hold in Turkey or any global south postcolonial state.
So why the coup and what next?
There are three possible scenarios that illustrate the shift that occurred in the worldview of Turkish governing elite, moving the military coup engine forward.
First, the Turkish government and parliament’s decision to not support the U.S. invasion of Iraq and prohibit the use of its territory to launch attacks was a significant assertion of independence and sovereignty. The U.S. and NATO expected the Turkish State to fall in line and grant them unconditional support in the operations against Iraq. This was not the case, and the decision to reject the request moved the needle toward a future military coup.
Second, the Turkish government’s decision to confront Israel over Gaza and the killing of ten Turkish aid workers on the Mavi Marmara in the effort to break the blockade. In many ways, the targeting of Turkish ruling elite can be traced more concretely to this foreign policy decision and for taking Israel to task for what The Turkish leadership perceived as the human rights violations against the Palestinians. Postcolonial ruling elites in the Arab and Muslim world understand and are trained to adhere to the constructed boundaries when it comes to disputes with Israel, which involves never pushing further than statements of condemnation and letters to the U.N. to express displeasure. Here, Western powers are mobilized to protect the Israeli project, and every post-colonial Arab and Muslim world order leader understands and is conditioned to never go outside the constructed safe zone of solidarity with the Palestinians. Turkey’s decision to confront Israel brought the coup a step closer since the new elite was not playing by the old colonial rules of the game.
Third, the Turkish State decision to align itself with the hopes and aspiration of the Arab Spring and the support for the new wave of democratically elected governments moved the coup clock closer. While many different narratives around the Arab Spring are circulating, the basic fact is that the Arabs who mobilized in the streets did so out of a genuine desire to achieve dignity, justice, and freedom after a long period of oppression. The fact that other agendas and external forces acted to derail it should not confuse us with the real impetus behind it and the not yet completed project for decolonization. Western powers and their regional allies moved to reconstitute the old order and used a combination of resource infusion and regional disruption to bring back the military dictators they so much love as instruments of control and stability in the Global South. Turkey’s decision to oppose the effort and not to go along with reconstituting the old order meant that the military coup became a foregone conclusion.
The consequences for Turkey’s assertion of independence and sovereignty, even by an elected and the popularly supported government is not something that Western powers and their regional allies are ready to accept. Democracy, at least from a postcolonial lens, should only be allowed to continue if it brings forth the colonially incubated elites otherwise, the mobilization of the Military is needed to reset the clock back in the country. An important side effect of military coups is the constant disruption of any indigenously formulated development program, even one that has mistakes and contradictions since the only acceptable trajectory is the one set in accordance with the colonial epistemology.
In the coming days, months and years, the challenge for Turkey is to navigate maintaining a democratically elected governing elite, while making transformation possible for the old one.
Here, the continued process of coups and collapse of political order has led to further fragmentation of the country and has created the needed conditions for more in roads to recruit disgruntled elites into the colonial and post-colonial order. The Turkish leadership can and should pursue a national multi-faceted strategy rooted in indigenously constituted reconciliation.