Saturday, July 16, 2016

A tale of two Turkey's

OK, stay with me here....I'm talking about Turkey, the country, not turkey, the bird.  Turkey the country burst into the news a couple days ago when a group of its army officers tried to seize power from President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.  The coup d'etat failed, and Erdogan remained in office and in fact is now consolidating his power.  Looking at it through American eyes, what does all this mean?  Some background:

Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder and first President of the modern Republic of Turkey.

At the end of World War I the defeated Ottoman Empire was broken up.  It was Mustafa Kemal (the name Ataturk was added later), a former Ottoman military officer, who pulled together Turkish nationalists and, long story short, won the Turkish War of Independence.  Think of him as a Turkish George Washington.  He was a brilliant progressive for his time, insisting on a strict secular (separation of state and religion) form of government and a strong, independent judiciary.  He built thousands of new schools, primary education was made free and compulsory, and women were given equal civil and political rights.  

Ataturk and his successor's western style of leadership have made Turkey far and away the most affluent, modern, and stable country in the Muslim world.  (The oil kingdoms might be affluent and modern, but will likely be stable only until their oil runs low.)

The Turkish constitution specifically gave the army the power to intercede if attempts were ever made to subvert its secular form of government.  Five times since 1960 they have stepped in to restore order after various crises, sometimes peacefully, sometimes rather heavy-handedly.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan is the 14th and current President of Turkey, serving since 2014.

President Erdogan was elected Mayor of Istanbul in 1994, and although an Islamist at heart, was a fairly pragmatic leader.  By 1997, however, his Welfare Party was one of several the army cracked down on for violating Ataturk's guiding principle of separation of religion and state.  When Erdogan publicly embraced the words of an Islamist poem, saying, "The mosques are our barracks, the domes our helmets, the minarets our bayonets and the faithful our soldiers", he was sentenced to 10 months in prison, eventually serving four.

After prison Erdogan was one of the founders of the Justice and Development Party, known as the AKP (go figure).  While still Islamist, it struck a more moderate public tone.  In recent years, however, he has accused the army of numerous (real or imagined) intrigues, and has had the supposed leaders arrested and jailed.  The result is that today most surviving senior military officers seem unwilling to speak out against him.  

This has paved the way for Erdogan to increase his authoritarian power.  Perhaps due to the current worldwide "Islamic awareness", the masses in Turkey seem more and more willing to blur the line between separation of religion and state, which Erdogan has been more than willing to exploit.

The still independent Turkish courts have recently on appeal ruled in favor of the officers Erdogan had jailed and released them.  This might be why [some of] the military again found its nerve and initiated last weeks coup, but without enough popular or military support, they failed.  Now the roundup is underway (6,000 so far), and the army is again being de-clawed.  Do you honestly believe any of the officers left standing will risk their necks to defend a secular Turkey?

So what does this all mean to us?  Until recently Erdogan has been a rather lukewarm participant in the war on ISIS.   The Turks have allowed ISIS recruits to transit through on their way Syria and Iraq, and have not allowed their air bases to be used to bomb ISIS strongholds.   (Turkey's and ISIS' sworn enemy is Syria's President Assad, and Erdogan was following the old adage "the enemy of my enemy is my friend.")  It was only after ISIS targeted the Turks for being apostate Muslims that they joined the fight in earnest.

With their newly found Islamic sense of pride and after being rebuffed by the European Union for membership, I'm wondering if Turkey will soon become a less-than-reliable ally?  How far will they go?  Will they someday become a theocracy similar to Iran?  Our next President might want to think about putting fewer of our eggs in Turkey's basket, just sayin'.

I think....I hope....we've learned the lesson that [helping to] overthrow an "uncooperative" government often backfires, leaving a vacuum that can be exploited by factions far worse than the one we helped eliminate.  The Turks will have to decide their own fate, and live with the results.  

So who is the big winner in all this?  Beats me, but I don't see it being the West.  Ataturk's moderate, secular Muslim country seems to be slowly backsliding.  Methinks they might be messing in their mess kit.



  1. A strange time for Turkey. I'm posting a similar piece tomorrow.

  2. At one point during the coupe, it was reported that Erdogan supposedly had asked for refuge in Germany.

    Agree with you, whatever happens, we need to stay out of it.

  3. ***coup, not coupe.

    Damn slippery keyboard.

  4. Interesting point of view. Enjoyed it though.