Last night, the Turkish military has overthrown the Turkish government to “restore democracy and human rights.” There are tanks on the streets of Ankara. Former(?) President Erdogan says he is still in charge. Some people are asking: ‘What the fuck is Gulen?’ Others are thanking God that turkeys have finally ended the autocratic rule of US President Obama. (These people are mostly in the USA and at this very moment there are kids in Alabama telling their parents that they preferred to have the black dude in charge over their Christmas dinner.)
Anyhow, here’s what you need to know to make some sense out of all of this.
After Russia and Germany, Turkey is the third most populated country in Europe — 79.5 Million people — although most of the country is actually situated in Asia. It’s Europe’s biggest producer of television sets and light commercial vehicles. While its capital is Ankara, the most famous city is Istanbul — once named Constantinople, after the Roman emperor Constantine who had committed so much sins that he converted to Christianity just before his death, because only the Christian God would be willing to forgive him — but until Mehmed II conquered the city, effectively ending the Eastern Roman Empire in 1453 A.D., in the Arab world this city was simply known as Rome.
Mehmed II was an Ottoman, which means he was a descendant of Osman — named after Uthman, the third Caliph or Successor of Mohammed. After his death the Ottoman Empire became the largest and mightiest empire in the world, until the British realized that if they used steam engines to replace manual labor, they’d suddenly have a lot more soldiers and men to put on ships, while they could increase production at the same time.
When WWI commenced, where the Turks were in team Germany, the end of the Ottoman Empire was already in sight. The Brits made a deal with the Arabs to fight the Turks together and even though the Turks still gave them a pretty good fight, when the Yanks came in the Brits won the war and betrayed Arabs, but most what’s most important for this story: the age of the Ottoman Empire was over.
Mustafa Kemal Atatürk
After the Allies won WWI, the Brits and French moved into Constantinople and started to divide the former empire amongst themselves and the Greeks. Mustafa Kemal (Atatürk means father of Turks) defeated the French Armenians and the Greeks and at Lausanne (while that sounds French, it’s actually in Switzerland) in 1922, his representative signed a treaty that guaranteed independence and sovereignty for the new Turkish Republic.
Atatürk became president and he decided to transform the new nation. He abolished the caliphate — had I mentioned that the Ottoman Sultans also saw themselves as Caliphs, Successors to Mohammed? — and introduced principles like democracy, equality for women and free education to support the Turkish Republic.
Nevertheless, even though he had secured sovereignty from the West, there were many men in Turkey who didn’t like him and he continually faced opposition from radical Islamist movements. Afraid that after his death an Islamic political party would take over control, institute Sharia law and thereby put an end to his democratic reforms, he gave the army the power to safeguard democracy and dispose of any government that threatened it. He died in 1938.
Military coups in Turkey
Between 1938 and yesterday, there have been nine military coups in Turkey. Some of them were instigated to bring down governments that didn’t bring economic growth, whereas others brought down Islamist governments, or governments that were insufficiently effective against violent movements in the country.
Turkey has been an associate member of the EU since 1963 and it applied to become a member of the EU — back then called the European Economic Community — as early as 1987, when most present member states were still part of the Soviet Union, the Warsaw Pact or Yugoslavia.
However, in most European nations there were serious concerns about the large Muslim majority in the country, the limitations on press freedom and freedom of speech, the position of the Kurds — not good back then, not good under Erdogan and unlikely to get any better if the army takes over — and most of all: the undemocratic role of the army in the nation’s politics.
(It’s easy to point a finger at the EU here, but these were the days when we all believed in Fukuyama’s End of History and democracy, long before we horribly failed to build democracies in Afghanistan and Iraq. Unless you sent a letter to your newspaper saying that you didn’t believe it back then, don’t pretend that you were not one of us.)
Anyhow, after more than a decade of negotiations, things in Turkey appeared to change. For one, the army allowed Erdogan — an Islamist politician — to be elected prime minister without intervening and there were moments that Turkish membership of the EU appeared so close that European elections were decided over the question whether or not Turkey should become a member of the EU.
(In reality, Turkey has never been very close to membership, but thanks to populist parties like Front National in France, Brexiters like Gove and political “scientists” like André Krouwel in The Netherlands, many people thought they were.)
While Turkey will definitely not become an EU member state during the next twenty years, it is important to realize that it has been a NATO member since 1952. NATO was originally founded to defend the West against the Soviet Union, but the first time NATO actually invaded a country because people from within that country had attacked “us”, was in 2001 after 9/11. NATO took on Afghanistan and the Taliban and Turkey provided logistical support. Later, Turley also provided troops for the International Security and Assistance Force.
This mission was not a great success, but it is important to note that Turkey, both before Erdogan and under Erdogan, has always been an important and reliable ally when it came to it.
Racip Tayyip Erdogan was the mayor of Istanbul before being stripped and banned from office and sentenced to jail for enticing hatred against people who weren’t good Muslims — in his eyes. When he was released, he started the moderate Islamic Justice and Development Party (AKP) and after his party won a landslide victory in the 2002 general election, his co-founder annulled his ban from politics and he became prime minister of Turkey. Under his rule, Turkey has once again become a real Islamic country.
He promised to create economic growth and end the corruption and where it comes to the former, statistics are on his side. Between 2002 and 2007, the Turkish economy expanded by a whopping 6.8% on average and the last ten years economic growth has averaged 3.5%.
Especially during the first decade of his rule, like his predecessors he has also tried to show his people that he was making a strong effort to become a member of the EU. At the same time, he has gradually increased the promotion of Islamic values and laws. The situation with Kurds hasn’t been resolved though and journalists are continually thrown in jail. Social media sites like Twitter, Facebook and YouTube are regularly blocked in Turkey.
Nonetheless, the Turkish people have reelected him twice as prime minister and when the constitution blocked him from becoming prime minister a third time, he was elected president. He then tried to influence the parliamentary election so that the new parliament would make him more powerful than ever — in Turkey the power lies with the prime minister — but that failed. Thus, he blocked the formation of a new coalition parliament, so that here was a new election and he got his powers anyway.
On November 24, 2015, Turkey shot down a Russian war plane near the border of Syria. Erdogan said the plane was flying over Turkey and had been warned — it wasn’t the first time a Russian airplane had entered Turkish airspace — whereas Putin was mostly angry.
About a month ago, Erdogan started cozying up to Putin and it appeared in the West like the two of them had made peace.
However, considering yesterday’s events this might have also been a ploy by Putin. Maybe he just wanted to make Erdogan feel safe, because he knew what was coming. While Putin might be made willing to make many deals if he considered them to be in the interest of Russia, it is highly unlikely that he would leave something as serious as shooting down a Russian war plane unrevenged. Furthermore, he supports Assad against Islamist ISIS whilst facing his own problems with radical Muslims in Chechnya. In other words: he has ample reasons to want Erdogan gone.
The USA is home to the most advanced spy agencies in the world and although the winner in Turkey has not yet been decided, it is clear that this has been a carefully planned coup. It is hard to imagine that both the NSA and the CIA have completely been caught blindsided. What’s more, Erdogan’s stance in the Middle Eastern conflict has been somewhat dubious to say the least and it is not unreasonable to believe that the US State Department might have more trust in the Turkish Military than in Erdogan for support in the War on Terror.
Particularly striking is the fact that both President Obama and Secretary of State have said that all parties in Turkey should support the democratically elected government and avoid bloodshed, without strongly condemning the coup. What’s more, six hours after the coup started, the White House website doesn’t even feature the situation.
If you really believe that the USA and Russia are the only players in present day global conflicts, think again. It is highly likely that somewhere in China there is a server that is registering the fact that you are reading this blog right at this very moment and if China has been caught blindsided by an event as big as this, you can rest assured that somewhere in the Chinese Security Service people are being demoted at this very moment. (Or being sent to a clothing factory.)
Anyway, China will applaud the move that has been made against Erdogan. Like most countries in the world, China has its own problems with radical Muslims — Uyghurs — and it will side with any group that tries to diminish the position of Islam in the world.
There are enough people in the EU who would love to see Erdogan gone sooner than later, but don’t be surprised if the EU was blindsided. Let’s face it, Erdogan was on holiday and if his secret service did not know this was coming, why would the European Intelligence Agencies? So far, EU Intelligence Agencies have mostly shone by failing to share information and not being able to prevent terrorist attacks.
What is very interesting is how the Europeans will react during the coming days, but I’m just trying to make some sense out of the present. I’ll leave predicting the future to others.
So, what the fuck is Gulen?
I am sorry, but it is 3.45 in The Netherlands and I am going to bed. I apologize for any typos etc.
Basically, there are some people in the army who believe that Erdogan is destroying Atatürk’s vision for Turkey and they’ve finally decided that it has been enough. For Gulen, I’ll leave you at the mercy of the New York Times. Good night.