Wednesday, 20 July 2016 00:00

Is Turkey Becoming a Banana Republic?

Article, The Turkey Analyst, July 20, 2016

Svante E. Cornell, "Is Turkey Becoming a Banana Republic?"

The failed military coup in Turkey provides a window into just how unstable and vulnerable Turkey has become. The coup is a unique but not isolated event, more than anything a symptom of the decay of Turkish state institutions under Erdogan. The sizable post-coup repression will make matters worse, in fact increasing rather than decreasing the risk of further violence, including a new coup. Turkey is now more a problem in its own right than an ally to help solve regional problems.

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A lot remains unclear regarding the attempted coup that shook Turkey. But it is possible to draw some preliminary conclusions about its background and implications.

The coup was not planned and implemented within the chain of command. The Chief of General Staff and the heads of the crucial First Army and Special Forces remained loyal to the government. This, not people on the street, was the key reason the coup failed. Not least, it allowed President Erdogan to slip out of Marmaris before being caught and to get to Istanbul.

The coup appears to have been hastily put together and poorly implemented. The failure to seize or liquidate the president, cabinet, and vital communication infrastructure made it possible for Erdogan to regain the initiative. This suggests that the plotters’ hands were forced, and that the coup was launched prematurely. There are suggestions that a list was leaked before the coup of officers scheduled for discharge and arrest, which could have precipitated the coup, explaining the lack of proper preparation.

The most vexing question concerns the exact identity of the coup plotters. Who were the architects behind what appears on the surface to be a faceless, even leaderless coup? The Turkish government is pointing fingers at the Fethullah Gülen movement – something that may seem counter-intuitive, because it was precisely Erodgan’s confrontation with them two years ago that led him to let the military back in from the cold and rebuild for himself a ruling coalition much more right-wing nationalist in nature, united by the struggle against the Kurds.

But that said, it has long been assumed that Gülenist cliques were present in the military at mid-career ranks. But no one believes that Gülenist officers had risen to the ranks of three or four star generals. Thus, while it is very likely that Gülenist officers were involved, it is equally obvious that they could not have carried this out on their own. The more senior generals apparently involved do not seem to have any Gülenist affiliations.

Hence, the coup may have been carried out by an unholy alliance between a faction of old-school Kemalist and Gülenist officers. If this is the case, it would mean that while Erdogan allied with the top military brass against the Gülenists, another military fraction allied with the Gülenists against Erdogan.

This is what Turkey has come to: its politics in the past few years can best be understood as a struggle for power between two Islamic sects. In the process, Turkey’s military appears now to have at least three separate fractions and to be much more politicized and divided than has been assumed.

A further important aspect of the coup was President Erdogan’s response: he mobilised his supporters through the use of Islamic rhetoric that would have been unthinkable even five years ago. Mosques were ordered by the State religious directorate, which Erdogan has built up into a behemoth, to broadcast calls for prayer all through the night and to call regime supporters out on the streets. Often, the call appears to have been framed as “Jihad”.

And indeed, those who came out to oppose the coup almost exclusively looked like Islamist activists singing Islamist chants. It is already apparent that President Erdogan has concluded that Islamist mobilisation was what saved him, hence the remaining inhibitions against further Islamisation of Turkey will dissipate. Erdogan’s Turkey is likely to more openly deploy Islamist rhetoric and policies.

The Gülen fraternity’s alleged responsibility for the coup is already being used as pretext for a full-scale purge of state institutions. Unlike previous occasions, the coup gives Erdogan the opportunity to arrest and jail opponents by the thousands. It is already clear that repression will spread beyond Gülenists: entire lists of scholars, journalists and officials to be jailed have already been leaked. Whatever is left of Turkish democracy is about to be neutralised, and if Erdogan completes this repressive purge, it goes without saying that Turkey can no longer be called a democracy.

The failed coup will have important foreign policy implications. Erdogan and his entourage have long believed the Gülen fraternity to be following Washington’s orders, and senior government officials have already suggested that the U.S. was behind the coup. Erdogan appears to be making extradition of Gülen a litmus test of the U.S.-Turkish alliance, a demand that will likely not be granted, given the lack of any kind of concrete evidence. In fact, the involvement of Gülenist officers does not necessary implicate the ailing preacher himself in the coup.

In any case, the U.S.-Turkish relationships has been put at risk, and Secretary John Kerry’s threat of consequences for Turkey’s NATO membership has shown that perhaps Washington is tiring of Erdogan’s antics. The most likely immediate point of contention will be the Incirlik military base, which the U.S. uses to hit ISIS targets in Syria.

Similarly, Turkey-EU relations will be impacted, most immediately because it is hard to imagine how the EU will now go ahead with visa liberalisation. In turn, that likely puts the cynical migration deal between Brussels and Ankara to death. If Turkey reinstates the death penalty, which is quite plausible, Turkish-EU relations are likely to deteriorate even further.

In conclusion, it is important to see the coup attempt as an indication of the deeper decay of the Turkish state under Erdogan’s rule. As Erdogan has sought to concentrate power in his own hands, the exercise of power has become increasingly informal, all checks and balances removed, and all institutions including his own political party increasingly ineffectual. This made the coup possible in the first place, and future coups can be avoided only if Turkey develops strong, accountable democratic institutions.

But instead, under Erdogan’s personal rule, Turkey’s destabilisation is likely to continue. Thus, European leaders now need to see what has been obvious for some time: rather than an ally with which to handle regional problems, Turkey will itself increasingly be the problem. 

Svante E. Cornell is Director of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Program, a Joint Center affiliated with the Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies and the Stockholm-based Institute for Security and Development Policy.

Image attribution: www.dailymail.co.uk, accessed on July 20, 2016

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  • ASIA Spotlight with Prof. S. Frederick Starr on Unveiling Central Asia's Hidden Legacy
    Thursday, 28 December 2023 00:00

    On December 19th, 2023, at 7:30 PM IST, ASIA Spotlight Session has invited the renowned Prof. S Fredrick Starr, who elaborated on his acclaimed book, "The Lost Enlightenment: Central Asia's Golden Age from the Arab Conquest to Tamerlane." Moderated by Prof. Amogh Rai, Research Director at ASIA, the discussion unveiled the fascinating, yet lesser-known narrative of Central Asia's medieval enlightenment.

    The book sheds light on the remarkable minds from the Persianate and Turkic peoples, spanning from Kazakhstan to Xinjiang, China. "Lost Enlightenment" narrates how, between 800 and 1200, Central Asia pioneered global trade, economic development, urban sophistication, artistic refinement, and, most importantly, knowledge advancement across various fields. Explore the captivating journey that built a bridge to the modern world.

    To know watch the full conversation: #centralasia #goldenage #arabconquest #tamerlane #medievalenlightment #turkish #economicdevelopment #globaltrade

    Click here to watch on YouTube or scroll down to watch the full panel discussion.

  • Some Lessons for Putin from Ancient Rome
    Thursday, 04 January 2024 17:01
    By S. Frederick Starr 
    American Purpose
    January 4, 2024
     
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    This is what is happening to the Russian army today. Putin attacked Ukraine in February 2022 with what was then an army of several hundred thousand trained professional soldiers. But after the Ukrainians killed more than 320,000 Russian troops, their replacements were unwilling and surly conscripts and even criminals dragooned from Russia’s jails. Putin quite understandably fears such soldiers. Putin’s army, like that of the late Roman Empire, is collapsing from within.
     
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    Sheer spite and a passion for avenging past failures figured prominently in Putin’s decisions to invade both Georgia and Ukraine. Roman history suggests that this isn’t smart. Back in 220 B.C., Rome defeated its great enemy, the North African state of Carthage. Anticipating Putin, the Carthaginian general Hannibal sought revenge. Acting out of spite, he assembled 700,000 foot soldiers, 78,000 mounted calvary, and a force of war elephants, and crossed the Alps. Though he was a brilliant general, Hannibal’s war of spite turned into a disaster.
     
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    The Roman Republic fell not because of any mass uprising but because of the machinations of Julius Caesar. A victorious general, Caesar looked the hero as he was installed as imperator. As was customary at such ceremonies, an official retainer placed behind the inductee solemnly repeated over and over the admonition to “Look behind you!” Caesar failed to do so and underestimated the opposition of a handful of officials and generals who feared the rise of a dictator perpetuus. Even if Putin chooses not to read Cicero, Plutarch, or Cassius Dio, he could productively spend an evening watching a Moscow production of Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of Julius Caesar.
     
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    Sad to say, neither Putin himself nor any others of Russia’s core group of leaders show the slightest interest in learning from relevant examples from Roman history or, for that matter, from any other useable past. Together they provide living proof of American philosopher George Santayana’s adage that, “Those who forget history are condemned to repeat it.” In Putin’s case, though, he seems never to have known it. 
     

    ABOUT THE AUTHORSS. Frederick Starr, is a distinguished fellow specializing in Central Asia and the Caucasus at the American Foreign Policy Council and founding chairman of the Central Asia Caucasus Institute.

    Additional Info
    • Author S. Frederick Starr
    • Publication Type Analysis
    • Published in/by American Purpose
    • Publishing date January 4, 2024
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    Click here to watch on YouTube or scroll down to watch the full panel discussion.

  • Central Asia Diplomats Call for Closer Ties With US
    Monday, 26 June 2023 00:00

    REPRINTED with permission from Voice of America News
    By Navbahor Imamova

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    Read at VOA News

  • Read CACI Chairman S. Frederick Starr's recent interview on the resurgence of Imperial Russia with The American Purpose
    Tuesday, 23 May 2023 00:00

    Why Russians Support the War: Jeffrey Gedmin interviews S. Frederick Starr on the resurgence of Imperial Russia.

    The American Purpose, May 23, 2023

    Jeffrey Gedmin: Do we have a Putin problem or a Russia problem today?

    S. Frederick Starr: We have a Putin problem because we have a Russia problem. Bluntly, the mass of Russians are passive and easily manipulated—down to the moment they aren’t. Two decades ago they made a deal with Vladimir Putin, as they have done with many of his predecessors: You give us a basic income, prospects for a better future, and a country we can take pride in, and we will give you a free hand. This is the same formula for autocracy that prevailed in Soviet times, and, before that, under the czars. The difference is that this time Russia’s leader—Putin—and his entourage have adopted a bizarre and dangerous ideology, “Eurasianism,” that empowers them to expand Russian power at will over the entire former territory of the USSR and even beyond. It is a grand and awful vision that puffs up ruler and ruled alike.

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    Click to continue reading...