Thoughts on Turkey

I've been meaning to write something cohesive about my thoughts post-attempted coup in Turkey, instead of having a half-dozen status updates with cryptic captions that, when analysed together, gives someone an idea of where I stand on the issue.

Writing for Foreign Policy, retired American 4-star admiral and supreme NATO commander James Stavridis says:

The highly unstable geopolitics of the Levant and NATO’s expanding security needs come together at a crossroads in Turkey. It is not only a nation, but a civilization as well, one that has an acute sense of its importance and history in the region.

The Ottoman Empire came to an end after the Great War, and the Turkish republic rose from its ashes - led by a man whose legacy has played a significant part of its landscape since: Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. Ataturk came to power in a defeated nation that was about to be partitioned among foreign powers, and led it on a path of modernisation that made it an important regional power and (long after his death) an important NATO member.

It is Ataturk's policies of secularism and democracy that the Turkish Army vows to uphold whenever it takes power:

Since the Turkish republic was founded, in 1923, the county’s generals have imagined themselves the ultimate arbiters of its politics, stepping into power—sometimes savagely—whenever they felt the government had become either too leftist or too Islamic.

Whether it succeeds or fails in this endeavour depends on who you're asking. For example, the biography of 1980s coup leader Kenan Evren reads:

He professed great admiration for the founder of the Republic of Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk; however, he shut down many institutions founded by Atatürk and is often accused of deforming the country's legal system against Atatürk's principles.


Recep Tayyip Erdogan was elected PM in 2003. His Justice and Development Party (AKP) embodies liberal economics and conservative social values. He was mayor of Istanbul (1994 - 1998) running on an Islamist platform, but was stripped of his office and imprisoned for "incitement to violence and religious or racial hatred". When he became PM in 2003, he was hailed as some Islamist democrat messiah:

When Erdoğan first became Prime Minister, in 2003, he was the Islamic world’s great democratic hope, a leader of enormous vitality who would show the world that an avowedly Islamist politician could lead a stable democracy and carry on as a member of NATO, too.

Erdogan's "Neo-Ottomanism" and other policies are a fascinating discussion in and of themselves, but I'll leave those out of this post. What we need to understand though is that Erdogan does not trust the military to not topple him, which led in the late 2000s to a series of investigations and trials pertaining to an alleged coup plan called "Operation Sledgehammer". From the earlier FP article:

Hundreds of senior admirals and generals were charged and jailed on suspect charges in the so-called Sledgehammer scandals of the 2000s, and the seeds of the current coup were planted when bitter military leaders watched their commanders and mentors be taken to prison in handcuffs.

Some of the evidence was flimsy at best:

All these documents carry last-saved dates from 2002-2003, appear to have been authored by officers on duty at the time, and were burned on CDs that were apparently finalized in March 2003.

Yet when forensic experts looked more closely at the document with a Hex editor, which shows all the binary information on the file, they made a discovery that revealed that the metadata had been tampered with. In plain sight on the raw file was a reference to “Calibri,” a font that Microsoft introduced with Office 2007 as the new default font for Word, and was first released to the public in mid-2006. The only explanation for this anachronistic reference was that the file had been worked on with Office 2007 before it was ultimately saved in an earlier version of Word.

In the aftermath of the coup attempt last week, there'll no doubt be more generals dragged away in chains, and more institutions falling under Erdogan's command in his mad rush for dictatorial powers.

All this could lead to rocky times for NATO ahead. Of particular concern are the nuclear weapons stored at Incirlik, 70 miles from the Syrian border:

Security concerns at Incirlik Airbase recently prompted a major upgrade of the perimeter fence that surrounds its nuclear-weapons storage area. Incirlik is about seventy miles from the Syrian border, and since last October American aircraft and drones based there have been attacking ISIS forces. Its proximity to rebel-controlled areas in Syria and the rash of terrorist acts in Turkey led the Pentagon, a few months ago, to issue an “ordered departure” of all the family members of American troops at Incirlik.

Final Thoughts

This post came out shorter than expected, because I skipped the bit I really wanted to talk about - Erdogan and his politics. I'll hopefully have time (lol) to write in more depth about what the last 13 years have looked like for Turkey under Erdogan, and what his potential endgame might be - for both Turkey and the Middle East.

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