Turk’s Head Knot 2.

Since the foundation of the Turkish Republic by Mustapha Kemal, the military has been the guardian of the secular, Western-oriented policy laid down by “Ataturk.”  On many occasions, most recently in 1997, this has led to military coups against elected leaders.  When Recep Tayyip Erdogan first came to power in Turkey in 2003, he presented himself as the champion of a democratic Islamism.[1]  However, he took care to cripple the ability of the military to intervene in politics.  His efforts included what is now recognized to have been a faked prosecution of military leaders for planning a supposed coup in 2008.  After 2011, je also supported the Egyptian Islamist Mohammad Morsi of Egypt, another democratically elected leader.  Morsi had faced down Egypt’s military dictatorship for a time.  When, in 2013, the Egyptian generals overthrew Morsi, Erdogan had to give thought to his own desperate position.  Since 2013, Erdogan has been on a rampage as he sought to shore up his claim on power.

In mid-July 2015, some members of the military of the Turkish Republic got fed up with President Erdogan and tried to overthrow him.  They missed their punch.  Not the least part of the key to Erdogan’s survival came in the support he received from pro-democracy opposition parties.  Ever since, there has been Hell to pay.

The failed coup will have a tremendous impact within Turkey.  Erdogan has launched a sweeping purge that targets the military, the bureaucracy, the schools, and the kinda-free media.  Alleging involvement in the coup, Erdogan has either dismissed from employment or arrested thousands of people.  He has bruited it about that his one-time ally Fethullah Gulen conspired in the coup.  The American reluctance to extradite Gulen on what may well be specious charges adds fuel to the fire of Erdogan’s rising hostility to the United States.  Turkey is in danger of becoming a “normal” Middle Eastern country.

What impact will these events have in the region?  Since 2011, Erdogan has opposed Bashar al-Assad of Syria.[2]  Turkey has provided the chief conduit for foreign-fighters of all ideological commitments to reach Syria.  Turkey has provided the main road for supplies from elsewhere (i.e. Saudi Arabia) to reach those who are willing to fight against Assad.  This seems to have included many people bound for the ISIS caliphate.

Erdogan has turned even more emphatically against Turkey’s Western allies.  He had already unleashed a tidal wave of Syrian (and other) refugees on Western Europe in order to extract various concessions from the Europeans.  Even more dramatically, Erdogan’s government has accused the United States of complicity in the failed coup.

Furthermore, Erdogan has shifted his stance on the civil war in Syria.  He has sought to mend fences with the Russians.  The Turkish air force pilots who shot down a Russian strike-fighter over a penny-ante invasion of Turkish air space in November 2015 have suddenly found themselves accused of involvement in the coup.  Erdogan’s sweeping purge of the military leadership has dragged down the commander of the Second Army, which controls the border with Syria and Iraq, along with many of his subordinates.

The Assad government might hope that the Turkish supply route for fighters may be closed, while the anti-Assad government might fear that their main supply route would be cut.  So, the Russo-Assad alliance took heart.  They launched a long-prepared assault to cut the last life-lines into Aleppo.  In desperation, many of the rebel groups combined to launch their own counter-attack.  It continues, with little chance of success.

[1] Yaroslav Trofimov, “Political Foes Stood by Leader,” WSJ, 18 July 2016.

[2] Yaroslav Trofimov, “Upheavals in Turkey Threatens Rebels in Syria,” WSJ, 5 August 2016.

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