Turkey’s Perilous New Year

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2016 was a horrendous year for Turkey, one marked by terrorist attacks and political instability. Turks were fervently hoping that 2017 would bring peace and security to their rattled homeland. Unfortunately, it does not appear that will be the case. Little more than an hour past midnight on 1 January, a single gunman stormed into Reina, a crowded nightclub in Istanbul, and opened fire with an assault rifle type of weapon. 39 people were killed and 70 wounded in the attack. A manhunt is still underway for the gunman, though his identity is expected to be revealed very soon. ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack. In a released statement ISIS said the following:  “In continuation of the blessed operations that Islamic State is conducting against the protector of the cross, Turkey, a heroic soldier of the caliphate struck one of the most famous nightclubs where the Christians celebrate their apostate holiday.”

Turkey is in a state of emergency right now, facing security threats from multiple directions. This is the third major terrorist attack in the past month. ISIS has been responsible for many of the attacks, though Kurdish militant groups have been active on the terror front too. Turkey’s deepening involvement in the Syrian conflict has produced a third avenue of danger for the nation. In December, an off-duty police officer, apparently acting independently, assassinated the Russian ambassador at an art museum in Ankara. The motive of the attack was revenge for Russia’s part in the fall of Aleppo and an attempt to disrupt relations between Ankara and Moscow.

The attack did not change Turkey’s involvement in Syria or damage its relations with Russia. Shortly after the assassination, a ceasefire agreement was announced in Syria. One that Turkey and Russia will play a major role in.

The almost constant stream of terrorist attacks has degraded what little political stability remains in Turkey. The purges and crackdown initiated by President Erdogan have strengthened the hand of the government immensely while damaging the freedoms of many Turks. To counter significant backlash for this, Erdogan has promised increased security and a wider war against terrorism. The Turkish moves in Syria are a part of this effort and should there be a coordinated effort on the part of the United States and Russia against ISIS in the near future, Turkey will play a major role in it.

Sadly, none of this is keeping Turkish citizens at home very safe. Erdogan stated, accurately I believe, that these attacks are an effort to destroy morale and create chaos but they will only bring the country together. To reach that goal, Erdogan needs to formulate a more cohesive strategy for contending with terrorism on the domestic front. It is also quite essential for him to acknowledge the reality that his efforts since the coup attempt in July have made his nation less safe.

The factors which have fused together to lock the Middle East in destabilization are all active in Turkey at the moment: terrorism, the migrant crisis, and now the rise of authoritarianism. Erdogan should be scrutinizing the events in the region since the Arab Spring in order to ensure that he learns from the mistakes made by his counterparts in Cairo and elsewhere. Time will tell whether or not he does.

 

Friday 29 July, 2016 Update: Erdogan’s Realpolitik

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In the two weeks following the failed coup in Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been a busy fellow. His purge of known or suspected supporters of the Gulen movement from the military, government services, and essentially the entire nation has expanded to include any and all opposition to his rule. The number of arrests connected to the coup attempt has risen above 6,000 along with thousands of others detained or dismissed from their positions for reasons which are not so clear. Media outlets are the next target on Erdogan’s list. On Wednesday, the government ordered 100 media outlets to be closed using the justification that these organizations have suspected ties to Gulen..

The purge is not the only disconcerting episode taking place with regards to Turkey right now. Erdogan’s relationship with the EU is on shaky ground. He wants to bring back the death penalty as punishment for the coup plotters. Turkey abolished the death penalty in 2004 as part of the effort to join the European Union. EU officials have stated clearly that should Turkey bring back capital punishment, all negotiations regarding Turkey becoming a full EU member will cease. Instead of moving to patch up the rift, Erdogan has chosen instead to take the EU-Turkey refugee deal hostage and make demands that will benefit his consolidation of power instead of the nation as a whole.

The same can be said for Erdogan’s overall relationship with the West. The reactions to the coup from the US and Europe were not supportive of Erdogan and his party. The US and EU reactions to the coup were a uniform call for the rules of democracy to be respected. When the dust settled post-coup, Erdogan chastised the US and Europe for not doing enough to support Turkish democracy. He demanded that the US extradite Gulen back to Turkey to face charges. The US refused, rightfully so. Next, Erdogan accused a retired US general of planning the coup. The accusation was groundless, yet Erdogan was undeterred and made yet another attempt to embarrass the United States. This time he is accusing the commander of US Central Command General Joseph Votel of being ‘on the side of the plotters’ because of remarks he made about how the jailing or Turkish military commanders will degrade US-Turkey military co-operation.

As Erdogan is lashing out at the US and the West, he is simultaneously making a concerted effort  to forge closer ties with Russia. This is where it gets interesting. Russia would love nothing more than to drive a wedge between Turkey and NATO. Turkey is a NATO member and a very significant one at that. Erdogan understands the leverage that he, as the ruler of Turkey, possesses and could be using the possibility of closer relations with Russia as a way to extort favorable concessions from his NATO partners. Some people call that blackmail, while others refer to it as realpolitik.

Turkish Coup Update: Coup Faltering, Erdogan Lands In Istanbul

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The attempted coup in Turkey is faltering at this hour as the military faction that seized control earlier today had failed to consolidate its hold on power. Turkish President Recip Tayyip Erdogan’s call for his supporters to take to the streets appears to have been answered. Erdogan’s aircraft has landed in Istanbul and already spoken to the nation. Erdogan claims the coup was launched by a minority group in the Turkish military. He called the uprising an act of treason and those responsible will face punishment.

News reports paint a picture of violent clashes between protesters and the military in Istanbul earlier in the morning resulting in 6 deaths and 100 wounded. The city appears to be calm right now, while the situation in Ankara remains unclear. The fact that Erdogan went to Istanbul instead of the Turkish capital indicates that the capital city might not be secure. Earlier a bomb exploded at the Turkish parliament building killing 12 and coup supporters have reportedly seized control of CNN Turk. There have been numerous other reports of clashes between military units and police units loyal to the government leading to casualties.

The situation is still  somewhat fluid and Erdogan’s return to power is not yet guaranteed. When he arrives back in Ankara it will be a concrete sign that he has resumed his duties and has full control of the military once more.

Turkish Coup Update: Gunfire Breaks Out in Istanbul

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The situation in Turkey is fluid and confused. Solid news is unavailable. Instead, bits and pieces of the puzzle are emerging as the early morning goes on.

The latest reports and news as of 1817 Eastern Time…..

-Turkish Military claims it is in control of the country and martial law is in effect

-President Erdogan claims otherwise. His current location is unknown, however he has given an interview via Facetime.

-Gunfire has been heard at Ataturk IAP and at the Bosphorous Bridge in Istanbul

-AP has reported a large explosion at the state-run Turkish news station in Ankara

-Rumors abound that the commander of the Turkish 1st Army has been taken hostage.

-Erdogan is calling for his supporters to take to the streets

-Turkish military has imposed martial law.

-US and NATO installations in Turkey have gone to Force Protection Condition Delta