(Sample Material) Study Kit on Current Affairs for UPSC Mains
Biodiversity, Environment, Security & Disaster Management:
K. P. Fabian
Turkey is going where President Erdogan wants to take it to,
as those who do not agree with him are too intimidated to stand in his way. To
figure out Erdogan’s plans, we have to look critically at both what he has done
in Turkey after the coup collapsed and his foreign policy moves before and after
the failed coup a month ago.
Erdogan invoked the people’s power initially to crush the
coup and subsequently to approve the huge purge and other measures to suppress
dissent with the aim of concentrating more and power in his hands. Hundreds of
thousands of Turks came on the street night after night to show support for
Erdogan. His thesis that the followers of Fehtullah Gulen, living in self-chosen
exile in the US since 1999, carried out the coup attempt and that Gulen himself
masterminded it has been accepted by a majority of Turks. That no convincing
proof of Gulen’s involvement has been offered is a different matter.
Erdogan moved fast after the collapse of the coup giving the
impression that he had planned it all beforehand. He started a purge, declared a
national emergency, shut down dissenting media outlets to intimidate the rest
into falling in line, and suspended Turkey’s compliance with the European
Convention on Human Rights. On July 16 itself, hours after the coup collapsed,
2745 judges were taken into custody. Obviously, the list was there before the
coup attempt. Erdogan has done some ‘purging’ in the past from time to time, but
this time it has been truly massive even at the cost of making it difficult for
the government to function. For example, 21,000 private school teachers and 1500
university deans have been purged, while 1700 schools have been shut altogether.
Naturally, the education sector has been gravely disabled. Can the Finance
Ministry function normally when 1500 have been sacked? About 300 in the Foreign
Office are under investigation including two ambassadors. About 32 diplomats
have refused to return to Turkey and have sought refuge in other countries
including the two military attaches in Greece who escaped to Italy. There is
hardly any part of the government that has escaped the purge which has affected
over 80,000 individuals.
What will be the impact of all this on the economy? Will
foreign investment be attracted to a country in such turmoil? On July 17,
Bloomberg carried a story with the caption “Turkey set for market turmoil as
coup turns investors ‘ice-cold’.” Turkey has worked hard to convince the world
that the failed coup has not in any way made investment in the country riskier
than it was. A paid advertisement was taken out in the Financial Times of
London. The rating agency Moody’s announced on July 18 that it was reviewing the
current Baa3 grade and that the finding will be announced in mid-October. On
July 20, Standard & Poor’s downgraded Turkey from BB+ to BB, drawing attention
to ‘polarization of political landscape’ and erosion of ‘institutional checks
and balances’. What Turkey’s government does not seem to or does not want to
understand is that while the outside world is glad that the coup attempt failed
it is concerned about the future of democracy and the rule of law in Turkey.
The 75,000-strong Turkish military, the second largest in
NATO, has lost about half of its 360 generals in the purge. Ever since he became
Prime Minister in 2002, Erdogan has consistently tried, not without success, to
reduce the clout of the military. It was a happy coincidence for him that
Turkey’s bid for admission to the European Union (EU) necessitated raising its
democratic credentials by reducing the military’s role in politics, especially
since it had staged coups in 1960, 1971, 1980, and 1997. In its 2004 report on
Turkey, the EU said, “A number of changes have been introduced over the last
year to strengthen civilian control of the military to aligning it (Turkey) with
practice in EU member states.” In 2007, the Army Chief, General Yasar Buyukanit,
posted a memorandum on the military’s website objecting to the nomination of
Erdogan’s candidate, the then Foreign Minister, Abdullah Gul, for the post of
President on the ground that his wife had worn a headscarf and thereby
undermined the secular order. Erdogan responded by pointing out that it was none
of the military’s business to give an opinion on candidates for the presidency.
Gul was elected and the military’s lack of clout was exposed.
The Supreme Military Council met at the Prime Minister’s
office on July 28. In the past, the Council always met at the General Staff Head
Quarters and the change of venue is significant as an indicator of the primacy
of the civilian government. It is also possible that the civilian government
deemed the new venue safer. The Council’s recommendations will have to be
approved by the President. There is a move to change the composition of the
Council by adding more ministers in order to reduce the role of the military.
The Army Chief will be deprived of some of his responsibilities.
Predictably, the imposition of emergency, the suspension of
the European Convention on Human Rights, the purge, and the suppression of
dissent by shutting down media outlets, all in quick succession, alarmed the EU
and the US; and they gave vent to their concerns about the erosion of the rule
of law, Europe being more vocal than the US. Equally predictably, Turkey reacted
with a degree of hostility to that criticism, pointing out that the West did not
condemn the coup, its leaders did not personally call Erdogan to show support to
the democratically elected government, and that there has been no high level
visit after the failed coup.
But the real reason for Turkey’s dissatisfaction with the US
is that the latter has not agreed to extradite Gulen. The US is insisting on
evidence of Gulen’s involvement and it is doubtful whether Turkey has so far
given any evidence that can stand scrutiny. Gulen wrote an article in the New
York Times on July 25 titled “I condemn all threats to Turkey’s democracy”. The
clear implication is that he condemns the coup and what Erdogan has done in the
aftermath. There are signals that the US is willing to be patient and reason
with Turkey. A team of US officials is due shortly in Ankara to discuss the
matter of Gulen’s extradition. The Turkish media have put out a story that the
team will assist Turkey in drafting a memorandum meeting US standards. This
story might not be true. US Vice President Biden is due in Turkey on August 24
and the Gulen issue will top the agenda.
Erdogan’s visit to St. Petersburg and meeting with President Putin on August 9
has attracted a good deal of media attention. This was a meeting planned well
before the coup attempt. When Turkey shot down a Russian SU-24 war plane in
November 2015 ‘for violating its air space’, Putin had broken off economic and
trade relations inflicting much pain on Turkey. Erdogan’s initial efforts to
talk to Putin were rebuffed. After a while, President Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan
and a prominent Turkish businessman mediated, and Putin relented after Erdogan
apologized in June. Putin who was keen to reconcile with Turkey telephoned
Erdogan immediately after the coup collapsed. Erdogan told Putin that the call
was ‘psychologically important’. There is a report that Russian intelligence
gave Erdogan some advance tip off on the coup.
The economic and trade relations broken by Russia to punish
Turkey for shooting down its fighter plane are being restored. Russian tourists
have already come back, and being received with champagne and flowers. Some
commentators in the West have misinterpreted the resumption of relations
primarily as an anti-US move. This interpretation is wrong as this is a
resumption of what was there before the shooting down of the plane. The
Turkish-Russian differences over Syria remain, but one should not be surprised
if Erdogan were to over time get closer to the Russian position on Assad. Russia
and Turkey have agreed to cooperate in the war against the Islamic State.
Russia and Turkey are not yet allies, but they might get
closer as Turkey’s hopes of gaining entry into the EU fades away. Austria has
called on the EU to break off talks with Turkey on its admission. The bone of
contention between Turkey and the EU is the latter’s delay in granting visa-free
entry to Turkish citizens to the Schengen area in return for Turkey taking back
illegal migrants who had entered Greece. The deadline for the deal was June
2016. While Turkey is insisting that the deal be formalised by October, the
signals from Brussels indicate that it might not happen any time this year. Most
probably, the EU is not going to agree to the visa-free entry of Turks in the
near future. Erdogan might threaten to inundate the EU with Syrian refugees and
might even carry out the threat unless the EU pays a huge amount of money.
Europe is vulnerable to such blackmail.
Iran sent its Foreign Minister to Turkey to show solidarity with Erdogan. The
two sides agreed on the need to uphold the territorial integrity of Syria and
agreed to talk more on Syria to narrow their differences. The opening to Israel
signalled by Turkey before the coup will continue.
The Turkish media have been suitably intimidated and
subordinated. The media have now ‘divulged’ that it was some Gulenist group in
the Air Force that brought down the Russian plane. This is dis-information. Some
columnists have threatened the US that its refusal to extradite Gulen might cost
its use of Incirlik. It is difficult to take the threat seriously as the air
base was built by the US in the 1950s, the US has stored nuclear weapons there,
and the two countries have signed a joint use agreement. Nevertheless, Erdogan
has cards to play. In 2003, the Turkish Parliament passed a resolution denying
the use of the base to US in the War on Iraq. It was Erdogan who talked to his
MPs and made them change their stand. Will Erdogan re-enact the same and demand
that the US extradite Gulen?
Turkey is seeking more manoeuvring space by reconciling with
Russia; the two may work closer in the fight against the Islamic State. Turkey
might try to blackmail a vulnerable EU by threatening to inundate it with Syrian
refugees. Turkey will play hard ball on Gulen, but short of hard evidence
extradition is unlikely. Unless Erdogan takes due care, serious damage can be
done to his country’s relations with the US as the latter might reluctantly
conclude that Turkey is an unreliable ally. Has the US started looking at
alternatives to Incirlik? It has built one and has started building another in
Syrian Kurdistan controlled by its Kurdish allies. Russia has announced plans to
build an airbase at Khmeimim in Aleppo province to ‘rival Incirlik’. Will Syria,
partitioned de facto, if not de jure, have Russian and US airbases?
One wonders whether a phone call from President Obama before
Putin’s would have changed the course of history. It might not have, but Obama
should have called early knowing Erdogan’s paranoia and that would have made
some difference as Erdogan is playing ‘the jilted lover’ with much success. Over
time, Erdogan’s pursuit of absolute power and hard-line policy towards the Kurds
might boomerang. The EU’s vulnerability should not be exaggerated as it takes 44
per cent of Turkey’s exports. After the general election in Germany around
October 2017, Merkel’s successor might be less indulgent towards Erdogan.