Digging Into Turkey’s Attempted CoupPosted: August 17, 2016
Digging Into Turkey’s Attempted Coup
by JBS President Emeritus John F. McManus
On July 15th, the government Turkey survived a coup attempt that sought to unseat President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. As a member of both the United Nations and NATO, an ally in the conflict seeking to defeat ISIS, and with a bid for acceptance into the European Union on the table, faraway Turkey became an instant concern to the West. The unrest especially drew attention because of Turkey’s proximity to the land currently possessed by the Islamic caliphate ISIS.What happened in Turkey clearly stems from its early 20th century moves away from militant Islamism. For 600 years, the Islamic Ottoman Empire ruled the region from which it launched several attempts to conquer Europe. Perhaps the most famous of these was the naval battle at Lepanto in 1571 when an outnumbered fleet of Europeans defeated the Islamic foe. Other forays by Islamic forces met defeat at Vienna and Belgrade. This series of setbacks led to several centuries of a most welcome live-and-let-live policy by the Islamic world.
After World War I, in which Turkey participated, a more modernized nation began to take shape. Determined Islamists bristled under the leadership of Mustafa Kamal Ataturk, who became Turkey’s leader in 1923. The term “Ataturk,” meaning father of Turkey, is an addition to the name of the country’s leader who is greatly revered by more secular Turkish Islamists. A Muslim himself, Ataturk relaxed but didn’t destroy the Islamic hold on the nation. His rule had always angered some who resented the acceptance of numerous Western ideas and values for their country.
In 2014, a more determined follower of Islam, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, won election as the nation’s president. The July 15th coup, led by those who preferred Ataturk’s ways, sought to erase numerous trends and revisions in Turkish life. But quick action by Erdogan and his followers overwhelmed the less militant Muslims in the military and many other posts within the nation. In a matter of days, Erdogan’s followers accomplished firing 9,000 police officers and 21,000 educators. They suspended 21,000 schoolteachers and either detained or suspended 10,000 soldiers, 2,700 judges and lawyers, 1,500 university deans, and 1,500 of the government’s finance officials. Added to this upheaval, the government shut down more than 100 electronic and print media outlets and instituted censorship over other suspected adversaries of the government. President Erdogan had quickly demonstrated his determination to reemphasize Islamic practices as he put an emphatic stop to the modernization of the past century.
Turkish officials blamed the attempted coup on Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish Islamic cleric who has lived in self-imposed exile in the United States for the past 15 years. The Erdogan government calls his followers in Turkey the Gulenist Terror Organization (FETO). Gulen has emphatically denied having any role in the failed coup, but the Erdogan government has demanded his extradition from America. He remains – for now – at his home in Pennsylvania. Meanwhile, the Turkish government has enraged secular Turks by canceling some celebrations honoring Ataturk while commemorating past Ottoman victories and celebrating the birthday of Mohammed.
It seems completely correct to believe that Turkish Islamists led by President Erdogan have gained more power because of the incident and their success in quashing it. Erdogan has reached out to some of his adversaries in hopes of calming fears, but Turks who wanted modernization – and they include freedom from some of the Islamic-style strictures seen in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere – are the losers. Will there be more unrest generated by those who want a return to Ataturk’s ways? Only, time will tell. But Turkey is now in the hands of a more regimented government that has gained more power by severely putting down the forces behind the failed coup.
Mr. McManus served in the U.S. Marine Corps in the late 1950s and joined the staff of The John Birch Society in August 1966. He has served various roles for the organization including Field Coordinator, Director of Public Affairs, and President. Mr. McManus has appeared on hundreds of radio and television programs and is also author of a number of educational DVDs and books. Now President Emeritus, he continues his involvement with the Society through public speaking and writing for this blog, the JBS Bulletin, and The New American.