Digging Into Turkey’s Attempted Coup

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.

The government Turkey survived a coup attempt that sought to unseat President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, pictured above. (Image from Wikipedia)

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.

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McManus_2Mr. 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.


Another Turkey Coup Attempt: Will it Affect Us?

Another Turkey Coup Attempt: Will it Affect Us?
by JBS President Emeritus John F. McManus

The nation of Turkey sits in Western Asia. That is, most of it. A small part of Istanbul, the great city in Western Turkey (formerly Constantinople), can be found across the Bosphorus Strait that separates Asia from Europe. This European portion of Turkey (a mere three percent of the nation’s land area) is geographically and even culturally part of Europe.

A charter member of the United Nations (membership since 1945), Turkey also became a member of the NATO alliance as far back as 1952. A huge U.S. air base sits in the Asian part of the nation. In addition, Turkey has applied for membership in the European Union. Therefore, what happens in Turkey is of great concern to the West, certainly including the United States.

Turkey has experienced several coup attempts in recent years (1960, 1971, and 1980). Each failed and each sought to increase the secularization of the nation. The latest attempted coup d’état during July 15-16 failed almost immediately. After a surprising absence in the early hours of the plot, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan emerged and reasserted control. Immediately, the government forces captured several thousand military personnel along with an equal number of judges. Some commentators labeled the coup a failure through ineptitude. But others have speculated that Erdogan engineered the short-lived event in order to centralize and increase his power.

Turkey is at least 95 percent Muslim; some claim that the figure should be 99 percent.  Without doubt, yearning exists among a small percentage of the people for a more Westernized style of living. But Islam rules, not as strictly as in Saudi Arabia, Iran, and elsewhere, but a dominant force nevertheless. Erdogan himself is a relatively strict follower of Mohammed. Suspicion has arisen that he engineered the plot so it would quickly fail and, while being put down, provide him an opportunity to increase his power and send a message throughout the nation not only that he is solidly in control, but that Islam and many of its controlling strictures would continue to prevail, even grow tighter.

Over the years, military forces within Turkey have become a sort of watchdog or guardian of a partial secularization of the nation. Hence, a more committed Muslim such as Erdogan would surely seize any opportunity to water down, even eliminate, such a challenge to Islam’s power. Ergodan’s allies have claimed that Fethullah Gulen, an exiled Turkish cleric living in Pennsylvania, engineered the coup. Gulen immediately denied having any role whatsoever. But Ergodan has asked the U.S. to extradite Gulen to face charges back in Turkey. Is such a request real? Or has it emerged to help cover up Ergodan’s creation of the now-failed plot that will undoubtedly result in an increase in his power and more dominance by Islam.

Three years ago in Egypt, the military rose up and, in a lightning coup d’état, deposed elected president Mohammed Morsi, a strict follower of Islam. That country went from rule by increasingly dominant Islamists to a more westernized secularism under the generals. Turkey seems to have undergone exactly the opposite transition as a result of the recent coup attempt. How Erdogan deals with the judges and military personnel he has in custody will indicate how deeply Islam will rule in the future. Meanwhile, ISIS in next-door Syria and Iraq looks northward to Turkey to see if help in achieving its draconian goals will be forthcoming from its nearest neighbor.

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McManus_2Mr. 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.