Failed coup casts long shadow over Turkish politics
Istanbul - Turkey’s bloody failed coup is casting a long shadow over the country’s domestic and foreign politics.
The Turkish government — and much of the country’s population — blame US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen for the July 15th coup attempt in which at least 245 people were killed and more than 1,500 wounded.
Since then, tens of thousands of soldiers, police officers, judges, prosecutors, teachers and civil servants with suspected ties to Gulen have been detained or suspended from their jobs.
Human rights groups and some of Turkey’s Western allies warned that the investigation into alleged plotters must not turn into a witch hunt against all government critics. Turkey defended the purges as necessary security measures.
“There is not a single state institution that this structure has not infiltrated,” Energy Minister Berat Albayrak, who is also Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s son-in-law, said in a televised interview in reference to Gulen and his network of supporters. “Every institution is being investigated and will be assessed.”
He said the investigation would be “just” and not a blanket purge.
More than 15,000 people — 10,000 of them military personnel — have been detained since the coup attempt and 8,000 people have been formally arrested, Interior Minister Efkan Ala said. Turkish authorities have issued arrest warrants for 89 journalists, drawing concern from the European Union and rights groups, such as Reporters without Borders.
Critics pointed out that many things remained unclear and that purges were carried out indiscriminately and without due process.
“We are still unsure of what happened,” said one human rights lawyer who wished to remain anonymous for fear of repercussions. “Many details of the night of July still need to be brought to light. There needs to be conclusive proof of someone’s involvement in the coup attempt before they should be arrested or sacked. Who decides who is a Gulenist and who is not and on what grounds? It looks like the government is simply seizing the opportunity to go after its critics and people they do not like.”
Turkish authorities extended pre-charge detention periods to a maximum of 30 days and closed thousands of institutions, including private schools, universities, charities and health facilities with suspected links to the Gulen network. Turkish authorities could be seen shutting down institutions in several cities, removing signs and sealing buildings. Assets were seized by the Treasury.
Human rights groups warned that the first decree passed under the state of emergency was discriminatory and a disproportionate answer to the coup attempt of July 15th.
Turkey’s foreign relations have not remained untouched by the political upheaval. Turkish officials and pro-government media have repeatedly accused the United States of being behind the failed coup and tensions were predicted to soar over the request for extradition of Gulen.
Turkey’s relationship with Greece is also facing a diplomatic test after eight Turkish soldiers landed a helicopter on Greek territory the night of the failed coup. According to Greek media reports, all eight were unarmed and immediately surrendered to Greek police. Greek daily Ekathimerini reported that the soldiers told local authorities that they had not participated in the attempted overthrow of the Turkish government and that they had been charged with evacuating civilians and soldiers under fire by Turkish police.
Ankara disputed the claims and asked the officers, all of whom asked for asylum in Greece, be extradited. Greek authorities are obliged to process their claims, a process that can take several weeks. The Greek government immediately returned the helicopter and publicly hinted at wanting to return the soldiers — three majors, three captains and two sergeant-majors — but said the reintroduction of capital punishment in Turkey would be “a red line”.
Turkey’s relationship with Russia is, however, warming following the coup attempt, with Erdogan to visit Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow in August, the first such meeting since Turkey downed a Russian warplane near the Syrian border in November 2015.
Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Mehmet Simsek said Russia was not only Turkey’s “close and friendly neighbour but also a strategic partner”. Both countries have signalled wanting to revive strategic and trade relations.
With Turkey disappointed and angry at European allies and the United States over what it sees as their lack of empathy following the coup attempt, the failed plot might lead to a deeper rift with the West and to Turkey turning more actively towards its allies and rekindled friendships in the East.