US ally and NATO partner Turkey – friend or foe?
Coup attempts, arrests of adversarial judges, detention of military leaders and now releasing criminal prisoners from jails have become the new normal in Turkey. It’s been a month since the latest coup attempt and Turkey continues to blame the Gulen movement whose leader resides in rural Pennsylvania. However, Gulen denied any involvement with the coup attempt.
“In my view doing these kinds of things are a direct betrayal of our nation. It’s a direct attempt to divide our nation and I do not condone it,” recluse Muslim faith leader Fethullah Gulen said from self-imposed asylum in the US.
But the Turkish President has doubled down on his allegation that the Gulen movement is responsible for the coup attempt that claimed 238 lives. “This Fethullah terrorist organization has now received the biggest hit they’ve ever used in this country because they have been discovered completely and this group has remained unarmed until now has come out bearing arms,” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said. “And using those arms and everybody knows that this is the case and they used those arms of this nation against the people.”
A Turkish official in the office of the president said, “It’s not our policy to comment on intelligence operations. However, we expect all our friends and allies to assist Turkey’s efforts to hold FETO operatives accountable for their crimes.” (FETO is an abbreviation standing for the Gulenist Terror Group which is how Ankara refers to Gulen’s movement, according to Reuters. “Turkey’s dubious evolution should remind Americans how hard it is for US officials to play social engineers to the world. Instead of constantly meddling in hopes of ‘fixing’ other nations, Washington should step back when its interests are not vitally affected, which is most of the time. The physicians’ injunction, ‘First do no harm,’ would be a good principle for American foreign policy.”
Turkey’s slide to authoritarian rule and its tacit support for war with ISIS have made international relationships increasingly difficult.
Using the “failed coup” or “false flag” as a country-uniting front, Erdogan has imposed severe “state of emergency” measures to rid Turkey of any dissenting voices and cementing his place in history as its new authoritarian ruler. Erdogan’s latest scheme involves rounding up “coup plotters” or longtime adversaries, and locking them up. The current number of adversaries is closing in on 40,000. Of course, there is not enough room in prison so the authoritarian ruler has begun to release real criminals from jails to make way for the new enemies of the state.
Turkish President Erdogan is also using the new state of emergency to bypass Turkey’s Parliament to jail military leaders, judges, teachers and journalists.
“The conditions of prisons were already bad before the coup attempt because they were over capacity,” said Sezgin Tanrikulu, a lawmaker with the main secular opposition group, the Republican People’s Party told the NYT. “We have heard reports of two to three people sharing beds and having to sleep in corridors.”
The Parliamentary leader said he approved of the prisoner-release program, but thought the Turkish President should have discussed the issue with the Parliament. “It is not right to use the state of emergency to subvert the rule of law in Turkey.”
Another deplorable aspect of Turkey’s crackdown includes shuttering the non-state-run media. Like any good dictator, Erdogan’s henchmen accelerated the pace of arrests and closures of any publications portraying the president in an unfavorable light. However, this allegation has garnered little coverage inside the United States.
Orhan Kemal Cengiz, journalist, and human rights lawyer, criticized the government’s release of real criminals “to fill the prisons with intellectuals, writers, human rights activists and others, as well as the coup people… It’s very unfortunate.”
The numbers are daunting.
At a press conference, Prime Minister Binali Yildirim along with some leaders of the surviving Turkish papers reported that so far, “76,597 public servants have been suspended and nearly 5,000 more were fired. The prosecution is underway for 6,792 academic and administrative personnel. About 3,670 judges and prosecutors have been suspended. The government has closed 15 universities, 934 schools, 104 endowments, 1,125 associations and 19 labor unions suspected of having Gulenist ties. More than 130 media outlets — including 16 television channels, 45 newspapers, 15 periodicals and 29 publishing houses, again most of them allegedly Gulenist — have been banned. Around 90 journalists have been detained and 49 arrested.”
The government purge has also interfered with the West’s cooperative NATO procedures. Turkey is home to the second-largest military force in the region. The latest round of arrests includes 157 generals and admirals, this equates to 44 percent of the military that has been relieved of duty and dishonorably discharged. On top of that Erdogan’s forces have also removed thousands of other national military personnel.
British think tank, Chatham House wrote, “Turkey’s NATO partners fear that the purges of experienced military and security personnel have the potential to diminish its capability to thwart the threat posed by IS [the Islamic State] and other militant groups and to better manage its long and porous borders with Syria and Iraq… Sadly, under the best-case scenario, it will take Turkey years, if not decades, to restore a modicum of rule and law and public services’ delivery at [the] pre-coup standards to which the Turkish citizenry have been accustomed.” They concluded, “the Turkish people are following their President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in admiration while he is dismantling democracy in their country.”
So far the silence from NATO is deafening and could mean a shift in international policy is on its way.
According to a July 2015 report from the Ankara office of the German Marshall Fund NATO is the most trusted international institution in Turkey, followed by the “European Court of Human Rights [which] captures 44 percent trust, the Organization for Islamic Cooperation has 39 percent and the European Union has 39 percent favorability.
But now, approximately 35 percent of Turkish nationals no longer feel they need NATO membership. Only 30 percent of Turks said they trust NATO. With so little public support inside the once proud secular nation, the West must re-examine Turkey as a NATO alliance member or whether NATO should cut Turkey loose. That decision could be made for Turkey if Erdogan decides to up the ante and align with non-NATO member, Vladimir Putin.
The chilling relationship with the West began around 2010, once the autocratic Erdogan neared the end of his Parliament mandated term limits
“Erdogan dropped his liberal veneer. He seemed to mutate into a corrupt and authoritarian throwback to Turkey’s seamy past,” the CATO Institute said. “He also pushed a more fundamentalist Islam into the public sphere. He did not react well to criticism from his one-time friends in America and Europe. Turkish officials appeared to concede they aren’t sure who was behind the attack, with Deputy Prime Minister Mehmet Simsek saying that the PKK, ISIS, and the Gulenist movement are all attacking Turkey right now and that the country will overcome all these strikes.”
In an effort to at least try to smooth things over, this week Vice-President Joe Biden traveled to Turkey to demonstrate the Obama administration willingness to maintain a strong regional partnership. He told Reuters, “the United States is doing everything we can to support Turkey’s ongoing efforts to hold accountable those responsible for the coup attempt while ensuring the rule of law is respected during the process.”
Keeping an eye on the Islamist prize at a weekend briefing for reporters in Istanbul, Prime Minister Yildirim said, “that while Gulen’s extradition would top the discussion, Biden was also coming to improve relations… To make our semi-sweet relations sweet.”
He also told reporters his administration wanted the extradition of Gulen sped up, and insisted the US put the 74-year-old leader in the US under immediate arrest.
So far Turkey has submitted approximately 84 dossiers on Gulen and his worldwide movement to US authorities, it has sent another four requests after the July 15 failed coup, Yildirim said. “Turkish authorities have put forward a number of extradition requests through our State Department and Department of Justice for Mr. Gulen.” He said, “As of now, the Turkish authorities have not come forward with a formal extradition request for Gulen based on the coup itself.”
In the past, the US didn’t prioritize the extradition of Mr. Gulen, however, after the attempted coup they sent officials to meet with judicial institutions in Turkey to determine the fate of the Muslim cleric.
For the first time, the State Department acknowledged that Turkey has requested the extradition of the Turkish cleric Gulen. “We can confirm now that Turkey has requested the extradition of Gulen,” Mark Toner the State Department spokesman said at a Friday press conference. Incidentally, Toner explained that the formal extradition request they received from Turkey was not related to the attempted coup, but other issues concerning the Erdogan government.