Failed Turkey coup to deepen divide

Failed Turkey coup to deepen divide

The failed attempt by elements of the Turkish army to mount a coup against the country’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan could deepen the already deep divide in the society caused by his ambitions and policies.

Turkey’s first directly elected president who served as prime minister for 11 years, Erdogan aims to transform Turkey’s parliamentary form of government into a presidential system with himself as all powerful chief executive.

While he has been unable to secure a two-thirds majority in parliament to amend the constitution, Erdogan has assumed executive authority by appointing as his prime minister loyalist Binali Yildirim, legislative powers by dominating parliament, and judicial authority by firing prosecutors, judges and police who accused his Justice and
Development Party (AKP) and political allies of corruption. Finally, Erdogan has dismissed and jailed journalists and editors, taking over media critical of his rule.  

A politician with his roots in “political Islam,” Erdogan has also launched a drive to place faith and social traditions at the centre of Turkish life although modern Turkey was founded in 1923 as an aggressively secular state by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. Erdogan has lifted the ban against women wearing headscarves in public places, made classes on Islam compulsory in schools, built scores of mosques, and sought to limit the sale and consumption of alcoholic drinks.

Since Ataturk assigned the military the task of maintaining Turkish secularism, Erdogan has sidelined the military and denied senior officers a central role in the management of the country’s political and economic affairs. Sending the generals back to barracks was widely seen as a positive development by Turkish politicians and the public as prior to the July 15 coup attempt the military had carried out four coups – in 1960, 1971, 1980 and 1997.

The last intervention brought down a coalition headed by Necdmettin Erbakan who was accused of trying to turn Turkey into an “Islamist state.” Erbakan’s Virtue party was the precursor of Erdogan’s AKP and represented the same devout, conservative constituency.

The men who swarmed into the streets to defend Erdogan and the AKP from the coupists belong to this committed constituency. It consists of members of the urban lower middle and working classes and provincial residents as well as construction, business and commercial figures who have benefitted from his policies. Erdogan’s constituency is largely located in the east, the Asiatic Anatolian plat-eau, which commands at least half of the vote in elections, perpetuating the reign of the AKP.

His opponents and detractors include secular leaders and supporters of the traditional “Kemalist” (pro-Ataturk) political parties and the army high command representing Westernised citizens who live in the west, the small Turkish enclave on the European side of the country. The-se rival parties do not constitute a serious challenge to the AKP.

This east-west divide has, however, been bridged over the last five years due to Erdogan’s foreign policies. The AKP began its 14-year rule promising “zero problems with neighbours” but by renewing a 30-year conflict with the country’s Kurds after negotiations broke down last summer and embroiling Turkey in the war in Syria, Erdogan has created problems within Turkey and on its frontiers.

Turkey’s Kurds, 15% of the population, have resumed their revolt in the Southeast with dire consequences for that region, its Kurdish inhabitants, and the army, which is under constant attack  in this area.

Fighting in Syria
By allowing Islamic State and al-Qaeda fighters to cross Turkish territory into Syria with the aim of toppling the secular government of President Bashar al-Assad, Erdogan has transformed Syria into the world's most central and important jihadi base of operations.
Having facilitated the flow of jihadis, weapons and funds into Syria, Erdogan has recently ord-ered his security forces to crackdown, prompting IS to respond with suicide bombings in Turkey which have killed at least 260 people and wounded hundreds.

Following an attempt by the government to crack down on IS, the group has mounted a series of suicide bombings in Istanbul, Ankara, provincial Turkish towns and on military posts along the border with Syria, killing more than 260 people. The IS has also recruited hundreds of Turks as fighters and supporters have established cells in poor areas in the country's major cities where fighters await orders to carry out operations against Turkish targets.

In an effort to return to its “zero problems” policy and restore relations with two alienated powers, Ergodan has reconciled with Israel and Russia.  The row with Israel erupted in 2010 when Israeli naval commandos boarded a Turkish vessel killing 10 of 600 activists seeking to break Israel’s blockade of Gaza. Erdogan accepted Israel's apology and $20 million in compensation for victims of the raid in exchange for normalising relations.

Erdogan apologised to Moscow for the 2015 shooting down a Russian warplane which had, allegedly, over flown Turkish territory while on a mission against insurgents in northern Syria. In return, Russia restored trade with and tourism to Turkey. These reconciliations are, however, unlikely to resolve Turkey’s serious problems with Syria and the rest of West Asia.

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