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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2708

Coup in Turkey: Recep Tayyip Erdo?an proves that invincibility can be illusionary and porous

Hemantha Abeywardean writes from London…

Judging by the way the ‘coup’ that took place on Friday night in Turkey started, then thinly spread out in Ankara, the capital, and ran out of steam in a matter of hours, the whole fiasco bears all the hallmarks of sheer amateurism on both military and propaganda fronts.

The reaction to the news by the Western leaders, meanwhile, evolved in proportion to the reality on the ground: there was no outright condemnation at the outset; on the contrary, they just expressed concern about the event, exactly the way they did when General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi toppled democratically-elected government in Egypt, headed by the Muslim Brotherhood; when things did not appear to be turning into a classic coup d'état, however, their reaction turned into the usual cliché, that resonates with the predictable, well-hackneyed slogan: “We support the democratically elected government.”

Can the Western leaders be collectively blamed on the seemingly-inconsistent reaction? The answer is, ‘no’; they just reflected the unease among the folks in their respective countries about the highly-questionable stances that Turkey has been taking in the last few years on Mr Erdogan’s watch – on a range of issues, not least the situation in Syria.

About two weeks ago, when Turkey announced that the country is patching up the strained relations, both with Russia and Israel simultaneously, it took everyone by surprise – perhaps, the elements in the corridors of power of the two nations in question, too.

Up until then, Mr Erdo?an, the Turkish president, had been displaying a particular trait, a fairly unusual form of diplomatic skill that is not in possession of a modern politician in the developed world – falling out with friends in the neighborhood, in the region, among traditional allies and even with Sunni Muslim nations with the reckless attitude, come what may.
For instance, Turkey still has issues with Germany, as the following charts shows, the largest trade partner. He had even a bigger issue with Russia, the second most important trade partner – not the kind of psychological ingredients for ingenuity at uncertain times across the globe.

Against this backdrop, the sudden policy-shift, on the surface, appeared to have its roots in the economy that was suffering a double whammy – Russian sanctions and dwindling revenue from tourism. The event on Friday night, however, implies that Mr Erdo?an may have realized, instinctively or otherwise, that all was not well in his style of governing. In short, he was in need of friends, especially the traditional ones.

Not only did he apologize for shooting down the Russian jet over a minor incursion into Turkish airspace, but also took steps to normalize the relations with Russia and even meeting Mr Putin in person in due course. To his delight, Russia reciprocated in kind.

Diplomatic patch-up with Israel is no different either; Mr Erdo?an quickly made two friends in quick succession in a matter of just two weeks. By not stopping at these two crucial developments, he made it clear that Turkey would be taking on ISIS, much to the delight of anxious neighbors.

The speed at which ISIS struck Turkey with suicide bombings at the country’s main airport, following the announcement , showed that it was not just coincidental; Turkey must have turned its back on the militants, having been constantly accused of playing a ‘double game’ by the folks in the West; Mr Erdo?an appeared to have meant business.

As the ‘coup’ started unfolding in Ankara, Mr Erdo?an, started urging his followers to take to the streets through the social media. Ironically, it was the same social media that he condemned and tried to suppress in the past, accusing the very networks of spreading resentment.

There is no doubt that Mr Erdo?an still enjoys a significant support in Turkey. His survival, however, owes to the public support in the streets as much as to the very poor organization of the plotters, middle ranking military officials, who chose to launch a ‘coup’, when Mr Erdo?an was on holiday, away from the capital.

Even after the threat of ‘coup’ subsided, Mr Erdo?an asked his supporters to be constantly vigilant: “It can flare up at any time again, anywhere’ he roared to the adoring followers. It may very well be the case, despite a ruthless purge in the armed forces and in judiciary, as early as Saturday.

After becoming the president of the republic, Mr Erdo?an has been taking measures that resonated with authoritarianism and enforced cultism. You hardly do anything to the contrary, when choosing a 1000-room palace as the official residence. Things got worse, when he came down hard on the media that were critical of him, which ultimately appeared to be a catalogue of calculated measures taken to reversing the secularism envisioned by the modern founding fathers of Turkey.

In this context, the rapid developments on Friday night show that Mr Erdo?an is not immune to hidden dangers of contemporary mass dissension that normally does not show up on the populist radar. The recent, sudden fall of dictators, having been in power for decades, clearly tells us invincibility is both illusive and porous.

Mr Erdo?an is talking tough at the moment and it is something to be expected in these circumstances; after all, he is a politician. His next course of action will prove whether he is the exception rather than the rule, when it comes to creating his own sphere of invincibility in Turkish psyche.

Despite the failure, the plotters manage to achieve an important thing, a very crucial one: they laid bare the vulnerability of both Mr Erdo?an and his mighty army, the second largest in the NATO, with far reaching consequences against Turkey’s one of life-long ambitions – to be a part of the European Union.

With Britain, a fairly sympathetic ally to the cause, out of the equation, Turkey may find it increasingly difficult to convince the big players in the union that it is politically mature to be a member of the exclusive club, especially when the geography always gets in the way for the ambition.

In this context, last thing – among a long list of criteria - that the country is eager to show is its vulnerability to military coups, a.k.a. history repeating itself, something unthinkable among the member states.

- Asian Tribune -

Coup in Turkey: Recep Tayyip Erdo?an proves that invincibility can be illusionary and porous
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