By Jan Oberg*
Lund, Sweden, 29 July, 2016 (TFF–Transnational Foundation for Peace and Future Research) — Was it just a group of amateurish military people who believed that they knew how to make a coup?
Was the brain behind it a 75 year old Islamic leader or ’guru’ Fatullah Gülen sitting in Pennsylvania and remote controlling the whole affair through his followers in Turkey? Was it perhaps the U.S.?
State Department and CIA – who were tired of President Erdogan’s unpredictability and policies vis-a-vis Russia and ISIS?
Many more or less realistic and conspiracy-like theories have emerged since it happened about a week ago.
I have no particular expertise on Turkey and no access to intelligence data but I guess it is reasonable to think of this coup having been master-minded by Erdogan and the people around him and/or that he had early warnings about it but let it happen – which fits with his words that it was a gift from God.
It’s the least unlikely hypothesis. Why?
1. In a half-hour long interview, Erdogan tells Aljazeera how it all happened that night. It is a remarkably distancing, blurred recollection without cohesion and with little credibility coming from a man who was the centre or it all and allegedly the object not only of a coup d’etat but an attempt too on his life. (See it at (). It is as if he was really not present, shocked or surprised.
2. The attempted coup seems too amateurish to have been a US/ CIA thing.
3. It is rather unlikely, given the security apparatus and Erdogan’s top control, that this coup had not been on the radar at an earlier stage.
4. Even if the dialogue-oriented, moderate Fatullah Gülen should be a wolf in sheep’s clothing, I don’t find it particularly credible that he should exercise such power and mastermind the whole thing from that far away. It requires extremely detailed knowledge of an insider kind to make a successful coup.
5. Very strangely, those who took over power for a few hours never appear on the radio stations and TV screens they controlled. We didn’t see a coup leader at all. To speak to the people is what any coup-maker does first.
6. Erdogan’s flight back from holiday in Mamaris, the surprisingly smooth landing and appearance at a seemingly well-planned press conference – well, how credible is that? How did he dare take such a risk, not knowing how much the coup-makers were able to control? How come the airspace and airport was not under such control that it had prevented him from returning (another thing one would assume plotters would plan as a first priority).
7. The incredibly fast purges – 50.000-60.000 in just 5 days plus thousands of institutions is something one would imagine would take a little more time – as well as replacing them with loyalists.
8. The immediate but surprisingly vague support for Erdogan from the United States – via secretary of state John Kerry’s very understanding statement hours later – would indicate that the US had foreknowledge about what was about to happen (but probably did not tell Erdogan).
9. If the coup attempt was not fully masterminded by Erdogan and his loyalist plotters in a double role, one can still imagine that it was a bunch of amateurs who de factor did it but that the President knew about and let it happen in order to later exploit it – use it as the ”gift from God” that he so conspicuously called the whole event.
Whatever one believes – and I admit the above is speculative – Turkey is now on track to dictatorship, a one-man rule by decrees, state of emergency, etc. – so fast that it seems that a lot of people around the world have not even recognised what has de facto happened.
I can’t remember any purges like these in such a short time anywhere. I can only imagine how the Western media and leaders would have talked about it if it had been, say, Russia or Iran that had initiated such a path.
But now it happens to be NATO’s second largest military, an extremely important ally of the US – albeit troubled in more than one way.
Paradoxically, Erdogan used one of the social media that he loathes – FaceTime – to encourage people to take to the streets everywhere.
Opinion polls tell that about half of the Turks support him – or at least did so before the coup. Some of them will now regret that support that night. Being a citizen of post-coup Turkey must be close to a nightmare – ”Am I next in line” – to be suspended, lose my job, being arrested, tortured?
In all fairness, perhaps the EU should ask itself whether it has treated Turkey’s wish to enter the EU in a most productive manner.
One is reminded of President Sarkozy’s statement on September 26, 2007: ”I do not think that Turkey has a place in Europe,” claiming instead that Turkey’s place was in “Asia Minor.”
How would French Muslims, a little less than 10% of France’s population, react to the fact that a predominantly Muslim, secular, Western-oriented and leading NATO member country does not belong in Europe?
Then came David Cameron’s 100% turnabout in June 2016, saying Turkey would not enter the EU the next 3000 years that did not exactly please Turkey.
Particularly if it was not a self-orchestrated coup as I hypothesize, one must envision deep inner conflicts throughout the Turkish society, more violence and terror, even civil war-like circumstances.
It may well turn out for years ahead to be a very vicious spiral and major factor of instability in Europe and the Middle East. Beyond any doubt, Erdogan is more part of the problem than of any solution.
Important international relations that will be affected by this coup
1. Syria and ISIS.
Western countries ill-considered, if not reckless, bombings happen out of the Incirlik military base. Turkey has demonstrated, for what ever reason we do not know, that the electricity supply to it can be cut any time. Will the coalition now look for some other base facility – in Italy, for instance?
2. The Incirlik base and nukes
This base is situated only about 100 miles from the border with Syria but in spite of the closeness to ISIS controlled territory and the risks of bombardment any base must be calculated to have, it anyhow hosts no less than 50 B61 nuclear bombs, each with a capacity of about 10 times that of Hiroshima.
Reports maintain that the coup makers operated out if this base – Los Angeles Times being one of them. http://www.latimes.com/world/asia/la-na-turkey-nukes-20160721-snap-story.html.
One cannot but wonder how secure these mega-weapons are at that particular position in this particular situation?
3. The EU refugee deal
The EU has made a – shameless – agreement about refugees with Turkey. How safe will these millions of already suffering victims of warfare be in a country the future of which is likely to be extremely insecure and unstable? Secondly, the EU has stated that there will be no membership for Turkey if it re-introduces the death penalty.
But – in reality, how much has Erdogan and Turkey to lose from doing that and skipping EU membership? Turkey would then also drop out of the agreement with the EU; Erdogan has already stated that the EU must cough up the money now or else he can open the borders. Which would hit EU as a new, even worse, crisis or, rather, nightmare.
4. Turkey has the second largest military forces in NATO.
It ought to be a huge problem, interns of morals, credibility and otherwise, for NATO when its second largest member turns into a full-blown dictatorship by one-man rule. It can not be excluded that Turkey will gradually distance itself from NATO and ally itself more close eastwards – Russia? – or drop relations with Euro-NATO and ally itself more closely with the US (and Brexit England).
Whatever happens over time, NATO is facing a huge new problem after the coup: What if Erdogan and Putin get closer again over mutual interests in the gas- and oil pipelines – both also strongly disappointed with the EU? Allegedly Erdogan got warnings from Russia about the coup.
What about some kind of defence alliance among them and other parties – tired as they must both be by NATO’s policies? How can NATO credibly argue that it is an alliance for peace, democracy, freedom, human rights and all that if it keeps Turkey and doesn’t even mention sanctions or suspension for a period?
5. Iran and Turkey
Iran was among the very first countries to express its support for Erdogan in the morning after the events. That of course has to do with the great mutual importance of the bilateral interests, trade in particular.
However, the two countries disagree when it comes to virtually all multilateral affairs, Syria, Al-Assad, ISIS and Israel to mention some. It remains to be seen how the bi- and multilateral relations will be influenced by what happens inside Turkey.
6. The next US president
It isn’t clear in any way how a Trump or a Clinton in The White House will deal with Turkey and Erdogan (and Iran). Trump has stated that the US under him may not be committed to Europe unless Europe pays more for its own defence and he has expressed sympathy for the way Erdogan handled the coup.
Clinton’s reaction to the coup was surprisingly general and vague; it came very quickly and since then, she’s not mentioned it. According to some sources, her campaign has received several hundred thousands of dollars from Gülen’s movement, and she speaks favorably of Erdogan in her memoirs as the man who holds the key to Turkey’s future.
One more indicator of Western disintegration
Although Turkey is not a traditional Western power it was a Western-oriented power (secular “Kemalist”, NATO and seeking the EU), it’s obvious that the attempted coup – or whatever it really was – emerges as yet another indicator of things falling apart for the Western world.
The survival of the EU can by no means be taken for granted. The UK will leave, deeply split inside itself.
The reckless policies of the neocon circles in Washington who masterminded and financed the regime change in Ukraine that lead Russia to react by annexing Crimea has been grossly de-stabilising for Euro-NATO; it’s a confrontational policy that Germany in particular does not appreciate.
NATO member Bulgaria says ’No’ to building a new NATO fleet in the Black Sea. France’s Hollande says that his country’s relations to Russia would not be decided by NATO in Brussels.
NATO countries have created havoc, one after the other in the Middle East and now receives a series of terror attacks on European soil. NATO talks repeatedly of being an alliance for freedom, human rights, peace etc – who can believe that with the huge superfast purges of tens of thousands of civil servants and whole categories of them, such as judges, in a leading member state of the alliance?
NATO also talks of boosting military expenditures – as it has for years without much to show but failed interventions.
NATO comes across as a very tired alliance that should have been closed down or re-invented itself 25 years ago when its raison d’etre – the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact – disappeared. (That was always false because the Warsaw Pact was created 6 years after NATO had been established).
And, then, now this coup too – and rapid decent into instability, extreme authoritarianism, chaos and possible violence or civil war in Turkey.
One may wonder what the Western press and politicians would have made of such purges had they happened in Russia or Iran? Now we hear mainly vague ’worries’ or full endorsements of a dictator. Self-censorship because of Turkey’s NATO status, or what? Why?
One crack in the Empire after the other. Indeed, we are living in interesting – and dangerous – times.
About the author: Dr Jan Oberg, Peace studies professor. PhD in sociology, peace and future researcher. Associate professor (Docent) at Lund University, thereafter visiting or guest professor at various universities. Former director of the Lund University Peace Research Institute (LUPRI); former secretary-general of the Danish Peace Foundation; former member of the Danish government’s Committee on security and disarmament.
Visiting professor at ICU (1990-91) and Chuo Universities (1995) in Japan and visiting professor for three months at Nagoya University in 2004 and 2007 and four months in 2009 – at Ritsumeikan University in Kyoto. Oberg has taught peace courses for more than 10 years at the European Peace University (EPU) in Schlaining, Austria and teaches MA courses twice a year at the World Peace Academy (WPA) in Basel, Switzerland. Learn more about Jan Oberg.
About TFF: TFF is an independent think tank, a global network that aims to bring about peace by peaceful means. It inspires a passion for peace from the grassroots to the corridors of power.
TFF is an all-volunteer global network. It promotes conflict-mitigation and reconciliation in general, as well as in a more targeted way in a selected number of conflict regions – through meticulous on-the-ground research, active listening, education and advocacy. Learn more about TFF