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Failed coup attempt: What path forward will Turkey take following political upheaval?

Image from the BBC.

It is still unclear exactly who launched the failed July 15 coup attempt against Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and what Turkey’s long-term response to the events will be, but political reprisals and attempts to control the narrative of events have already begun in earnest. 

The event has led to an unprecedented purge in Turkish political spheres and has emboldened Erdogan, who openly seeks to supplant Mustafa Kemal Ataturk as Turkey’s most consequential historical figure.

The possibility of a failed US-Mossad-MI6 coup attempt, which can be neither disproven nor factually demonstrated, is viewed as an increasingly realistic scenario by observers in Turkey who are searching eagerly for someone to blame. The retaking of power by President Erdogan and the ensuing backlash against potential coup instigators has allowed him to expedite Turkey’s pivot towards the Russia-dominated geopolitical sphere and away from NATO against a backdrop of anti-American sentiment.

Erdogan has not directly accused the U.S. of covertly directing the coup, opting instead to accuse Fethullah Gulen, a Muslim cleric living in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania since 1999 who has denied any accountability for the coup attempt, of launching the insurrection. But he has given free reign to Turkey’s state-controlled media apparatus and to the public to blame the U.S. for the events. Pro-government newspaper Yeni Safak has accused the C.I.A. of organizing the coup, and of attempting to assassinate Mr. Erdogan.

The accusations, which fan public anti-American sentiment, may already have created long-term damage to any future U.S.-Turkey relations.

Erdogan’s increasingly authoritarian actions have put a strain on relations between Turkey and other NATO countries (Turkey has been a NATO member since 1952). The recently troubled relationship between Russia and Turkey over the downing of the Russian Sukhoi Su-24m fighter jet near the Syria-Turkey border in November, 2015 has further complicated Turkey’s international position.

Turkey has already undertaken the project of martyrizing and commemorating the events of July 15, renaming streets in Istanbul after fallen government soldiers and flooding public media with pro-government news items.

“The A.K.P. government has already been searching for new commemorations to mark what they define as New Turkey,” said Esra Ozyurek, chairwoman of the Turkish studies program at the London School of Economics, in an interview with the New York Times (A.K.P. is an acronym referring to Erdogan’s political party).

“The coup seems to be the perfect grand event, complete with martyrs and great popular support,” Ms. Ozyurek said.

The new Turkey envisioned by Erdogan appears to be predicated on an Islamist reimagining of Turkish founding myths, according to observers. Before Erdogan’s rise to power, Turkey had been dominated by a clique of secular political elites. Erdogan’s overtly religious rhetoric and views swept away this old order.

 

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