Turkey, Coup, Erdogan,

Leadership in essence is a corollary of responsibility, conviction and initiative .Hence, leaders need to reach a level of self -belief to act and take ownership of repercussions. Stalwarts have had an indelible impact on history; in all earnestness, leaders made history. They unified countries, yet they broke empires. It is often said that commanders are paid to take timely decisions: a time lapse gives the enemy the element of surprise. Some decisions not only extricate but also propel the under command entity to glory, whilst some backfire and cause devastating ramifications.

Much like any other leader, Turkey’s Teyyip Erdogan finds himself in the thick of things. Perched at the helm, Erdogan is taking drastic steps. It is important to understand as to why and what he is doing, before delving on its likely fallouts. Regimes are saved by the power of people and by the state’s military apparatus. Teyyip Erdogan’s regime survived a midnight and half hearted coup, in which people took to the streets and became bulwark. Pundits hailed it as a people’s victory while some inkled towards Erdogan’s personal touch with the masses. However, the impression that the state is giving is one of a massive conspiracy to topple this “popular regime” by the preacher Fethullah Gulen.

Erdogan reacted vehemently and launched a ruthless counter coup to purge the country of dissenters and while taking on his opponents he may have sown the seeds for a confrontation with the military and the population at large.

As the world lauded the heroic resistance put up to avert a coup, Erdogan had kicked off a cleansing campaign to teach plotters a punitive lesson. A series of arrests and detentions ensued, and it was staggering that one third of the military’s top brass was arrested: 103 Generals and Admirals in total. Besides, one day after the coup, 6,000 military personnel were in custody. A similar course was followed in the judiciary and the police. In a vindictive spree, some 9,000 police officers, 3,000 judges, and members of the interior and finance ministry were suspended.

The paranoia that Erdogan was under dictated his vengeance. News portals were shut down in an attempt to weed out everything which strengthened the hands of the alleged mastermind of the coup, Fethullah Gulen. In doing that, Erdogan tightened his own control over the state. The vendetta, which is still continuing, is an effort to achieve a personal political victory. The virulent policies against opponents, both veritable and alleged may very well go on to strike the president back. It could all split asunder and then the survival of the incumbent could again hinge upon the military. However, there is a need to analyze the likely implications of the massive overhaul program undertaken by Erdogan.

Ideally, a civilian government is responsible for governing a country in light of the mandate given by citizens. The armed forces, on the other hand are constituted and developed to thwart enemies of doing something repugnant to the interests of the state. However, like many other countries, the Turkish military establishment ruled the country directly and indirectly for many years. The civil military balance has a history of remaining tenuous in this vibrant country. History impacts upon psyche and hence decision -making. Thus it becomes imperative to take into account the civil military equation which has been a part of Turkish politics. The military has remained the most important actor in modern Turkey. Over the course of its history, Turkey has had an army which deems itself as the guardian of the state. Apart from direct rules, governments were changed and the constitutions were contrived to suit the military. Though, the civil military balance has significantly shifted favor of the civilians over the past decades, wholesale changing to a behemoth institution on the whims of Teyyip Erdogan can prove to be disastrous. The Turkish Army is still a very powerful institution and it has the wherewithal to re-emerge as a dominant force. Steps such as the closure of military academies and suspension of top officers may just trigger reprisals. The frenzy to cut the military down to size will breed a disgruntled corp of officers and personnel who may then “go the other way” and actually become what Erdogan wanted them not to turn into: dissenters.

Much of the swing in favor of civilians has been attributed to the popular support enjoyed by Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP). The AKP-led government has enjoyed public support and sympathy because of its many accomplishments in growth and development. The GDP has tripled since 2002. Moreover, the regime has garnered recognition because of its great focus on infrastructural, educational and social development in the country.

Public backing indeed perches civilians in a position to challenge the military, but it also gives them a sense of being unassailable, which can lead them to make mistakes that can rip apart their current status.

Public support can turn into hatred as evidenced by history. The clamp down on media houses and universities can do exactly that. Despotic rule and rulers were resisted in the past and are being resisted even today. The sweeping crackdown may help bring the perpetrators to justice but it could, in the process, give birth to a new cohort of challengers to the state.

Attacks cannot be thwarted by obviating all threats at the cost of destroying your defense capabilities. The enemy is deterred by bolstering your defenses. Erdogan’s defenders were his people (supporters). He has to strengthen them if he has to secure himself and the state. The counter coup, which is rather unbridled in scope and severity, can hugely dent the shield that Erdogan boasted about a month ago.

Syed Ali Zia Jaffery

Syed Ali Zia Jaffery

is Research Associate at the Center for Security, Strategy and Policy Research, University of Lahore.

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