This isn’t Turkey’s first coup attempt… Ataturk always made clear that he intended the army to act as the last brake against possible Islamist control of Turkey – and they have intervened numerous times on that basis, often more successfully than last night. We’ve noted before that Turkey has in common with Pakistan and Egypt a troubling tension between rising Islamism among its democratic representatives and a willingness to enforce secularism on the part of its military. The country has thus far been different in that its Kemalist tradition has tended to be more effective and long-lasting than military-backed secularism in either of those other, more troubled, nations - but that isn’t certain to last forever.
But Erdogan hopes to make it the last. One possible trigger for last night’s events was the expectation that the Turkish President’s next step to cement his party’s grip on power was extending control over the military. Having tried to woo them by giving them carte blanche against the Kurds, he appeared to be coming to the conclusion that he needed closer allies in the top brass. It isn’t yet clear exactly which faction(s) were behind the coup attempt – and Erdogan has sought to allot at least some of the blame to his Gulenist former allies, so it may not be as straightforward as ‘army secularists versus the government’ – but he will now accelerate any planned changes to the upper echelons of the armed forces.
If you thought he was a paranoid tyrant before, you ain’t seen nothing yet. Erdogan was already throwing his weight around – jailing journalists, seizing control of critical newspapers, sending riot police in to fight protests and so on. But now he has a concrete threat which he can use to justify any and all repressive measures. The odds are that we will now see even tougher clampdowns which sadly will extend will beyond those actually responsible and likely sweep up many targets whom the government finds it convenient to be rid of.
What happened to all that ‘progress’ towards a more democratic Turkey? All the attempts to skim over the real nature of what was going on in the country already looked quite silly, now look more so given last nights events and, I fear, are about to look even more absurd. I think it’s fair to say those multi-billion-euro EU grants which were supposed to bring Turkey in a more Western, open direction have gone to waste. And we probably won’t be getting a refund.
Where next for the EU’s new relationship with Ankara? Brussels struck a pretty grubby deal some months ago with Erdogan to give him cash, visa-free access to Schengen for Turkish citizens and accelerated accession talks in return for his help on controlling the migration crisis. Even then it was a betrayal of all the ‘European values’ the EU purports to represent. Now that we can expect an even more openly oppressive regime, what will happen now? Erdogan knows that he has Brussels over a barrel – will they just accept whatever he chooses to do in his own country, in return for a quiet life in their own?
Erdogan’s party is technically a Tory ally. While we’re leaving the EU, and thus the ECR group in the European Parliament, the Conservative Party will continue its part in the Alliance of European Conservatives and Reformists, a wider alliance of like-minded parties. Erdogan’s party, the AKP, is a member – a decision not without some controversy already. If his promised revenge for the coup does extend beyond legal due process against those actually responsible to include wider reprisals against opponents, that relationship will likely be tested even further.
And finally: no, this had nothing to do with Brexit. It shouldn’t need saying, but some in the UK appear to be so desperate for straws to grasp that they’ve decided the Leave campaign is responsible for the coup attempt. Chris Bryant tweeted last night: “Turkey is now and has long been a lynch pin in European and wider security. Ludicrous Brexit lies undoubtedly contributed to destabilising”. This is, of course, ridiculous – but it’s a reminder of how low some will stoop.