Turkey has had an eventful and challenging year recovering from last year’s coup attempt. The country has also had to deal with the war in neighboring Syria heading in its sixth year, terrorist attacks from different factions from within and outside of Turkey, and cooling of relations with the EU and its key countries. Regardless of the difficulties, the ruling Justice and Development party has managed to usher in some major reforms. For example, following the success in the referendum on the constitution, a new presidential system was introduced that would change the role of the president from a symbolic to an executive one. Erdogan’s authority is perhaps even more established in Turkey than before the coup attempt, which gave him almost mandate-like powers to clean up so-called Gulenists. The move to suspend thousands of academics, politicians, judges and soldiers has prompted criticism especially from certain human rights groups and the EU alike.
After the success of the government in the referendum building itself an unshakable image, the outcome of the coup attempt could have been totally different keeping in mind that the coup perpetrators had been extremely close to succeeding in their plan. It is said that the renegade soldiers stormed the hotel that President Erdogan was in just 15 minutes after he left it. The coup perpetrators were in control of the Turkish state TV and made the broadcaster announce the declaration of the military taking over Turkey to preserve democracy and secular values. The coup seemed to be succeeding so much so that some of the western heads of states were silent and slow in condemning the coup as if they were waiting to see the end result.
“We have seen that those seemingly advocating for democracy, human rights and the rule of law at every opportunity were silent during the ongoing coup attempt. It was no coincidence that statements made against the coup attempt came well after the struggle between our nation and the coup perpetrators had failed,” – President Erdogan.
The most evident change in Turkey’s foreign policy after the coup attempt has been the rekindling of ties with Russia, which has been on hold due to the Syrian crisis where Russia and Turkey are supporting opposite sides. The absence of a relationship has gone as far as Turkey shooting down a Russian jet in 2015. The re-forming of ties was welcomed by Russia which had been left isolated by the West in the form of sanctions due to its involvement in the Ukrainian conflict. Unlike the US, Turkey has continued to take a strong stance against not only PKK but YPG alike.
Reasons for Turkey’s current government to look towards the East in search for an ally are many. First of all, there are far too many indications about the US being involved or merely knowing in advance about the coup attempt. To mention few, the renegade generals known to take part in the coup had close links to their counterparts in the US armies, and some even applied for asylum in the US after it became evident that the coup had failed. Not to mention that the Turkish US Incirlik air base was used for the coup attempt. All this was merely enforced by the reluctance of the US government to hand over Fethullah Gulen, an Imaam and a leader of a secretive Gulenist movement and also the main suspect for orchestrating the coup attempt according to Turkish officials.
Past year has been perhaps the most challenging year for the ruling party in Turkey not to mention its citizens who have had to live in uncertainty. A country that has had in its modern times four military coups, would not be surprised by having one more. Yet this time, Turkish citizens refused to undergo another military coup and they seemed to have found a unity in it, and through that unity they were able to prosper regardless of the difficulties they have faced throughout this year.
Picture: Birds over the Süleymaniye mosque in Istanbul [Eder Fortunato/Creative Commons]