Turkey Has Weathered Chaos Before, But This Time Might Be Different

By daybreak it appeared that the attempted coup launched factions of the Turkish military was crumbling and that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan would remain in power, albeit in a weakened state.

“They have pointed the people’s guns against the people,” Erdogan, who was on vacation in the Black Sea, said of the coup plotters. “The president, whom 52 percent of the people brought to power, is in charge.”

Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said 2,839 military personnel had been detained and as many as 194 were dead following the failed coup, according to the state-run Anadolu news agency.

With his seat in power secure for now, Erdogan shifted blame onto Fethullah Gulen, an influential Turkish cleric whom he holds responsible for the failed military coup. He has called on the U.S. to extradite him immediately.

This was not the first time Erdogan has faced a coup attempt – or, at least, reports of a coup attempt. In 2010, he used the premise of a potential military coup to launch a crackdown that led to widespread arrests.

One of the reasons the coup failed was poor planning, but another was that, despite the unpopularity of Erdogan and the ruthlessness of his rule, many Turks cannot shake the bitter memories of past military governments.

Ironically, says Noah Blaser of Foreign Policy, the attempted coup might actually serve to benefit Erdogan.

“Erdogan’s ambitions for an all-powerful presidency, coupled with a plummeting record on press freedom and tolerance of dissent have stoked fury in Turkey’s in secular circles for years. But the coup may end up emboldening, rather than tempering, the president’s drive to enhance his powers,” he writes.

Whether it benefits him or not, Erdogan is certain to become more paranoid than he has been and that cannot be good for Turkey, says Soner Cagaptay of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

“Opposing Erdogan really does mean plotting a coup. In the eyes of the Turkish president and his supporters, conspiracies to overthrow him are more real than ever,” he writes.

While coups or attempts to remove Erdogan from power are not new, Cagaptay, who authored the book, The Rise of Turkey, notes that external and internal events were confronting Turkey with a “toxic combination of political polarization, government instability, economic slowdown, and threats of violence.”

Although turmoil and tumult is nothing new to Turkey, he argued that things might be different now because the Kurds were a unified political force as they had not been in the past. In addition, Erdogan has been forced to take a stand against ISIS after a rash of bombings inside the country in the last year.

“Turkey is theoretically powerful enough, with U.S. backing, to withstand the threats from both ISIS and the PKK. But it’s not clear the government has the domestic support it needs to do so. This is the crux of my worries: At another time, most Turks would, however grudgingly, have stood behind the government—even at the cost of life and liberty—for the sake of their own security. That no longer seems to be the case in today’s political climate,” he writes.

That means that the attempted coup could be the start of much worse to come for Erdogan and for the Turkish people.

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