A few days after the attempted coup in Turkey, it is still not clear who carried it out. As discussed previously on this blog, there are good reasons to doubt any one of the possible suspects (the military, the Gulen movement, and Erdogan himself). The uncharacteristically sloppy nature of the coup suggests a lack of real military involvement. The disorganized nature of the Gulen movement and its history of strong commitment to non-violence discourages the idea that the Gulen movement was behind it. Erdogan’s fairly secure position before the coup and the risks involved with staging one discredits the theory that it was a ‘false flag’ event. In short, it is hard to say who was really behind the coup. We may not know for a long time what really happened. What is clear though, is that Erdogan is seizing the opportunity to purge rivals and opponents from the government. Erdogan has described the coup attempt as a “gift from god” as it allows him to purge the “virus” from state institutions, and as Erdogan’s purge widens, his power grows. Let’s look a little more in-depth at the long term impact of the failed coup.
The first major result is a massive strengthening of Erdogan’s position. Tens of thousands of state officials from a diverse array of offices have been arrested or suspended. Erdogan is cleaning house and removing everyone he can who opposes him. He is most likely to use his strengthened position to renew a push for constitutional change to increase the powers of the office of President, the office he currently holds. While a successful coup would have been disastrous for democracy in Turkey, the failed coup should not be counted as a victory either. However, this purge will also increase the divisiveness and polarization of Erdogan’s rule. While his hold on the state will increase, his support in the street will probably decrease. Erdogan’s growing power will lead to fears of authoritarianism in Turkey and push more Turks into the arms of his opposition.
The next major result of the attempted coup is a weakening of Turkey’s national security. No matter who began the coup, the lack of trust between the civilian government and the military will increase and the removal of so many officers will seriously degrade the military’s ability to function effectively. Both ISIS and the PKK are likely to realize this and will increase their levels of attacks within Turkey. The Kurdish conflict in particular poses major problems for the Turkish government. With victories in Syria and Iraq, particularly in Kobane, Kurds in the Middle East are experiencing a massive upswing in optimism, nationalism, and international support. Any missteps by the Turkish military are likely to be taken advantage of by the PKK, and with the Turkish officer corps in disarray the number of missteps will increase.
Ultimately, the failed coup strengthens Erdogan’s position within the government, but at the cost of weakening Turkey’s position internationally and increasing civil unrest. Turkey’s image as a strong, stable, democratic power (already damaged by the recent spate of bombings and attacks in the country) has now been shattered. The country’s ability to confront the multitude of security threats it faces has been seriously hampered. Animosity between Erdogan’s supporters and opponents will increase with dangerous implications for the stability of the country. The long-term impact of this failed coup is to destabilize and weaken Turkey, whatever benefits Erdogan may currently been reaping.