July 18, 2016
What now in Turkey?
Only a few months ago we looked at three large tail risks the eurozone was facing - each one improbable on its own: Brexit, the an Italian political and financial crisis, and a collapse of the EU-Turkey refugee deal. Now the first has happened, and those other two "tail-risks" are fast becoming probable. The EU-Turkey deal, which brought some temporary calm to the refugee crisis, is now on the ropes.
Racep Tayyip Erdogan has ordered a major purge in response to the attempted coup, detaining 6,000 mainly among the military and the judiciary. As the judiciary was not directly involved in the coup, Erdogan is clearly using it as an excuse to eliminate political opponents. The coup is being compared with the Reichstag fire in its consequences, and the foreseeable tightening of Erdogan's authoritarian grip on Turkey is likely to strain relations with the EU to the breaking point. The EU had already been fairly tolerant of encroachment on press freedoms in order not to jeopardise the refugee deal, but visibly eroding the independence of the judiciary and reinstating the death penalty may be a step too far. The same goes for Turkey's anti-terrorism legislation that the EU wanted Turkey to relax, to bring into line with European standards as a condition for visa-free travel for Turks which was part of the refugee deal. Erdogan wanted none of that and will likely now tighten those laws further. Turkey abolished the death penalty in 2004 on pressure from the EU, as a condition for eventual accession, which is likely to now recede again.
The purge focuses on followers of US-based islamist preacher Fetullah Gülen, who Erdogan has publicly blamed for being behind the coup attempt. Turkey has called for the US to extradite him, and the US has invited Turkey to provide evidence of his involvement, which Gülen denies. Turkish government officials have gone as far as to issue veiled threats that any country that harbours coup participants will be an enemy of Turkey, which would seem to bring into question Turkey's alliance with the US. For a time this weekend Turkey even pressured the US by restricting access to the Incirlik air base which the US uses to launch air strikes against Isis in Syria. Eventually on Sunday it was reported that the base was again operative, but external power to the base remained cut off.
Previous coups in Turkey had been the work of Kemalists (laicist) to prevent the country from straying too far in the direction of islamisation. However, over the last decade Erdogan and Gülen had cooperated to remove Kemalists from the levers of power, including in the military. At the start of this decade Kemalists were removed in the so-called Ergenekon and Sledehammer cases involving claims of conspiracy to commit treason, which were later determined to have been based on trumped-up charges. Erdogan and Gulen fell out after a 2013 corruption scandal involving high-ranking government officials, who threatened Erdogan's own family. Erdogan then started removing Gülenists from power. One of the stories doing the rounds to explain the coup is that the Gülenists expected to be removed next month under regular military rotations and they decided to strike out of desperation. The other story is that the failed coup was staged by Erdogan to give himself an excuse for a self-coup.
Of immediate diplomatic concern is the fate of eight putsch participants who landed a helicopter in Greece, claiming political asylum, while Turkey demands their extradition. For the moment Greece has already returned the helicopter to Turkey, and the eight are detained on charges of illegally entering Greece and endangering the friendly relation between the two countries. It appears the Greek government has made up its mind to support the extradition request but ultimately it's up to the courts to decide on the asylum claim. It is ironic that, under the EU-Turkey agreement on refugees, Greece is supposed to return illegal entrants to Turkey, a "safe third country."
Dani Rodrik is puzzled by the apparently amateurish conduct of the coup. The coup failed among other things because Erdogan remained free to move and make public appeals to the population through online media. The official line is that Erdogan narrowly escaped with his life twice in the early hours of the coup. Per Gudmundson draws from Edward Luttwak's criteria for success of a coup and finds that some of the conditions were not met. For one thing, Erdogan - while divisive - is not widely unpopular. And, even though he has eroded Turkish democracy, the opposition supports the democratic form of government and came out unanimously against the coup. Gudmunson also wonders whether Turkey is no longer "backwards" enough - another of Luttwak's conditions - for a coup to suceed. Turkey now has mass internet media which was not the case at the time of the last coup in 1980.