Developments in Türkiye – is Erdoğan “sowing the wind” and “reaping the storm”?

Alexandr Svaranc, New Eastern Outlook, June 1, 2024 — 

World history shows that an independent policy of a charismatic leader of an important state often leads to a foreign interference, i.e. a coup d’état and the overthrow of the undesirable ruler. When all the “arguments” of diplomacy and economic pressure fail to achieve their goals, they use covert operations of special services and subversive organizations under their control to carry out a coup d’état as legitimate or illegitimate removal of the current leader from power. In this regard, Türkiye has quite a lot of experience in internal political intrigues and external interventions with successful and failed attempts to overthrow the legitimate government.

Türkiye remains a challenging but important partner for the West 

Türkiye’s policy under the rule of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is characterized by high impulsiveness; it is focused on strengthening independence and increasing the status of Turkish statehood in the system of international relations. This course of Türkiye cannot please its NATO allies, since every step of the alliance members is commensurate with the policy of the U.S. Anglo-Saxon leader.

There are still questions in Türkiye regarding the sudden death of President Turgut Ozal in 1993, who proclaimed that “the 21st century will become the ‘golden age’ of Türkiye and the Turks.” Palace intrigues took place more than once in the centuries-old history of the Ottoman Empire. Over the century of its existence, the new republican Türkiye has also repeatedly experienced coups d’état involving its main ally, the United States. As is well known, the last attempt to overthrow the power of the legitimately elected President Erdoğan took place in July 2016.

Once upon a time in the nineteenth century, Ottoman Türkiye was called “the sick man of Europe.” But since Britain could not find a worthy replacement for Turkish statehood, London’s policy retained Türkiye due to its high interest in Türkiye’s geography (especially in the straits and access to the seas) and its desire to counter Russia. And today, assessing the dramatic state of the Turkish economy, it cannot be said that Türkiye is “the healthy man of Europe.” Ankara’s policy in the new and modern times has regularly brought difficult problems to the West (Turkish-Greek relations, the Cyprus and Kurdish issues, the Iraqi crisis, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, revanchist ambitions, etc.).

Türkiye figuratively resembles a stone, over which the regional strategy of the United States and Europe periodically stumbles. However, just as Britain in the first quarter of the twentieth century, a century later, the United States cannot yet find a replacement for the Turkish state, and therefore is interested in the controlled preservation of its political geography. Washington is most likely working on a strategy to restart a “new stage” of relations with Ankara while possibly “re-educating” or removing Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

Erdoğan remains on the U.S. list of untrustworthy leaders.

In July 2016, an armed rebellion and coup d’état was attempted in Türkiye to remove President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan from power, who was undesirable to the United States (the operation scenario did not even exclude the physical liquidation of the Turkish leader). Erdoğan then managed to emerge victorious from this battle thanks to prompt countermeasures and the support of true external partners (including the intelligence services of Russia and Iran). The subsequent investigation led to the arrest of over 80,000 people in Türkiye, the dismissal of about 150,000 civil servants (including the military); and the religious organization FETÖ of Fethullah Gülen, living in Pennsylvania (USA), was declared the main organizer of the coup.

Almost eight years have passed since then, and Erdoğan has managed to retain power and even pass through a difficult presidential election in the summer of 2023. At the same time, the Turkish leader has not given up to strengthen a foreign policy course independent from the West, building mutually beneficial partnerships with Russia and China, and generating an ambitious strategy of neo-Ottomanism and neopanturanism in the East.

It is unlikely that the United States is enthusiastic about Erdoğan’s policies, Turkish bargaining on the matter of NATO expansion involving Finland and Sweden, the Turkish occupation of parts of the northern regions of Syria, Turkish military-political intervention in the Karabakh conflict, Turkish-Greek tensions in the Mediterranean basin, and, most importantly, Turkish-Russian independent partnership. However, the U.S. and Europe retain key leverage over Türkiye’s domestic and foreign policy.

These include, first of all, the large U.S. military base and NATO military facilities in Türkiye, the pro-Western opposition led by the Republican People’s Party (RPP), which turned out to be the winner in the last municipal elections, and, finally, the financial and economic means of influencing the failing Turkish economy in combination with the sanctions pressure regime. All of these listed tools allow Washington to hope to keep Türkiye in its geopolitical orbit of influence and build new relations with the search for compromises and acceptable rules of the game.

Ankara has recently started showing a more loyal policy towards the United States and restarting bilateral relations. It resulted in Türkiye’s long-delayed acceptance of the Finnish and Swedish accession to NATO; a liberal attitude towards the success of the opposition led by the Republican People’s Party (RPP) in local elections (especially in Ankara, Istanbul and the eastern Kurdish-populated regions of the country); personnel decisions in the government’s economic agencies in favor of pro-American specialists; diplomacy to restore confidence-building measures with Greece; approval of the early signing of a peace treaty between Azerbaijan and Armenia under Western dictates; focus on the formation of new transit communications bypassing Russia to provide Türkiye and NATO in general with direct access to the Central Asian region; military, technical and diplomatic support to Ukraine.

It seemed that the experienced Erdoğan managed to avoid all the sharp corners to maintain his power and political course. However, another Palestinian-Israeli conflict that started in the Middle East has launched new troubles not only in regional politics, but also in the matter of Erdoğan’s own future.

Another aggravation of Turkish-Israeli relations 

The Turkish leader’s attempts to act as a peacemaker in a political settlement of relations between Hamas and Israel did not bring him success. Erdoğan initially adopted a stance of criticism of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, comparing him to Hitler and accusing him of all the mortal sins (including committing war crimes and the genocide of Palestinians). Erdoğan’s peace plan for the Middle East through recognition of Palestinian independence within the 1967 borders and centered in East Jerusalem, with Türkiye internationally recognized as security guarantor, as is well known, has been rejected by Israel. At the same time, Tel Aviv continues fighting in the Gaza Strip and, ostensibly for the sake of eliminating Hamas leaders, proceeds to the destruction of virtually the entire civilian population of Gaza, whose majority has been forced to concentrate in the Egyptian border town of Rafah.

Meanwhile, the increase in the sharpness of anti-Israeli statements and actions of Erdoğan (including Türkiye’s trade embargo on Israel enacted partially in April and in full in May, the official reception of Hamas politburo head Ismail Haniyeh in Ankara, as well as the facts of assistance of Turkish security services to Hamas units in providing them with a base of deployment on the territory of the Republic of Türkiye), obviously, cannot go unnoticed by the authorities and intelligence services of Israel.

So, what happened in Ankara in May 2024?

On the night of May 14-15, the main political associate and ally of President Erdoğan – the leader of the Nationalist Action Party, Dövlat Bahçeli, warned of the threat of another coup attempt against the government aimed at overthrowing Erdoğan, which is allegedly being prepared in the ranks of certain law enforcement agencies (in particular, in the Ankara Office of the General Security Directorate of the Turkish Interior Ministry). Pan-Turkic leader D. Bahçeli suggested that the authorities should immediately take preventive measures and not limit themselves to dismissing several employees of the Interior Ministry’s Security Directorate in Ankara.

Turkish President Erdoğan was forced to hold an emergency overnight meeting with Chief of Türkiye’s National Intelligence Organization Ibrahim Kalın and Chief of Justice Ministry Yılmaz Tunc to prioritize measures to prevent a coup attempt. Pursuant to Türkiye newspaper, several employees were dismissed from the Ankara Security Directorate of the Interior Ministry relatively recently on suspicion of being connected to the criminal organization Ayhan Bora Kaplan. A couple of hours later, the Ankara prosecutor’s office opened a case to investigate a possible conspiracy against the government.

Turkish Interior Minister Ali Yerlikaya, who replaced Suleyman Soylu after the 2023 presidential election, and who was notable for his anti-American remarks, issued a stern warning: “Whoever tries to play games against our president, our government and our politicians by cooperating with terrorist organizations and their branches, organized criminal groups and using the tactics of the Fethullah Terrorist Organization (FETÖ) on social media, we will destroy their games and the traps they have set.”

Yerlikaya’s statement is understandable, since disloyal employees were discovered in his department. Whether it is to blame on his own omission or someone’s insidious plan will be revealed by the investigation.

The pro-Kurdish DEM party informs that dozens of its members have been detained in police raids in Istanbul, possibly due to links to coup attempts.

“Israeli trail” in the coup d’état threat 

Erdoğan said the authorities know perfectly well the “puppeteers”, i.e. those who are behind the threat of the coup d’état. Meanwhile, the Turkish leader once again lashed out at Israel and Netanyahu with a warning of responsibility for genocide against the population of the Gaza Strip. At the same time, the Turkish president not only confirmed Ankara’s readiness to continue supporting Hamas, “which is fighting for the independence of its lands,” but also surprised the entire world with the fact that the Palestinians, represented by Hamas, allegedly “defend Anatolia” from Israeli aggression. For the first time, Erdoğan linked the Gaza war to the threat of an Israeli invasion of Anatolia (Türkiye). In particular, he stated: “Israel will not stop at Gaza. If this brutal terrorist state is not stopped, it will target Anatolia, sooner or later, with its dreams of the promised land.”

Based on these statements of the Turkish leader following the “alarming night” we can conclude that probably the intelligence services of Israel are behind the coup attempt and Erdoğan’s removal from power. Tel Aviv is highly allergic to Ankara’s regular harsh statements and actions. Whether Israel, after the military operation in Rafah and the suppression of Hamas, can attack Türkiye in the foreseeable future seems to belong to the category of “highly unlikely.” How can a 9.5-million Israel attack a 90-million Türkiye, and more importantly why, since there are U.S. and NATO bases there?

If Erdoğan intends to go to war against Israel on the side of Hamas, this move of the Turkish leader will apparently mean the death sentence for Türkiye’s history. Then indeed the West jointly with Israel will destroy Turkish statehood and divide the country into parts, given the well-known internal and external issues pertaining to the Greater Eastern Question.

In other words, this time the stereotypical accusations of the FETÖ organization attempting a coup d’état in Türkiye will have little credibility, since the stakes in the “Anatolian game” have been raised. Erdoğan carelessly “sowed the wind” and may “reap the storm” in the final stage of his career. The morning and evening of May 15, 2024 were strange in terms of an attempt to overthrow incumbent Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Türkiye and an assassination attempt on Prime Minister Robert Fico in Slovakia.


Alexander SVARANTS: Doctor of Political Sciences, Professor, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *