Original Content by Jacob Atkins
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan: the self-proclaimed “conservative democrat” with a penchant for liberal economic policy became the twelfth president of Turkey in 2014 after previously serving as the Prime Minister since 2002. In light of Turkey’s legacy of authoritarian regimes, though, Erdogan’s administration has recently been accosted by world leaders for following a similar trajectory. Although some Turkish nationals praise Erdogan for bringing economic prosperity to the Eurasian nation, others denounce the manner in which he silences dissident opinion among citizenry - made apparent during the 2013 Gezi Park protests where protesters were pummeled by national security forces for demonstrating against a large-scale development project. Some believe that right-wing Islamist nationalism is tainting Turkey’s progress as a secular democracy, therefore jeopardizing the country’s good standing in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).
NATO: this intergovernmental military alliance comprised of 28 countries was ratified in 1949 and originally aimed to subdue the perceived threat of communism during the Korean, Vietnam and Cold Wars. While Turkey joined NATO in 1952, some analysts aren’t impressed with its leaders in regards to promoting democracy or respecting human rights. Taking into account that Turkey possesses the second-largest military force in NATO after the United States, however, the country has always served as an integral “buffer” between the “Western World” versus Russia and the Middle East. Ultimately Turkey’s military prowess has evolved into a contentious issue within NATO because of the current Syrian conflict, the ongoing Kurdish insurgency and the recent (failed) attempt to overthrow the incumbent Justice and Development Party (AKP: Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi). After Erdogan came out of the ordeal unscathed, the president raised some eyebrows after conspiring that United States and NATO forces were responsible for orchestrating the insurgency in collaboration with the ousted Turkish cleric, Fethullah Gülen.
Fethullah Gülen: pro-Erdogan supporters are convinced that this Turkish cleric colluded with the CIA and NATO to initiate Turkey’s most recent venture with military takeovers. Interestingly enough, though, Gülen has exiled himself from Turkey (self-imposed) due to fear of persecution and currently residing in rural Pennsylvania. As a theological figure, he is at the forefront of the Gülen Movement (known as Hizmet in Turkish, meaning “the service”) that encourages interfaith dialogue and civil engagement activities, such as humanitarian aid. Primarily they function within academic settings, with over 1,000 Gülen-inspired schools in more than 160 countries. Despite the seemingly positive intentions, Erdogan designated the group as a terrorist organization with intentions to overturn Turkey’s democracy. Moreover, Gulen became an alleged enemy of the state after he was blamed for initiating a political corruption scandal in 2012 where members of the AKP were accused of illegally trading gas for gold to Iran.
In terms of transcontinental geopolitics, Turkey is certainly at the crossroads of dynamic political tension involving an assortment of political actors, all with their own polarized objectives. Keeping this in mind, the ongoing Syrian conflict has complicated matters greatly, especially in terms of Turkey arming Syrian rebels to use against Al-Assad. According to Reuters, though, the beneficiaries of these Turkish weapons just so happened to be recruits for the Islamic State, and therefore used in the caliphate’s operations. Regardless of Turkey’s denial to such accusations, it nonetheless endangered numerous NATO members.
Further political conundrums have transpired due to the United States aiding ethnic Kurds and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK: Partiya Karkerên Kurdistanê) in defending themselves against ISIS. The fact of the matter is, though, that Turkey also deems the PKK as an internal terrorist network. The left-wing militant group operating out of Turkey and Iraq (where many stateless Kurds also reside) have been engaged in an armed conflict with Turkey since 1984. Resulting from this, the Kurds who make up between 18 and 25 % of Turkey’s population, are deprived of basic political and human rights, which certainly isn’t something that NATO condones. Even more complications arose after Turkey blamed the Kurds for the March 13, 2016 car bombing in Istanbul that resulted in Turkey conducting air raids against them in northern Iraq. Considering that U.S. and Canada are backing Kurds to fight against ISIS, there is no doubt that a conflict of interest is at play here, and perhaps Turkey’s military interests aren’t exactly compatible with Western tactics.
The failed military coup showcases an accumulation of problems that are destabilizing Turkey’s present-day political landscape, all of which concern (and aggravate) NATO. Since the unsuccessful coup that left more than 350 dead, Erdogan has facilitated an extensive “purge” amongst perceived Gülen loyalists who were supposedly part of the “smear campaign” against his administration. So far numerous educators, journalists and civil servants have lost their jobs, not to mention currently being tried as war criminals. Along those lines, more than 1,700 military officials have been dishonorably discharged for assisting in the operations. In retaliation against the military, pro-Erdogan forces surrounded NATO’s air base in Incirlik on July 30 after hearing rumors of another coup in-the-making. While personnel say they were performing a “security check,” the event occurred days after a group of Erdogan supporters marched to the airbase chanting anti-American and anti-Israeli slogans over a loudspeaker. Such incidents are compelling fellow NATO-members to believe that Turkey is seemingly embracing more of an “anti-western” stance nowadays.
With Turkey’s amplified sense of self-determination, critics are also concerned that conflict between Turkey and Russia is imminent, especially after the Turkish military shot down a Russian jet in November of 2015. Under Article V of the NATO agreement, member-nations would be collectively expected to defend Turkey in case fighting ensued. Now that NATO’s relationship with Turkey is at an all-time low, one may wonder the extent NATO would go to prevent a military dispute from transpiring between Turkey and Russia. While effective diplomacy seems to be the most logical resolution, Turkey could very well lose its NATO-membership if their aggressiveness continues.