By now it seems that that the audacious coup attempt in Turkey by a section of the country's military forces has failed to unseat President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. If that is the case — the situation is extremely fluid still — it is probably for the better because toppling of the country's elected leader may dangerously destabilise a western ally in a region already reeling from war, terrorism and mass migration.
What we do know at the moment is that 754 members of the armed forces linked to the coup have been arrested which includes 29 colonels and five generals who were removed from their posts.
Images of discarded gear, soldiers walked among tanks with their hands held up, surrendering to government forces on Istanbul's Bosporus Bridge are dominating the newscasts. CNN-Turk is broadcasting footage of people — who were urged by President Erdogan on Friday night to "come out on the streets and resist the coup — climbing atop the tanks.
At least 60 people have been killed in the attempted coup, most of them civilians but the list also includes 16 supporters of the coup and many police officers who opposed it, says state-run Andalou Agency.
Reports of explosions and gunfire are still coming in, however, and CNN, quoting ministry sources, is saying that at least one air force base in the country is still in control of the insurgents. But signs that the coup attempt is faltering lies in the fact that President Erdogan, who according to Reuters was holidaying on the southwest coast when the coup was launched, flew into Istanbul early on Saturday where he was greeted by hundreds of supporters at Ataturk Airport.
Erdogan has been in power since 2003 and was reelected as President with a huge mandate in 2014. In a televised speech from the airport he claimed to be still in charge, that the uprising was an "act of treason" and those responsible would pay a heavy price.
He blamed the coup attempt on Fethullah Gulen, a Pennsylvania-based Islamic cleric. One-time ally Gulen has recently been at loggerheads with Erdogan, accusing him of corruption as part of an apparent power struggle.
Meanwhile, in an emailed statement from the Turkish military General Staff's media office address, the pro-coup faction said it was determinedly still fighting and called on people to stay indoors for their own safety.
The fact that western powers hastened to back Erdogan indicates that lessons have been learnt from US President George W Bush's historic 'War on Terror' for which the world is still paying a heavy price in blood.
From the White House, US President Barack Obama called on all parties to "support the democratically elected government of Turkey" on Friday, whose cooperation is crucial to defeating the Islamic State terror network.
His secretary of state John Kerry said he had spoken to Turkey's foreign minister "and emphasized the US absolute support for Turkey’s democratically-elected, civilian government and democratic institutions." He was echoed by Hillary Clinton, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel's spokesman said on Saturday that democracy must be respected and Berlin is supporting the elected government in Ankara.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has called for "calm, restraint & full respect for Turkey's democratic institutions and constitution" while Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif wrote in a tweet that "Stability, democracy & safety of Turkish people are paramount. Unity & prudence are imperative."
There is a good reason why the world leaders are rallying behind Erdogan though he has alarmed many with his staunchly Islamist and increasingly authoritarian views.
He has antagonized the military which traditionally has seen itself as a guardian of the country’s secular heritage, embodied by Kemal Atatürk, the founder of the modern republic. The president’s rhetoric has polarised the country and inflamed ethnic and sectarian tensions.
Moreover, the Turkey President's involvement in the Syrian crisis – opposing the president, Bashar al-Assad, and backing Islamist groups fighting to overthrow him – has created the opposite of the old aspiration of “zero problems” with the neighbours.
Under Erdogan, who amended the Constitution to give himself more powers as the President since getting reelected, Turkey has become richer and more confident. But the President has been frequently accused of intolerance and stifling dissent. Turkish prosecutors have opened nearly 2,000 cases against people for insulting Erdogan since he became President.
However, Obama's swift decision to back Erdogan against the coup plotters comes despite his concern at the Islamist leader's low threshold for dissent.
Because an overthrowing of Erdogan, who has ruled Turkey since 2003, would have marked one of the biggest shifts in the Middle East in years. Even a failed coup attempt could still destabilize the pivotal country.
As Barry Rubin says in Turkey in World Politics, "since the establishment of the Turkish republic by Ataturk in 1923, the country has followed a relatively consistent course" of non-meddling in foreign affairs. It has preferred to remain generally "inward-looking" and "avoid foreign entanglements wherever possible" because geographical location places Turkey in the middle of an extremely volatile region where every area has its own set of political systems and issues. "Consequently," says the author, "Turkey has one of the most complex foreign policy situations in the world."
A report in Politico magazine points out: "even as Turkey has faced growing domestic turmoil, with a number of lethal terrorist attacks and political tensions bubbling below the surface, it had remained a relatively stable country in a volatile Middle East, and recently restored normal relations with Israel with US encouragement."
Not only will the turmoil in Turkey affect the air war against the Islamic State, which the Obama administration claims has greatly reduced the group’s reach and effectiveness, as the world has seen since the ill-fated 'War on Terror', once instability is introduced it creates a power vacuum for terrorist forces to exploit. It becomes a quagmire from which there is no easy escape.
In a recent interview, Obama admitted that “Islamic State is a direct outgrowth of Al Qaeda in Iraq that grew out of our invasion, which is an example of unintended consequences.” This admission is evidence of the general causality between Western military interventionism in the Muslim world, and the rise of reactionary armed militia groups.
Let's hope the Turkey coup fails and Erdogan remains in control because the world cannot afford another Iraq.
First Published On : Jul 16, 2016 13:21 IST