M. Hakan Yavuz and Rasim Koç
Dr. Yavuz is a professor at the University of Utah. Dr. Koç is an instructor at Hasan Kalyoncu University in Gaziantep. We would like to thank Mujeeb R. Khan and Kılıç Kanat for reading and commenting on the paper.
When the Justice and Development Party (AKP) came to power in 2002, it encountered major resistance from state institutions, especially the secularist military, due to its Islamist roots and anti-secular rhetoric. In an effort to counter the military and control state institutions, then-Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan appointed followers of Fethullah Gülen to key government positions. This administrative support from the Gülen movement enabled the AKP to govern the country and closely monitor the military with the help of the police force. In order to consolidate his reputation as a moderately liberal Muslim leader, Erdoğan endorsed Turkey's joining the European Union, believing that membership in the EU would help grow the economy and build a democratic society. Erdoğan's most effective strategy was to ally with the highly successful and well-informed Gülen movement, the most powerful Islamic faction at the time.1 The movement included well-trained, educated and competent bureaucrats who would control key state institutions while working with Erdoğan to transform them. Moreover, the movement helped AKP officials to establish international connections that functioned as "parallel embassies" for the government. In fact, pro-Gülen bureaucrats were appointed to prominent positions throughout the government, including the police, the judiciary, and the departments of education and health. Before the failed coup of July 15, it was well known that the Gülen movement had a significant presence in both the police and the judiciary, being "in the loop" regarding key security policies.2 However, the coup revealed the powerful presence of Gülenists in the military, known up to then as the most anti-Gülenist of all Turkey's institutions.
Until the corruption probes of 2013, the Gülenist presence in the police, the judiciary and other state institutions had managed to weaken the military through a series of real and fabricated court cases, including Ergenekon, Sledgehammer and the Izmir espionage affair. The government supported the pro-Gülenist judiciary and police during these trials, in which top military officers, journalists and politicians were accused of forming a clandestine organization to overthrow the civilian government through coups, assassinations and subversive political activities. More accurately, the Gülen movement targeted the military, which had not allowed any religious movements to infiltrate its system.3 The Turkish military has always regarded itself as the founder and guardian of the Kemalist secular nation-state, and it remained resolute,4 regularly purging officers seen as having ethnic, religious or socialist leanings. In response to these purges, the Gülenists cultivated a secretive, tightly controlled network within the ranks to recruit and promote followers while removing those hostile to the movement. The question remains, how did the Gülenists manage to infiltrate the most secular institution in the Republic?
THE TRANSFORMATION OF A MOVEMENT
A former ally of the AKP, the Gülen Movement — now officially referred to as the Fethullah Gülen Terror Organization (FETO) — evolved from a piety-focused educational entity into a violent, secretive religio-political organization bonded by both religious ideas and material interests.5 In essence, the movement has evolved into a secretive structure for the purpose of controlling governance and the spaces of power. It comprises circles of peaceful idealists as well as an inner circle willing to use illicit means to attain its aims. Following official hostility and persecution, it began a tradition of secrecy in order to take over the security establishment: the police force, the military and the intelligence service. The movement masked its activities to avoid police monitoring, practicing taqiyya: concealing one's intentions and goals in order to control key power positions. Although many Turks tend to explain this shift to secrecy and violence in terms of its "real or imagined" ties with the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), this conspiratorial narrative is an attempt to cover up the mistakes of the AKP government as they pertain to the transformation of the movement. The movement has not always been secretive in most of its public activities. Due to the oppression arising from the 1998 military coup, however, certain of its cells began attempting to control the police force. After taking over the police academy and the two-year police-training schools, with the help of the AKP government, the newly empowered movement turned its focus to the military.
To understand the movement's most recent evolution, we must look at Turkey's internal politics — characterized by corruption, nepotism and a vulgarized understanding of Islam. Since 2007, the Gülen movement has been the government's partner, controlling the ministries of interior, education and justice as well as the personnel departments of every ministry, including foreign affairs. The movement's success within the last decade is not the result of alleged cooperation with the CIA, but rather failing state institutions and widening sociological fault lines, a polarized party system, weak leadership in ministries and especially the manipulation of the police and judiciary. The radicalization of the Gülen movement's ideas and networks is the outcome of Turkey's weakened social, political and legal institutions and circumstances.
Added to this is the rigidity of its networks, its emphasis on secrecy and its total loyalty to the messages of Gülen, believed by some followers to have open channels to the Prophet Muhammad, along with moral education that stresses surrender and obedience. Moreover, the movement has been particularly successful in accumulating power and access to national resources through the help of the AKP government. The movement's morality is flexible enough to bend on every occasion in order to secure and fortify its control. Only recently have some scholars of the movement raised questions about its dark side.6 Now, after the coup, more are questioning the movement's lack of transparency.
In a speech to core followers broadcast on Turkish television in 1997, Gülen said,
You must move in the arteries of the system without anyone noticing your existence until you reach all the power centers, … until the conditions are ripe, they [the followers] must continue like this. If they do something prematurely, the world will crush our heads, and Muslims will suffer everywhere, like in the tragedies in Algeria, like in 1982 [in] Syria … like in the yearly disasters and tragedies in Egypt. The time is not yet right. You must wait for the time when you are complete and conditions are ripe, until we can shoulder the entire world and carry it. … You must wait until such time as you have gotten all the state power, until you have brought to your side all the power of the constitutional institutions in Turkey. … Until that time, any step taken would be too early — like breaking an egg without waiting the full forty days for it to hatch. It would be like killing the chick inside. The work to be done is [in] confronting the world. Now, I have expressed my feelings and thoughts to you all — in confidence, … trusting your loyalty and secrecy. I know that when you leave here — [just] as you discard your empty juice boxes, you must discard the thoughts and the feelings that I expressed here.7
After his video appearances, the Turkish court in 1998 charged Gülen with anti-secular and destructive political activities, and he fled to the United States, settling in the rural Pennsylvania town of Saylorsburg. Erdoğan's electoral victory in the 2002 elections cleared the way for Gülen's rehabilitation. With the help of the AKP, his followers took control of the judiciary, and he was acquitted in 2006, but he has never returned to Turkey. He continues to coordinate global political and educational activities from his Pennsylvania headquarters.
On February 28, 1997, the military-dominated National Security Council (NSC) issued a statement against Islamization policies and mobilized secular civil NGOs, the judiciary and big business to force Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan, leader of the pro-Islamic Welfare Party (WP), to resign. The NSC also proposed a set of measures to curtail all activities that sought to Islamize the state and society. By pointing out the shortcomings of the WP-led government, the Gülen movement tried to avoid becoming a target of the NSC. However, the court case against its leader pushed the Gülen movement further into the shadows as it became involved in intelligence gathering. When the AKP came to power in 2002, the Gülenists made themselves available to the new party, to help run the country and improve their public image as a moderate Muslim group. As mentioned, Gülenists were appointed to major government positions to stave off Kemalist coup attempts against the democratically elected government. The movement's secret networks launched a campaign against its opponents, who were accused of real or imagined coup plotting in the military, media and bureaucracy. It brought to court numerous cases, successfully using police intelligence and the judiciary with the help of the AKP government to criminalize its opponents.
The convoluted Ergenekon case involved hundreds of early-morning raids of private homes in which many scholars, journalists and generals were detained. Zekeriya Öz, the chief prosecutor in the Ergenekon case, and some key police officials who were Gülen sympathizers investigated the matter. It produced an indictment of nearly 6,000 pages but collapsed in the attempt to implicate key AKP ministers in the 2013 corruption investigations. Some of those arrested in the Ergenekon case died in jail without ever seeing the indicting documents. Many believed that the military would be immune to the Gülenists, but the July 2016 coup exposed an infiltration both wide and deep.
TWO "ALLIES" IN CONFLICT
Although the Gülen movement and the AKP had originally allied themselves against the Kemalist military-bureaucratic establishment, they harbored deep ideological differences. The Gülenists were more pro-Western, believed in elite education and leadership, and were skeptical about the power of the masses. While they have stressed the role of religio-political leadership (i.e., Gülen), AKP leaders have emphasized leadership derived from mass politics and democracy. Both groups have disagreed over Turkey's foreign policy in the Middle East. The Gülenists, appealing to the sympathies of American neoconservatives, sought to align themselves in Washington with uncritical pro-Israeli and anti-Iranian positions while championing free markets. Meanwhile, the AKP has been pro-Palestinian and in favor of reconciliation with Iran, stressing Turkey's historic ties with the Middle East while promoting mass-based Muslim democratic movements. Both the right-wing American conservatives and Saudi Wahhabis have sought to undermine these goals, as in their collusion over the anti-democratic coup in Egypt. These differences were put aside, however, in order to confront the Kemalist establishment and share the perks of government.
The symbiotic relations between the Gülen movement and the AKP deteriorated significantly as a result of ongoing conflicts over control of key government positions and the allocation of resources. The first conflict involved the wiretapping of Erdoğan's office and home in 2011. In fact, numerous policemen who worked for Erdoğan, including his former chief bodyguard, were convicted of placing electronic bugs in various locations inside the prime minister's office. This wiretapping scandal destroyed Erdoğan's faith in the Gülen movement and forced the AKP government to curtail it by going after its recruitment and financial sources. The government's decision to close private university preparatory classes in 2012, the main source of funds for the movement and a prime recruiting ground, set off open conflict. The clash between the movement and Prime Minister Erdoğan started with the decision of Istanbul prosecutor Sadrettin Sarıkaya to summon Hakan Fidan, director-general of the National Intelligence Organization (MIT), and Fidan's predecessor, Emre Taner, to answer questions relating to a probe of the Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK). It was revealed that the MIT recruited agents from within the KCK who had carried out acts of violence against Turkish officials and civilians. According to the AKP leadership, the prosecutor was a Gülen follower and sought to arrest Fidan, a close confidant of Erdoğan. Some AKP supporters claimed the target was actually Erdoğan, not Fidan.8 Erdoğan was convinced the Gülen movement was about to destroy him and his family.9 Consequently, the AKP government removed Sarıkaya from the probe, and the law was amended to shield MIT officials from political prosecution. In November 2013, Erdoğan moved to cripple the movement's financial and human resources by closing the Gülen-run "prep schools." By the end of 2013, tensions escalated into all-out war between the AKP government and the Gülen movement.
On December 17, 2013, the Istanbul Police Department's Financial and Anti-Corruption Unit detained 47 people, including the sons of three ministers: Barış Güler (the son of the minister of interior), Kaan Çağlayan (the son of the minister of economy) and Oğuz Bayraktar (the son of the minister of environment and urban development). Also detained were Mustafa Demir, the mayor of the Fatih district of Istanbul; high-ranking officials of the Housing Development Administration (TOKI); Süleyman Aslan, the general director of the state-owned Halk Bank; and Iranian businessman Rezza Zarraf. In addition, Egemen Bağış, the minister of European Union affairs, was suspected of bribery in association with Reza Zarrab and Babak Zanjani, both wealthy Iranian businessmen.
The entire operation was carried out on live television. News outlets associated with the Gülen movement were the first to dispatch information about where the police would carry out the next raid. Thus, the war between the Gülen movement and the AKP was publicly visible through police investigations, the court system and the media. Police officers and court officials connected with the Gülen movement played an important role in these anti-corruption probes. The movement's motive was not based in morality, fighting corruption or a desire to restore the rule of law. Rather, it was to undermine the democratically elected government of Erdoğan, which refused to share power fully with the movement.
The AKP-led government vehemently denied the corruption charges, and Erdoğan claimed the arrests were an attempt by the prosecutors, police and judges connected with the Gülen movement to overthrow the government via a "judicial coup." Leaks of taped conversations between Erdoğan and his son and between the ministers and their sons exacerbated the problem. Meanwhile, Erdoğan responded quickly, marshalling all of his resources against the accusers and targeting, in particular, the Gülen movement as the principal agent representing foreign forces. The probe was framed as a "global operation" orchestrated by the Gülenists and foreign allies to topple the government. In fact, Erdoğan's swift response helped the government gain control of the political narrative. However, the corruption charges and the vicious struggle between the AKP and the Gülen movement, previously committed allies, cast a negative shadow over Turkey's political life that will likely persist for a long time. The probes and the government's reactions to them have tarnished the once-clean image of Erdoğan and his party. Moreover, they have poisoned the political climate, triggering an all-out war between the Gülenists and the AKP government. The ripples in Turkey's political landscape are just beginning to be felt on a broader, deeper basis.
Before the July 15 coup, any criticism of the government had been labeled "Gülenist," while any criticism of the Gülen movement was labeled "Erdoğanist." However, a majority of the voters are not convinced by either the Gülen movement or the AKP; most appeared to welcome the clash between the two former allies — until the coup. After July 15, public opinion and the majority of the population allied with the AKP government against the Gülen movement.10
Erdoğan described the corruption investigations against his government and family as a "police and judicial coup" by Gülenists.11 The government reacted to this investigation by purging, suspending and retiring almost 70 percent of the police force and halting education programs in all police academies by expelling the students. The Gülenists have had very few options with which to fight the government. In order to end the investigation and counter the corruption charges, Erdoğan and the AKP have defined the Gülen movement as a "national security" issue, leveraging all means of the state to delegitimize the movement and undermine its presence in Turkey's political and governing institutions. The confrontation between the AKP and the Gülen movement has brought to light many secret dealings and symbiotic relationships, including the AKP's strategy to use the Gülen movement to undermine the military through a series of mock courts in which the integrity of legal and judicial principles has been disregarded.12 Indeed, it became clear that the Gülen movement's followers working in the police force, the judiciary, forensic laboratories and the media have played an important yet incriminating role in these mock courts. Following the 2013 corruption investigation, Erdoğan claimed he was "conned and deceived" by the Gülen movement and has asked forgiveness from the nation.
CAUSES OF THE COUP
Before examining the failure of the coup and its short- and long-term consequences, it is important to understand the three factors that helped to bring it about. The perpetrators believed this was their last chance to halt Erdoğan's attempt to cleanse the military of Gülen loyalists. Indeed, at the beginning of every August, the military high command meets with the president, the commander in chief, to determine who is to be promoted, retired or suspended. Two weeks before the coup, pro-government newspapers were filled with reports of possible purges and retirements of Gülen-loyalist army officials. "Realizing that their time was running out, the conspirators evidently decided to carry out a kamikaze-style coup."13
Although the plotters were only a small group, they managed to recruit more generals due to the demoralized army ranks. Since 2008, the Gülenist police and judiciary had fomented the disgraceful Ergenekon and Sledgehammer court cases to open slots for their own followers by incriminating hundreds of military officials, including İlker Basbuğ, the chief of the army's general staff. These politicized cases, in turn, weakened the army and sapped the military of its esprit de corps. From reading the testimonies of the plotters of the coup, it is clear that the Gülenists were behind it, along with a group of officers attempting to preserve their careers and personal interests. Moreover, some officials reluctantly involved themselves due to their dislike of Erdoğan and his anti-Kemalism. The government's shifting policies on the Kurdish issue had further deepened distrust within the military; some believed that Erdoğan does not care about national interests but only about protecting his position of power. The Gülenists exploited these pockets of discontent in the army to recruit more generals willing to stand against Erdoğan's policies. Moreover, the coup plotters misjudged the anti-Erdoğan public mood, which they had hoped to exploit. Before the coup, public opinion had been divided between the pro- and anti-Erdoğan camps. It was not surprising to see the coup plotters presenting themselves as "the Peace at Home Council" by playing directly to the pre-coup divisions in society.
THE COUP AGAINST ERDOĞAN
The coup unfolded on Friday, July 15, 2016, at nine p.m., when Gülenist military officers tried to seize bridges, television stations, airports and police headquarters. The plotters even used fighter jets to bomb the parliament and the headquarters of the Turkish intelligence service and special police forces. The main target of the conspirators was Erdoğan; they sent special-forces units to capture or kill the president, who was vacationing in Marmaris. Erdoğan had left the hotel 15 minutes before the units arrived and landed in Istanbul around three a.m., where he called his followers into the streets. During the confrontations, 240 people were killed and several thousand injured.
The coup failed for three reasons: the chief of staff of the military, along with the commanders of land, air and naval forces and the gendarmerie, refused to sign on, and the plotters had extremely limited support from the field units. A majority of the military remained loyal to Erdoğan, refusing to support the coup. General Umit Dündar, commander of the first army in Istanbul, called Erdoğan, advising him to come to Istanbul so that he could be appropriately safeguarded. Dündar also went on television the night of the coup, declaring it illegitimate and informing the public that the top commanders were being held hostage. All political parties backed the civilian government, immediately rallying around Erdoğan.
The coup organizers did not have an integrated plan for a transfer of power. They only managed to take control of one state television station; either they did not have sufficient manpower or they ignored the need to commandeer other broadcast outlets, including those privately operated. As a result, these media allowed Erdoğan to mobilize the masses against the coup. He successfully used a video call with private broadcasters to urge people to take action and identify the plotters as Gülenists, which further mobilized the secular opposition as well. (Gülen has denied responsibility for the coup but has acknowledged that his sympathizers might have been involved in it.) Citizens from all walks of life poured into the streets, determined to face down tanks and assist the authorities in arresting rogue soldiers. The public reaction to the failed coup provided a common ground for the partisan factions of the country to step forward and defend their democracy. Nearly all opposition parties, except the Kurdish nationalist party (HDP), rallied around Erdoğan to defend the civilian government. Those who first responded to his call for resistance were religious conservatives; imams joined the resistance by using loudspeakers at the mosques to call believers to defend democracy. The most common chant on the streets of Turkey was "God is Great."
Although Gülen denied personal responsibility, the cumulative evidence indicates that the coup was carried out by his core followers, who would have had difficultly coordinating it without his counsel. The fact that more than one-third of the military's general officers were involved suggests that the organizers spent a great deal of time and energy preparing, and that military conspirators had deliberately kept the plans secret for as long as possible.14 This emphasis on secrecy and the presence of hidden networks bonded by a strong ideological commitment points to the involvement of disciplined Gülenist adherents. The indifference toward national interests and the lack of transparency of the Gülen networks, along with their secretive behavior, have always been questioned by scholars and journalists who study the movement. When Hanefi Avcı, a police chief, wrote a book documenting the extent of Gülenist infiltration into the police force, he was jailed and discredited by the movement.15 After the coup, there were numerous confessions, including those of some self-identified Gülenists who stood next to the coup's military planners. For instance, Infantry Lt. Col. Levent Türkkan, aide to the chief of the General Staff Gen. Hulusi Akar, has testified that he was a member of the Gülenist movement and detailed the process by which he was recruited and supported by its networks within the military.16 Moreover, Adil Öksüz, assistant professor at Sakarya University and a leader of the movement, was found at the Akıncılar airbase 12 miles from Ankara, considered the headquarters of the coup. Many army commanders who were against the coup were brought to the Akıncılar airbase. Öksüz was arrested outside the base the day after the coup; he was released under judicial control but is still missing. He was among several civilians on that base during the coup attempt, including the owner of a Gülenist-run school. He is accused of being the "air-force imam" for the terror group, relaying orders from Gülen to the participating troops. Numerous videos show that at least several Gülenists in civilian clothes were among the coup soldiers who entered army headquarters at Akıncılar and at the headquarters in Ankara. Mehmet Akçara, a friend of Öksüz and the prime non-military suspect in the plot, was among the coup-supporting uniformed officers who took army commanders hostage on July 15. Evidence suggests that he was complicit with the Gülenists in the attempted takeover.17 The core group of generals who organized the coup were connected to senior members of the Gülen movement, some of whom were present at the coup headquarters at Akıncılar.
However, many Western observers still either dismiss or are reluctant to accept the premise that Gülen directed the coup. Some even claim the coup was a hoax or that it was staged by Erdoğan.18 No compelling evidence has yet been presented, but the allegations remain in the public dialogue. Some scholars and politicians even compared the coup to Hitler's Reichstag fire, in which a disaster became an excuse for the dictator to suspend the constitution and establish authoritarian rule. There are several reasons for skepticism in the West. First, those who do not know the inner workings of the movement may think the coup could only have been with Gülen's support. Many Western observers have a diehard anti-Erdoğan perspective, assuming the coup and Gülen's involvement were a pretext to curtail Turkish democracy and opposition. Finally, Islamophobia-cum-Turkophobia propagated by right-wing neoconservatives and Christian evangelical circles also plays a role in the Western perception of events in Turkey and the willingness to support anti-democratic coups in the Muslim world. For its part, the Turkish government's own past autocratic tendencies have also been a factor in the Western response to the coup.
CONSEQUENCES OF THE COUP
The failed coup has deeply affected Turkey's domestic and foreign policy, creating a new coalition of forces inside the country. The government, of course, has sought to purge disloyal elements; however, the scale of the purge has been vast, with tens of thousands of military officials dismissed, under investigation or jailed. The most powerful institution of the Turkish Republic has been undermined; half of its generals and admirals have been cashiered and are in jail. This will directly affect Turkey's ability to combat Kurdish separatists and ISIS terrorism. The country recently has been experiencing a security meltdown, and its military is going through a painful transformation under a civilian minister of defense whose experience is severely limited. More significant, there is little trust among the military, the police and the intelligence service to foster cooperation within or among them.
Erdoğan has emerged ever stronger; he is the nation's most consequential leader since Atatürk. According to The Economist, since the coup attempt, "the president's approval rating has jumped from 47 percent to a record 68 percent. A mass gathering addressed by Erdoğan earlier this month attracted over a million people, as well as the leaders of two of the three biggest opposition parties."19 Aware of his new power, Erdoğan has sought to restructure state institutions as he prefers. His main goal is to establish a presidential system by concentrating executive power in his hands and challenging institutional checks and balances. Many politicians and civil-society leaders have complained that "the president is trying to benefit from this disaster" to enhance his hold on power.
The intimidation, arrest and purges of the followers of the Gülen movement continue, more on the basis of identification with the movement than on any acts committed. Connections, affiliation or sympathy with the movement have been sufficient to force a person from a public-sector job. Erdoğan described the Gülen movement as a "cancer virus" on society, vowing to cleanse its adherents from the government and every aspect of civic life. At last count, more than 42,000 military personnel (including 147 generals and admirals), police and judicial authorities have either been detained or dismissed. More than 23,400 education-ministry employees have been suspended; the licenses of teachers, doctors and lawyers have been revoked. Even by the previous coup standards, this would constitute the most extensive purge in the history of the Turkish Republic.
Given the national trauma of the bloodiest coup attempt in the republic's history, along with the terrorist attacks of both ISIS and the PKK, the government's sense of being threatened and betrayed is especially acute and to a considerable extent justified. Unfortunately, an isolated and insecure President Erdoğan may prefer to surround himself with evet effendis, yes men, rather than a loyal opposition offering constructive criticism.
Several foreign-policy consequences have followed from the coup. One is the rise of anti-Western, specifically anti-American, attitudes. Many Turks have accused the United States of masterminding the coup. This stems from the American role in past Turkish coups, especially the recent quick U.S. acceptance of the atrocity-laden, anti-democratic coup in Egypt. The public believes that the United States, like past Western imperialists, does not support democracy and economic development in the Muslim world, but favors despotic clients in order to exploit the region and keep it fragmented. Moreover, the delayed U.S. reaction to the coup, not to mention the fact that the Gülen movement has long been based in Pennsylvania, further deepened the public perception of U.S. complicity. Finally, the fact that some American politicians and Israel-centric "Turkey experts" at AIPAC-affiliated "think tanks" like AEI, the Foundation for the Defence of Democracies, WINEP and even the staid Council on Foreign Relations expressed either support for the coup or disdain for the Turkish public and its democratically elected government, further consolidated anti-American sentiment in the country. The coverage in the biased American mainstream media also contributed to this alienation. For instance, as the coup events unfolded in Turkey, MSNBC cable news reporter Kyle Griffin tweeted: "Senior U.S. military source tells NBC News that Erdoğan, refused landing rights in Istanbul, is reported to be seeking asylum in Germany." This piece of disinformation was retweeted around the world, especially in Turkey. Many Turks believe that this disinformation was aimed at getting rid of Erdoğan and that American institutions and media were, if not behind the coup, tacitly hoping for its success. Some U.S. media outlets became cheerleaders for the coup. At Fox News, "analyst" Ralph Peters declared, "If the coup succeeds, Islamists lose and we win." Ben Shapiro, a widely syndicated columnist, described the overthrow of Erdoğan as "a boon to the world and the population." Michael Rubin, a particularly partisan neoconservative ideologue and self-declared "expert on Turkish affairs," wrote an article in Foreign Policy titled, "Erdoğan Has Nobody to Blame for the Coup but Himself."20 He also published an article in The New York Post headlined, "The Coup in Turkey Could Mean Hope," in which he sought to legitimize the coup attempt with erroneous information.
Even before the coup attempt, Turkish public opinion on the United States had already become extremely negative. Since the collapse of both Iraq and Syria, Washington's support for the Syrian branch of the PKK (officially recognized as a terrorist organization), in its effort to find proxies to combat ISIS, has gravely undermined its relationship with Turkey. Washington had assured Turkey that the Syrian PKK affiliate known as the Democratic Union Party (PYD) would not be allowed to move west of the Euphrates River. However, it has been clear that the United States helped the PYD occupy the town of Manjib and ethnically cleanse the Arab and Turkoman population from the broader area.
The fact that Secretary of State John Kerry's initial reaction to the coup was not to defend Turkish democracy but, as in the case of Egypt, call for "peace, continuity and stability" and dismiss a mountain of evidence that the Gülen movement was at the center of the plot also inflamed Turkish public opinion.21 The surge in anti-Western sentiment is now widespread. One poll found that 84 percent of Turks believe that the coup-plotters received help from abroad; more than 70 percent suspect America of having lent a hand. Erdoğan and his ministers have accused the West of double standards when it comes to defending democracy and human rights in the Muslim world, and warn of a serious deterioration in relations unless the United States extradites Fethullah Gülen.22 So far, the Obama administration has agreed to consider the request only if conclusive corroborating evidence of Gülen's direct involvement is provided. This demand may be difficult to meet since Gülen, aware of electronic surveillance, would give such instructions only face to face to his inner circle. It should also be noted that the United States for a long time had difficulty establishing Osama bin Laden's direct command responsibility for the 9/11 operation when it was pressuring the Taliban to extradite him.
Tensions between Turkey and the United States are likely to rise, given that the interests of the two countries do not overlap, especially as U.S. policy toward Turkey is generally an extension of its regional policy, long centered on safeguarding energy resources and thrones in the Persian Gulf. The United States has never developed a policy specifically dedicated to transforming the structural-systemic causes of war and authoritarianism in the broader region of which Turkey is poised to play a central role, given its historical and geopolitical weight.23
Instead, Turkey has been treated as a frontline state either against Communism (1950-91) or against Iran or Iraq (1991-present). Now it is seen primarily as a military base (İncirlik) in the war against ISIS. These regional conflicts have not presented a basis for common interests or values. Moreover, as noted above, so-called "Turkey experts" inside the Washington beltway tend to have an Israeli-centric ideological bias and remain largely ignorant of the evolving internal dynamics of Turkish state and society, not least because of their limited linguistic-cultural ability to carry out serious field work in the country.24
Turkey, for its part, as an emerging regional power, is no longer interested in serving as a U.S. client state. It is seeking to bring order and development to a region deliberately fragmented by Western post-Sykes-Picot imperialism.
TURKEY'S EASTERN OPTIONS
Washington's failure to seize the promise of the Arab Spring and move away from previous divide-and-conquer approaches to the region led directly to the rise of ISIS and a threat, as Ankara had warned, to Western democracies themselves through the rise of neo-fascist movements in the United States and the EU. For Turkey, this Western strategic failure has led to serious consideration of cooperation with Moscow and Beijing as counterweights to the West. The coup further expedited Russo-Turkish reconciliation following the November 2015 downing of a Russian SU-24. In addition to Russia, Turkey has looked for rapprochement and increased strategic and economic cooperation with Iran. If this new Russia-Turkey-Iran collaboration works effectively, these nations could reshape the strategic map of the Middle East without deferring to Washington. Russia has been the big winner in the aftermath of the coup, repositioning itself as an honest broker vis-à-vis Turkey. Many Turks believe the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) failed to support the democratic government in Turkey and has done little to assist meaningfully in the struggle against both PKK and ISIS terrorism.
A "Eurasianist" turn toward Russia is also problematic for Ankara, however. Turkey still remembers the Russian empire seizing Ottoman territories in the Balkans and the Caucasus, and even in Anatolia. Moscow was instrumental in the genocidal ethnic cleansing of the Ottoman-Muslim population of the Caucasus and the Balkans, and Turks have neither forgotten nor forgiven Moscow for its involvement in the recent genocidal onslaughts against Ottoman Muslim populations in Bosnia, Kosovo and Chechnya. As recently as the early 1990s, when the Soviet Union fell, the Russians were seen as Turkey's enemy. Relations between the two countries were also diametrically opposed during the Russian occupation of Crimea; Turkey supports the territorial integrity of Ukraine and does not recognize Crimea as a part of Russia. Turkey also supports Azerbaijan's territorial integrity, keeping its border closed to Armenia due to its occupation of 20 percent of Azerbaijani territory. The largest impediment continues to be Russia's unwavering support for the minority regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria.
The failed coup marks the end of military tutelage in Turkey, but this does not guarantee that civilian democracy will be consolidated. The Turkish state needs to prioritize societal reconciliation and act within the rule of law in order to unify the country. Turkey's geostrategic location at the crossroads of East and West will always give it great importance, as seen in the current competition over energy routes; no competing centers of global power can afford to alienate it. The United States needs Turkey's cooperation in the fight against the Islamic State and in broader concerns about regional stability, while the EU needs Turkey to help stem the flow of Syrian and Iraqi refugees and to provide balance against a revanchist Russia. As the seventeenth-largest economy in the world and a preeminent and reemerging Muslim state, Turkey retains the capacity to significantly shape global balances of power. One ignores it — or treats it with disdain — at one's own peril.
1 Joshua Hendrik, Gülen: The Ambiguous Politics of Market Islam in Turkey and the World (New York University Press, 2013); M. Hakan Yavuz, Toward an Islamic Enlightenment: The Gülen Movement (Oxford University Press, 2013); and David Tittensor, The House of Service: The Gülen Movement and Islam's Third Way (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014).
2 According to recent police reports, the Gülen movement recruited police officials who had long-term relationships with the movement into police intelligence. In an interview, a former police intelligence chief said, "We were all removed from our jobs for various reasons to open space for the Gülenist police force." In fact, police intelligence would eventually be used against the military. For details of the Gülen movement's recruitment and promotion policies within the police force, see a detailed examination by the head of the intelligence department of the national police, Sabri Uzun, in Baykal Kaseti, Dink Cinayeti ve Diğer Komplolar (Istanbul: Kırmızı Kedi Yayınevi, 2015); regarding details about the confrontation between the Istanbul police chief and Erdoğan, see the interview with Fuat Yılmazer, former chief of Istanbul police intelligence, Zaman, March 19, 2014.
3 The last major purge against officials who were followers of the Gülen movement came during the February 28, 1993, soft coup. They were accused of being oriented towards Islamism. The AKP government either reversed the discharge of those officials or paid their retirement dues so that they could retire as military officials. "Askerden atılan personel geri döndü," Milliyet, January 23, 2013.
4 Mehmet Arisan, "Eternal Sunshine of an Obscure Mind: World War I, the Imperial Collapse, and Trauma Manegement in the New Turkish Republic," in War and Collapse: World War I and the Ottoman State, eds. M. Hakan Yavuz and Feroz Ahmad (University of Utah, 2016), 1217-1239.
5 Yavuz (one of the authors) has co-edited a book on the Gülen movement with John Esposito and is the author of Turkish Islam and the Secular State: The Gülen Movement (Syracuse University Press, 2003) and Toward an Islamic Enlightenment: The Gülen Movement (Oxford University Press, 2013). In these works, he has examined the visible part of the movement, while remaining skeptical that there is another side. However, Yavuz had a sympathetic yet critical view of the movement until the July 2016 coup. This coup and the authors' interviews in Ankara with the coup plotters and the reading of their testimonies have permitted a firsthand look at the Gülen movement's role in the coup.
6 Caroline Tee, The Gülen Movement in Turkey: The Politics of Islam and Modernity (London: I.B. Tauris, 2016), 162-182.
7 Zeyno Baran, Torn Country: Turkey between Secularism and Islamism (Hoover Institution Press Publication, 2010), 43.
8 For more on the AKP's interpretation of the events, see Taha Özhan, "17 Aralık Süreci: Post-Kemalist Turkiye ve Gülen Grubu," Türkiye Günlüğü, no. 117 (January 2014): 53-66; and Hatem Ete, "Gülen'in Dünü, Bugünü, Yarını," Türkiye Günlüğü, no. 117 (January 2014):72-84.
9 The conflict between Hakan Fidan and the Gülen movement has not been fully studied. Moreover, there are too many questions about the reasons the Gülen movement disliked Fidan as well as Fidan's determination to end the hegemonic position of the Gülen movement in key state institutions. The Gülen movement has accused Fidan of being pro-Iranian, an Islamist, and a Kurd who does not care about the security of the state and society. In recent months, the Gülen movement has argued that the failure of the Turkish state in foreign policy as much as on the Kurdish issue has been a deliberate act of the MIT, which is controlled by Fidan.
10 Levent Gültekin, "Ak Parti-Cemaat Kavgası Kimin ve Neyin Kavgası," Türkiye Günlüğü, no. 117 (January 2014): 68-71.
11 In response, the AKP-dominated parliamentary commission voted against the trial of the four ministers. According to the Turkish constitution, the ministers and high government officials must go to trial in the Higher Council, a constitutional court reserved for the state's most serious crimes and irregularities. The parliamentary committee that carried out the first investigation voted 9-5 to end the investigations of the most widespread corruption scandal in the Turkish Republic in modern times. The AKP-dominated parliament also voted along party lines. The four ministers were acquitted and did not face further prosecution.
12 Utku Cakırözer, "Tek sorumlu cemaat değil," Cumhuriyet, June 26, 2014. These military officials, who had spent several years in prison, wrote about their ordeals and how the rule of law was violated. See Can Erenoğlu, Aldattılar Siz Duymadınız Sesimizi, Balyoz Davasında Yalanlar ve Gerçekler (Istanbul: Kaynak Yayınları, 2015); and Mustafa Önsel, Silivri'de Firavun Töreni (Istanbul: Kaynak Yayınları, 2014).
13 Behlul Özkan, "Turkey's Kamikaze Coup Attempt: Why Now and What Next?" Huffington Post, July 18, 2016, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/behlal-azkan/turkey-coup_b_11033324.html; and Michael Reynolds, "Damaging Democracy: The U.S., Fethullah Gülen, and Turkey's Upheval," http://www.fpri.org/article/2016/09/damaging-democracy-u-s-fethullah-gu… (retrieved October 23, 2016).
14 For more detailed evidence of the coup, see Joe Parkinson and Adam Entous, "Turkey's Powerful Spy Network Failed to See Coup Coming," Wall Street Journal, July 29, 2016.
15 Hanefi Avcı, Haliç'te Yaşayan Simonlar: Dün Devlet Bugün Cemaat (Istanbul: Angora Yayinevi, 2010).
16 See "Top Turkish Commander's Aide Admits Allegiance to Gülenists," Hürriyet Daily News, July 20, 2016.
17Hürriyet, August 25, 2016.
18 When Yavuz was in Ankara on July 25, a taxi driver stated, "This entire episode is staged by Erdoğan to use it as a pretext to suppress his enemies and establish his presidential system." However, the majority of Turks believe that the coup was aimed at Erdoğan and that he succeeded rightfully in repelling the attack.
19The Economist, August 20, 2016.
20 Michael Rubin, "Erdogan Has Nobody to Blame for the Coup but Himself," Foreign Policy, July 15, 2016, http://foreignpolicy.com/2016/07/15/erdogan-has-nobody-to-blame-for-the….
21 Edward Luttwak, "Why Turkey's Coup ďEtat Failed," Foreign Policy, July 16, 2016, http://foreignpolicy.com/2016/07/16/why-turkeys-coup-detat-failed-Erdoğ….
22 "Turkish Anger at the West: Duplicity Coup," The Economist, August 20, 2016, http://www.economist.com/news/europe/21705286-turks-are-convinced-europ….
23 See M. Hakan Yavuz and Mujeeb R. Khan, "Turkey Asserts Its Role in the Region" New York Times, February 11, 2015.
24 A telling example of such limited and Israel-centric "expertise" on Turkey is the article by Steven A. Cook and Michael J. Koplow, "Turkey Is No Longer a Reliable Ally," Wall Street Journal, August 10, 2016. For more on the Koplow article, see https://www.foreignaffairs.com/authors/michael-j-koplow (retrieved September 3, 2016).