by Robert Olson
The consequences of the attempted coup in Turkey on July 15 are already clear in terms of the government’s war against various Kurdish factions such as the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), the Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK), the Kurdish Syrian Nationalist Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its armed force, the People’s Protection Units (YPG), and the Iranian Kurdish nationalist Party for Free Life (PJAK). Turkey also has to be concerned with Kurdish nationalist movements in the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) in Iraq in spite of good current relations between Ankara and Erbil.
Out of the some 9,000 military, gendarmerie, police, and judiciary personnel so far arrested or detained, it will be interesting to see how many have seen duty in the southeast and eastern provinces of the country. This is also true for the reported 30 provincial governors and 47 district governments where war between the PKK/KCK and the military and national police has been raging for the past year. I’d guess that most of those rounded up had been involved in the war in that part of the country.
One of the major reasons for the coup was the unhappiness of elements of the Turkish Armed Forces (TAF)—whether they sympathized with the Fethullah Gulen Hizmet Movement or not— who were opposed to the directions that the war against the PKK/KCK has taken during recent years. There was also considerable dissatisfaction around the decision by the Justice and Development Party (AKP) to support the Islamic State (IS) after the March 2011 outbreak of civil war in Syria.
Supporting the Islamic State
The state, AKP, and Turkey’s Intelligence Agency (MIT) decided sometime in late 2011 that it would support IS in its attempt to topple the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria. Turkey and the AKP have continued this policy right up to the present. However, Ankara limited its support to IS after joining the U.S.-led “War against ISIL” in June 2015 when it begin to support other jihadist groups such as Jabhat al-Nusra and Arar al-Sham.
During the period from late 2011 to the present, the Turkish MIT may have sent up to 200 truckloads of weapons to various jihadist groups, allegations for which two prominent Turkish journalists, Can Dundar and Erdem Gul, received a sentence of five years in jail. It is unclear to what degree the armed forces were notified of this aid, but it must have been upset about the operation as well as its lack of involvement in its planning. Most members of TAF seemed to have been willing to rationalize the contradiction of the government’s overt opposition to terrorism and its covert supply of terrorists as long as the TAF commanders, AKP, and MIT were raging war against the PKK/KCK. The TAF as an institution was ardently opposed to the PKK/KCK and its demand for political autonomy.
The PKK/KCK challenge to the state increased after the Syrian civil war began in 2012 when the PYD declared autonomy in three cantons—Jezira, Kohane, Afin—and created a federated state in 2016. The unease of TAF members undoubtedly increased in 2015 when the PYD/YPG joined the U.S.-led “War against ISIL.” Some TAF members must have thought that the ill-considered policies of the AKP and MIT to support IS and jihadist groups in Syria and Iraq were, instead, strengthening Kurdish nationalist movements in both Turkey, Syria, and Iran.
The disaster of such polices became clear in 2015 when IS began to mount terrorist attacks within Turkey. Also, since 2011 more Kurds from Turkey were joining the ranks of IS. The usual number cited is around 5,000, mainly from the provinces of the southeast. But there could have been substantially more who fought intermittently with jihadist forces within Turkey and Syria.
Elements of the TAF must have been concerned that these Kurdish-IS fighters would return to Turkey to fight against the state. Although religious Kurds from Turkey generally do not like the PKK/KCK because they are not sufficiently religious and too Marxist for their taste, the PKK/KCK has modified its positions so that they are no longer as hostile to religion. However, just because a Kurd fights for IS does mean that s/he identifies with Kurdish nationalism.
In the wake of the coup, the state, AKP, and MIT will no doubt continue its war against the PKK/KCK, the People’s Democratic Party (HDP), PYD/YPG, and PJAK. Indeed, there could be increased resistance even from non-militant Kurdish nationalist groups. Meanwhile, the state and AKP refer to the Fethullah Gulen Hizmet Movement as the “Fetullah Gulen Terrorist Organization,” placing Hizmet into the same category as the PKK/KCK, PYD/YPG, and PJAK. Erdogan clearly wants to eliminate these major sources of opposition to his rule.
Erdogan had already started to purge the judiciary over the past two years, and the coup will accelerate the process. The day after the coup, 2,745 administrative judges and prosecutors were suspended from office by the order of Supreme Council of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK). The HSYK was been in the hands of Erdogan sympathizers for some time.
HYSK’s support of Erdogan means that the courts will likely dismiss the immunity of parliamentary representatives of the Peoples’ Democratic Party and other parties, which means that most accused perpetrators will likely serve prison time. If Erdogan gets his way, and this now seems assured, the death penalty will be imposed despite the feckless opposition of the EU and U.S.
Indeed, the U.S. and EU will probably lend their full support to Turkey’s move to an even stronger authoritarian regime. Turkey is a pivotal partner of the EU, NATO, and now again, of Israel. When it comes to the reconfiguration of Syria, Russia, the US, Iran, and the EU will all play secondary roles. Turkey, on the other hand, will be the essential player. For the key powers to satisfy their national security imperatives in the Middle East and ensure the stability of the global economy, they will support a strong Turkish state, even if it is authoritarian, dictatorial, or fascist.
Photo: Turkish troops during the recent coup