by Kadir Akyuz
Turkey, once a model for Muslim-majority countries, has been going through an authoritarian backslide since the last several years. This trend peaked following the failed coup attempt on July 15, 2016. The post-coup developments in Turkey constitute serious national security threats for the country itself but on the other hand, for a host of reasons the very same factors equally jeopardize the security of the West.
The strategic relationship between Turkey and the West including the US has long been reinforced with the NATO membership. It is no doubt that NATO played a vital role for the security of the European countries and Turkey during the cold war period and this role still seems to continue. Nevertheless, this strategic role which is in the national interest of both Turkey and the Western countries is at stake due to the capricious and unrealistic policies of the Turkey’s President Erdogan.
The substantial shift in Turkey’s foreign policies came after the controversial failed coup last year. There are too many inconsistent points that were made by the Turkish government about the failed coup but to put it brief; Turkish Chief of the General Staff was taken hostage by the junta soldiers, hours after he was informed of the coup on the way. The General Director of the Turkish National Intelligence Service (MIT) failed to inform Erdogan of such a deadly attempt even though he learned of it beforehand, yet Erdogan called this deadly attempt ‘a gift from God’ and these three are still working closely together today.
The aftermath of the failed coup is even more tragic: The idiosyncratic dynamics of the failed coup led to the purge of almost all higher-ranking pro-NATO generals within the Turkish army and gave a great opportunity to the pro-Russian Generals to assume the top positions. An equally important name along with Erdogan for this to happen was Dogu Perincek, the leader of the left-wing ultra nationalist Vatan Party. Perincek has strong Marxist-Leninist orientations and is a keen supporter of Soviet Block. He has influential followers within the Turkish Army’s ranks. Erdogan’s partnership with Perincek began several years ago against their common enemy Gulen movement which they accuse of being pro-American. Recently Perincek made a statement about the failed coup and claimed that they informed pro-Erdogan Yeni Safak paper of the coup attempt one day before it. Moreover it turned out that Alexander Dugin, nicknamed “Putin’s Rasputin”, along with a Russian delegation, met with Perincek in Ankara as well as the Turkish Public Order and Security Undersecretary Muhammet Dervisoglu just the day before the failed coup. All of these indeed provide informative insight into the controversial background of the failed coup but more importantly they also contain some important hints about the dominant role of Perincek and his supporters in the post-coup developments in Turkey.
Concerns about the purge of the pro-NATO generals were clearly expressed by NATO itself. NATO’s top military officer stated that 150 high-ranking Turkish military officers have been either recalled or retired from the alliance since the failed coup attempt in Turkey, seriously affecting the world’s largest military alliance. Anti-NATO remarks pronounced by the AKP PMs were also noteworthy. AKP PM Samil Tayyar blamed NATO for spreading and supporting terrorism across the region and clearly articulated the conflict between Erdogan’s political agenda and NATO’s vision for the future. Given the history of Turkey and the longstanding strategic partnership with the West and NATO, the current situation obviously constitutes a great security risk not only for Turkey but also the Western countries.
The Turks, European countries and the United States do not have the luxury to ignore or play down this crucial security risk. Given the magnitude of the risk arising from Turkey’s move away from the West and NATO and its substantial rapprochement with Russia, both the Turkish people and the West should ask the same critical question ‘What can happen if Erdogan takes side with Russia in case of a potential military conflict between Russia and the West?’ It may be a greater disaster for Turkey than it is for the West but this will not make it less of a security risk for the West. Erdogan may not seem to care about this great security risk because of his own political agenda but it is obvious that his flip-flop diplomacy between the West and Russia will put the lives of millions at risk in both Turkey and Europe.
*Kadir Akyuz is Assistant Professor of Criminal Justice at the University of Bridgeport, College of Public and International Affairs. He earned his Ph.D. in Criminal Justice from Sam Houston State University. He served for the Turkish National Police 18 years as well as the UN peacekeeping missions in Kosovo and Liberia in 2003 and 2006. His research interests focus on terrorism, political violence and policing. Prof. Akyuz teaches criminal justice courses such as Homeland Security and Terrorism, Law Enforcement and Society, and Transnational Crime among others at the University of Bridgeport.