An article published in March on the American Enterprise Institute’s website titled Could there be a coup in Turkey?, considered the possibility of a military coup transpiring in Turkey. Its author, David Rubin, explains Turkey’s predicament:
The situation in Turkey is bad and getting worse. It’s not just the deterioration in security amidst a wave of terrorism. There is a broad sense, election results notwithstanding, that President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is out-of-control. He is imprisoning opponents, seizing newspapers left and right, and building palaces at the rate of a mad sultan or aspiring caliph. His son Bilal reportedly fled Italy on a forged Saudi diplomatic passport as the Italian police closed in on him in an alleged money laundering scandal. His outbursts are raising eyebrows both in Turkey and abroad. Even members of his ruling party whisper about his increasing paranoia which, according to some Turkish officials, has gotten so bad that he seeks to install anti-aircraft missiles at his palace to prevent airborne men-in-black from targeting him in a snatch-and-grab operation.
President Erdoğan’s apprehensions were not without reason. Just after four months on 15–16 July 2016, an unsuccessful coup d’état is staged against the Turkish President and his government by a faction within the Turkish Armed Forces. The coup was launched when Erdogan, the country’s leader was on ‘vacation’ and away from both Ankara and Istanbul. A snatch-and-grab operation by airborne men in helicopter was launched at the Grand Yazici Club Turban hotel at the Turkish Riviera port town of Marmaris on the Mediterranean coast where the Turkish President was supposed to be staying. Around 25 soldiers in helicopters descended on a hotel there on ropes, shooting, in an apparent attempt to seize him.
According to British tourist Richard Holland, 47, who was woken up by the early morning blitz: “We didn’t have a clue the President was nearby. We looked on the balcony and the helicopter was on the waterfront. There were Black Hawks with no lights. Twenty minutes later gunfire started outside our room, semi-automatics and small arms. Then a grenade went off in the room underneath us. We didn’t want to stick our heads out of the door. The force made pictures fall of the wall in our room. The hotel staff told us rocket-propelled grenades got fired at the helicopter we saw but missed it.”
This proved to be a strategic blunder as the President had been removed some 20 minutes before the coup plotters attacked to a different hotel a kilometre away at Casa De Maris. But as he flew from Marmaris on a business jet, two F-16 fighter jets locked their radar targeting system on the president’s plane, according to an account first reported by Reuters and later confirmed to the Guardian. The jets didn’t fire after the presidential plane’s pilot told the fighter jet pilots over the radio that it was a Turkish Airlines flight, a senior counter-terrorism official told the Guardian.
Realizing their mistake the attackers flew across the sea straight to Greece where they illegally landed in Alexandroupolis, Northern Greece, requesting a political asylum. They were brought before a prosecutor and accused of crossing into Greece illegally. Prime Minister of Greece Alexis Tsipras said on Saturday evening in a telephone conversation with the Turkey’s President that 8 insurgents fled to Greece will be extradited. The eight, who had initially removed the insignia from their uniforms but have since been identified as two colonels, four captains and two sergeants.
Meanwhile in Ankara and Istanbul around 3:30 pm EST, reports began streaming in on social media of major military operations. General Mehmet Dişli, the brother of a long-serving MP with the ruling AK party, allegedly gave the order that set the coup in motion, sending army special forces officers to arrest the military’s senior command. In Ankara, tanks rolled through city streets, planes flew overhead, and military vehicles surrounded army HQ. Istanbul’s two main bridges, the Bosphorus and the Fatih Sultan Mehmet, were blocked off by soldiers. Around 4 pm, Prime Minister Binali Yildirim went on TV to announce that it is a coup attempt. “A group in the military got engaged in a revolt,” Yildirim said. At around 4:30 pm, a statement sourced to the “Turkish Armed Forces” claimed that the military had seized control of the government. The statement suggested the motivation was protecting Turkish democracy. Around 5:30, Erdogan delivered an address to the nation via Skype. It blamed the coup on a “minority member of the military” and a “parallel structure.” Erdogan encouraged Turks to take to the streets in protest, specifically occupying airports and public squares. The leader of Turkey’s main opposition party also condemned the coup. In Ankara, the Turkish Parliament and the Presidential Palace were bombed. The national intelligence building and the police headquarters were attacked from the air. Around 7:45 pm, Turkey’s national intelligence spokesperson announced that the coup had been “repelled.” Late in the evening, Erdogan returned to Istanbul. At 8 pm EST, officials say the police chief of the city of Bursa arrested the local army commander, who possessed a 6-page list that included the names of designated judges and military officials who were to be appointed to various positions in the bureaucracy in the aftermath of the coup. Other pro-coup soldiers possessed lists of secure telephone lines to receive orders.
In Ankara on the day of the coup, the interior minister had been invited, along with other top officials, to a high-level security meeting in military headquarters that was supposed to take place after 5pm, a ploy that turned out to be intended as a pretext to detain him. He did not go because he was too busy,
The top counter-terrorism official responsible for Turkey’s campaign against ISIS/Daesh did go to a “meeting” at the presidential palace in Ankara. He was later found with his hands tied behind his back, shot in the neck, according to a senior official.
Rift between U.S. & Turkey
In the aftermath of the coup new rifts have begun to emerge between Turkey and U.S. as Turkish leaders holds Washington partially responsible for the coup. On Saturday, Turkey shut down all U.S. and NATO operations at the Incirlik Air Base, home to at least 1,500 American personnel and a vital hub in the U.S.-led air war against ISIS/Daesh. It also cut electricity to the base, leaving U.S. forces using what the Defense Department described as “internal power sources.” Turkish officials justified the closure by saying that coup plotters were operating out of the Incirlik base and had used airborne tankers at the facility to refuel F-16 fighter jets piloted by coup supporters.
President Erdoğan blamed soldiers linked to the Gülen Movement, which the government has designated as a terrorist organisation under the name FETÖ, for orchestrating the coup attempt. Among the plotters were factions from three separate Turkish armies: the 1st Army, the 2nd Army and the 3rd Army. The plot also extended to a number of Turkish Air Force units. Many of the coup leaders reportedly have ties to the movement, including former air force chief Akin Ozturk, Col. Muharrem Kose, and Ozturk’s son-in-law, Halkan Karakus, a helicopter pilot. Turkish government officials on Saturday said Turkey would view the U.S. as an enemy if the Obama administration doesn’t hand over Fethullah Gulen. “Any country that stands behind him is no friend of Turkey, is engaged in a serious war with Turkey,” Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said from his office in Ankara. In March of 2014 Erdoğan said during an interview on private broadcaster ATV: “I told Obama that the person who is responsible for the unrest in Turkey lives in your country, in Pennsylvania. I told him ‘I expect what’s necessary to be done.’ You have to take the necessary stance if someone threatens my country’s security. He put Gulen on Turkey’s most-wanted and terrorist watch list in October.
Fethullah Gulen on the other hand tried to turn the accusation against his political rival by suggesting that Mr Erdogan’s ruling AKP party itself had staged the uprising.
Who is Fethullah Gülen?
In March 1999, Fethullah Gülen the Turkish preacher paid a surprise visit to the USA. A short time later, a Turkish television channel broadcast a speech by Gülen that had obviously been secretly filmed. In the recording, Gülen is heard calling on his supporters to “work patiently and to creep silently into the institutions in order to seize power in the state”.
The public prosecutor in Istanbul promptly demanded a ten-year sentence for Gülen for having “founded an organisation that sought to destroy the secular apparatus of state and establish a theocratic state”. He remains in exile in Pennsylvania – “for health reasons” by his own account.
In less than a decade from his base in Pennsylvania, U.S., Gulen has established over 100 publicly funded charter schools in 25 states. What makes this eyebrow raising phenomenon a very disturbing case is the fact that despite official documents and publicly available data Fethullah Gulen’s rapidly and secretively expanding Charter School Empire in the US has gone quite unnoticed and unacknowledged.
In 2008, the Dutch government investigated the movement’s activities in the Netherlands. Following the investigation, the Dutch government, presumably concluding that the Gülen schools did indeed promote “anti-integrative behavior,” reduced their public funding. Interestingly, Dutch intelligence organization AIVD managed to overturn this decision and restore it’s funding in 2010.
The Russian government have been watching the Gulen movement closely for over 10 years and has banned all Gülen schools and it’s activities in Russia. In Russian Chechnya and Dagestan regions, Gulen-backed schools were once banned by Putin. Over 20 Turkish followers of Gulen were deported from Russia in 2002-2004.
In 1999 Uzbekistan closed all Gulen’s Madrasas and shortly afterward arrested eight journalists who were graduates of Gulen schools, and found them guilty of setting up an illegal religious group and of involvement in an extremist organization. In Turkmenistan, government authorities have placed Gulen’s schools under close scrutiny and have ordered them to scrap their version of history of religion from curriculums. Even Pakistan is now watching it closely with Erdoğan calling on Pakistan’s provincial Punjab administration to shut down its schools linked to the Fethullah Gülen movement.
Now after the coup the government of Somalia has ordered “the total closure of all activities” by an organization in the Horn of Africa country connected to Turkish preacher Fethullah Gulen, according to a statement from Prime Minister Omar Abdirashid Sharmarke’s office. All staff affiliated with the group have seven days to leave Somalia, effective from July 17.
Abraham R. Wagner Senior Fellow, Center for Advanced Studies on Terrorism explains this Gülen Movement phenomenon in the Huffington Post:
With the goal of undermining constitutional order in Turkey, Gülen has spent vast sums of his fortune, estimated at $25 billion to infiltrate government, media, schools, business, law enforcement and the judiciary system with his disciples. Simultaneously, he targeted officials who have failed to follow his strict religious line, and has inserted itself into Turkey’s education system by running hundreds of schools and 17 universities with the intent of radicalizing children.
Gülen’s ambitions, however, go beyond his homeland. He now controls a network of schools in over 100 countries, including the largest network of charter schools in the U.S. Resulting from accusations of tax payer fraud and financial malfeasance, the Gülen movement and schools are under investigation by 22 states and the FBI.
A Congressional investigation is underway looking into Gülen’s purported illegal campaign contributions. That investigation expanded into Gülen Movement illegally-funded lavish trips to Turkey for Members of Congress and their staffs through his network of non-profits. Investigators are looking into millions of dollars to congressional and presidential candidates, including huge donations to the Clinton Foundation. It appears that Gülen’s manipulation and corruption rule book has crossed the Atlantic and is now undermining the US political system.
Even sections of the American government have long believed that Gülen “is a ‘radical Islamist’ whose moderate message cloaks a more sinister and radical agenda.” In a coordinated message with the Embassy of Ankara, Wikileaks reported in its cable:
In a farewell luncheon for Consul General, Istanbul Chief Rabbi Ishak Haleva said that those who approached him indicated that Gulen will soon seek to adjust his immigration status in the United States, and needs the testimonial to address the belief in parts of the U.S. government that he is a “radical Islamist” whose moderate message cloaks a more sinister and radical agenda. This concern apparently stems in part from FBI documents that Gulen supporters received through a recent FOIA request in the U.S..
Washington has spent years trying to cultivate Turkey as an ally sitting at the crossroads of Europe and the Middle East. Now the two countries are at a crossroad, however the fallout had begun long ago.
The fallout came to light in 2013 when then Prime Minister Erdogan claimed he discovered a CIA-Gulen plot against himself and Turkey which he publically labeled as an “international conspiracy” vowing revenge on Gulen and threatening Francis Ricciardone, the US ambassador to Turkey, with expulsion.
At the heart of the scandal was an alleged “gas for gold” scheme with Iran involving Aslan, who had US$4.5 million in cash stored in shoeboxes in his home, and Zarrab, who was involved in about US$9.6 billion of gold trading in 2012. Both men were arrested. The scheme worked after officials of the Turkish government found a loophole in U.S. sanctions against Iran that allowed them to get Iranian oil and gas. The Turks exported some US$13 billion of gold to Iran directly, or through the UAE, between March 2012 and July 2013. In return, the Turks received Iranian natural gas and oil. The transaction was carried out through Turkish state-owned bank, Halkbank. In January 2013, the Obama administration decided to close this loophole but instead of immediately charging Halkbank, the U.S. government allowed its gold trading activities to continue until July 2013, because Turkey was an important U.S. ally regarding U.S. policy in the Syrian Civil War, and the U.S. had been working on a nuclear deal with Iran.
Several newspapers reported that a new investigation was expected on 26 December, possibly involving then-Prime Minister (now President of Turkey) Erdoğan’s sons, Bilal Erdoğan and Burak. At midnight on 7 January 2014, a government decree was published removing 350 police officers from their positions, including the chiefs of the units dealing with financial crimes, smuggling and organised crime. Fethullah Gülen described the decree as a purge of civil servants, while then-Prime Minister Erdoğan (now President of Turkey) described the corruption investigation as a “judicial coup” by those jealous of his success, namely the former’s secretive Gülen movement, backed by foreigners.
It is this fallout that may have pushed Turkey directly into the welcoming hands of Russia.
The Russian Tilt
Russia and Turkey have been at loggerheads since Nov. 24, 2015, when a Turkish fighter jet downed a Russian warplane on grounds of an airspace violation on its border with Syria. In June however, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan apologized for the air incident, in a letter to Russian President Vladimir Putin. By doing so Ankara fulfilled Moscow’s condition for restoring the long-term partnership between the two countries. The letter also said a legal case was launched against a Turkish citizen suspected of involvement in the death of the downed plane’s pilot, which was another precondition. According to recent reports the two pilots who shot down the Russian SU-24 have been arrested. It is this Russian tilt that is the cause for a major concern for NATO allies.
Fiona Hill, Director at Center on the United States and Europe explains this concern in her article at Brooking Institution:
Putin sees Turkey as a valuable asset in dealing with two of his main adversaries in the Ukraine standoff, NATO and the EU. In the case of NATO, Turkey’s value is clear. Turkey is a full member of NATO. Putin will have a “friend” inside the enemy camp. The EU connection is different. Despite years of waiting in the wings, Turkey has not been accepted into the EU, and it has grown more and more frustrated at its lack of progress. Turkey is already a headache for the EU. The country’s move towards Russia is not likely to make things better. If that happens, Putin—who is a master of tapping into others’ discontent and desires for alternatives—will be delighted.
According to the acting Serbian foreign minister, the coup attempt in Turkey was masterminded by forces that were seeking to halt the restoration of good relations between Turkey and Russia.
“I am sure that the coup [in Turkey] has a lot of influences from the outside…. It is now clear that the Russian plane was taken down by the pilot who belonged to the same group as those behind the coup, and now that Turkey renewed its ties with Russia, it clearly did not suit someone,” Ivica Dacic said as quoted by b92 broadcaster.
Strategic importance of Turkey – The Gateway to India
Istanbul or Constantinople or Constantine Naples is regarded as the “Gateway to India”. It is the strategic land connection between Europe and Asia.
It is said whoever controls Istanbul would be the King of the World. Napoleon had a life-long dream to kick the British out of India and thereby conquer it. The invasion route charted out by Napoleon was through Egypt than overland via Turkey and Afghanistan into the North West Frontier Province of British India. On May 19, 1798 an armada carrying French troops sailed secretly from the ports of Toulon and Marseilles. As soon as Napoleon takes over Egypt in the Battle of the Pyramids fought on July 21, 1798, British intelligence gets wind of his entire plan and armadas are dispatched from the Bay of Bengal cutting of Napoleon’s supply lines, getting him stranded and successfully blocking him from entering Turkey.
After Napoleon’s unsuccessful campaign, Tsar Alexander proposes a similar plan for the invasion of India – a greatly improvised version of the plan proposed by his father Paul some 6 years ago to Napoleon. This Franco-Russian alliance takes place amidst great secrecy in a pavilion set up on a raft in the middle of the Neman River in what is known as the Treaties of Tilsit. As per the plan France was to have the West and Russia was to have the East including India. But there was a sudden fallout when Alexander demanded Constantinople, the meeting point of East and West. Napoleon is reported to have retorted, “Never! For that would make you Emperor of the World”.
Unfortunately the importance of these events are never talked about or at best downplayed in Indian mainstream media and by historians as well as the fact that the events taking place in Turkey today has far reaching consequences for India. After the shooting down of a Russian aircraft by Turkish F-16 fighter jets on Nov. 24 raised the specter of a full-fledged Cold War, in an unprecedented move Russia had offered Indian companies a chance to replace Turkey in the Russian market.
In September 2011, NATO invited India to be a partner in its ballistic missile defence system. V. K. Saraswat, the architect of Indian Ballistic Missile Defence Program, subsequently told the press, “We are analysing the report. It is under consideration.” At the same time plans are afloat to get India on par with NATO allies as well.
India seems increasingly is caught in this Great Game of imperial powers. Since more than the last decade, under UPA and NDA administrations, Indian foreign policy and domestic economic policy is veering dangerously closer to US-British-Israeli economic interests, viewed by other geo-political players as an encroachment. The direct impact of which was seen in the form of 26/11 Mumbai attacks of 2008 – a sequel to the Spanish Train Bombings of 2004 and the resulting assassinations of numerous officers, investigators, activists, lawyers, traders etc.
The area of intelligence, counter-intelligence and the protection of national economic resources is not a game for all. India is just waking up to it whereas the west and other geo-political players are veterans. It is a game played by the rules of these veteran players and we cannot define them, but have to understand and play by them.
We have to analyze and re-orient our security agencies from this perspective, and our intelligence agencies need to incorporate this new angle if they really want to retain their edge in credibility of defending the nation and their motto to serve and protect people.
Shelley Kasli is the editor of GreatGameIndia – India’s only quarterly magazine on Geopolitics & International Relations. For comments and feedback you can reach him directly at firstname.lastname@example.org