Turkey instability might cause ripple effect

Source:Global Times Published: 2016/7/17 23:28:00

Gunshots were heard in Turkey and its neighbor Armenia over the weekend. On Friday night a faction of the Turkish army staged an attempted coup. They seized a TV station and declared a "peace committee" to take over the country, but their attempt was put down due to strong opposition from the Turkish people when it was close to victory. On Sunday, an armed group stormed the police headquarters in Armenia's capital, Yerevan,  taking hostages and calling for the release of "political prisoners." But the Armenian government denied it was a coup.

Turkey is a member of NATO. It's the most secularized Islamic country in the Middle East. Four military coups erupted in Turkey from 1960 to 1997 and all succeeded, but the fifth and latest attempt is the only one to have been quashed.

Armenia is a former republic of the Soviet Union and it still maintains a close relationship with Russia. A small state in Transcaucasia, the attention given to the country is largely due to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict between it and Azerbaijan.

Turkey is the focal point of West Asia now. The government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan has arrested over 3,000 military personnel, including the commander of the Third Army. Many high-ranking military officials reportedly are fleeing Ankara. The Turkish government also has removed more than 2,700 judges from duty. In some sense, a wide purge is unfolding.

Islamic countries in the Middle East often have an authoritarian figure, be they a king, a publicly elected political leader, or a religious leader. Since joining NATO, Turkey has not seen a political strongman like founding father Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.  The Turkish army, susceptible to the influence of NATO, is regarded as the main force for Turkey to consolidate its secularization. Previous coups had disrupted growth of conservative power.

Given the tendency of his domestic policies, Erdogan is considered a religious conservative. Diplomatically, Turkey has been in a swirl of controversy as it is accused of having an ambiguous relationship with the Islamic State. That Turkey shot down a Russian warplane last November further worsened the country's diplomatic environment. All these constitute the causes for a military coup. 

However, Ankara blamed religious leader Fethullah Gulen, who lives in exile in the US, for instigating the coup. After the coup was quelled, on the one hand the US Secretary of State denied that the US played a part in the attempted coup, calling such claims "harmful" to bilateral relations. On the other, he urged Turkey to show restraint in its investigation into the plot.

It's widely believed that the failed coup would allow Erdogan to further consolidate his power and he might seize the opportunity to establish a presidential system.

The West does not want to see Turkey moving toward an authoritarian regime. It's considered a retrogressive step, even if the political strongman is friendly to the West. Turkey is confronted with multiple challenges both at home and abroad; if it fails to stabilize the situation, it will cause a ripple effect on a large scale.

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