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Monday, August 8, 2022


The Sultan Strikes Back


Erdogan is convinced that American agencies had a role to play in the attempted coup d’état that failed to materialise, and he is all set to make the USA pay for its miscalculated move, says Saurabh Kumar Shahi
SAURABH KUMAR SHAHI | Issue Dated: November 30, -0001, New Delhi
Tags : Kemalist Cumhuriyet Halk Partisi | Fatehullah Gulen | AK Party | Aegean Sea Army |

If the modern saga of friend-turned-foe is ever written, the neo-Sultan of Ankara and his self-exiled friend from Pennsylvania will top all the chart buster.

Imagine this. A decade and a half ago, when the stronghold of the Kemalist deep-state was supreme on the Turkish society and polity, and any kind of Islamic-oriented party was not even allowed to be organised, maverick preacher from Konya, Fatehullah Gulen, started to make slow but steady dent in the then impregnable wall.

There are several institutions in Turkey who consider themselves to be the custodians of the secular-modernist legacy of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, but none so more than its armed forces and judiciary. Through the collusion of judiciary and the armed forces, this Mediterranean nation state has witnessed as many as three coup d’états and two post-modern coups. Every time a political party appeared to threaten, even notionally, the Kemalist structure, Turkish Armed Forces intervened to “protect” it. Judiciary on its part legally legitimised these coups apart from banning any political party that seemed to be threatening the might of Kemalist Cumhuriyet Halk Partisi popularly known as CHP.

But then something started to happen a decade or so ago. Suddenly, there were police officers who were not willing to carry out the draconian orders. Suddenly there were judges who were not so eager to bend laws to suit their ideology. There was a sudden spurt in number of investigators who were willing to investigate those high and mighty who belonged to the Kemalist structure. Fatehullah Gulen’s Hizmet movement had successfully infiltrated the system.

As this infiltration grew stronger and deeper, the political parties with Islamic bent started to flourish. Gulen was increasingly seen as a nuisance—but not yet a threat—and he decided to self-exile himself to the American city of Pennsylvania. When the Islamic-oriented AK Party or AKP swept to power, Hizmet aligned media, police and everyone else had a huge contribution in that. This was a match made in heaven. While Erdogan’s AKP government provided conducive environment for the Hizmet affiliated organisations to take roots and flourish, the Hizmet on the other hand continued with its social mobilization to help AKP.

But then, something changed. When there were enough Hizmet people inside the system, including the Armed Forces, Erdogan started to appear like a liability. While the movement continued to support Erdogan publicly, inside their offices in Galatasaray and Zetinbirnu, the patience started running thin. Erdogan in their eyes was a liability who had become too big for his shoes. In their minds, there were other leaders inside AKP who could replace him. A maverick like Erdogan was not easy to control. There were other issues as well. While the movement initially welcomed the aggression against Assad Government in Syria, thinking the regime will collapse in few weeks, as soon as the conflict became protracted, it started to sense a quicksand. Erdogan’s seducing of Kurds—who were always at odds with the Kemalists—also did not go down well with Hizmet supporters who were as Islamic-oriented as they were nationalists.

The moves were made clandestinely, as was the norm with the Hizmet people. Suddenly stories of Erdogan’s involvement in corruption, through his son Belal, started appearing through the Hizmet aligned media houses. A slew of arrest orders were passed by judges who were affiliated to Hizmet. Erdogan felt surrounded, but instead of talking it out with Gulen or his followers, he reacted strongly. The purge started immediately. Gulenists somehow overestimated their strength and dug heels. The next election saw Erdogan’s Party coming back with a bigger vote share. As soon as the Hizmet people thought they had lost the perception battle, the screw was tightened. Anonymous leaks of incriminating tapes, evidence of Turkish involvement with Islamic State and other damaging things started appearing.

“All this while, USA, which had always seen Fatehullah Gulen as a useful asset, kept quiet. He had been used in the past, but only indiscreetly. When Erdogan changed rules of engagement with Israel vis-à-vis Palestine, United States immediately activated Gulen to criticise the move. However, the relationship was kept discreet so as not to undermine the organisation. But that changed the night of the attempted, but aborted, coup last month,” says political scientist and expert Emre Akoz.

How much involvement United States had is anyone’s guess, however, sources close to AK Party confirm that the prevailing perception inside the Party, including President Erdogan, is that United States engineered the coup with the help of Gulenists, whom they consider CIA’s asset. This is not mere rhetoric. This is the understanding inside the party and the government.

There will be major changes inside the military. It has not gone beyond notice for anyone that a huge majority of Kemalists did not participate in the coup. In fact, those units and corps of army that are still majority Kemalists were the one that opposed the coup earlier.

The Kemalist civilians also came out and opposed the coup unequivocally. The coup was primarily averted because of the timely intervention by MIT (Turkish Intelligence), Turkish Police and those units of Turkish military which are not dominated by Gulenists and Islamists.

Sources maintain that 2nd Corps of the 1st Army, the entire Aegean Sea Army and the 7th Corps of the Second Army are only major military formations of Turkish Army which is still majority Kemalist. It is very clear now that none of these units were culprit of participating in the coup. 

It is therefore also understood that these Corps will not see major changes. There will be some changes because a few of Gulenists have been purged from other Corps of 1st Army, but not much.

Also, major changes will happen at the level of Major and Lieutenant Colonel. According to sources it is at these two levels that most of the subsequent purges will happen. Same goes for further lower ranks. The military schools will now be directly under Presidency rather than Prime Minister Office. They are also considering to completely overhaul the curriculum.

It is expected that Commander Umit Dundar from the 1st Army will be promoted and given an important command. However major purges are expected in the 3rd Corps of the 1st Army, which is also a NATO contingency force. This corps has been severely accused of the coup and it is through this corps that Erdogan is linking the cop to the US. There is a complete overhaul in waiting here and it is possible that none of the past senior officers whom NATO knew will remain.   

The same will happen to some units of 2nd Army. The 4th corps will see massive purges, but 7th Corps will remain more or less unmolested, barring some purges here and there. It is very interesting. Lt. Gen. Metin Temel will in all probability take over the 2nd Army. The commander of Special Forces, Maj. Gen. Zekai Aksakalli, will also see promotion as well as important duty. 

The MIT will be rewarded. So will be the Police force. Sources confirm that there’s a plan to full both these organisations with people close to AKP. While this will happen slowly, there is a plan for major expansion of these forces. Sources also confirm that plan is foot to provide more medium and heavy weapons to both these departments. This will include anti-aircraft guns too. This has been confirmed by several sources.

Plan is also afoot to start preparatory schools by AKP which will be modelled on the ones started by Gulenists. These schools will prepare students for examinations and tests required to clear for jobs in government sector. This will completely replace Gulenist schools. The plan was already being prepared before the coup but it will now be hastened.

Sources maintain that efforts regarding the implementation of constitutional amendments will be hastened. The republic will become more centralised and more power will be vested in the presidency. In fact, sources also confirm that slowly, the entire army will be brought directly into the hands of presidency. The same goes for intelligence MIT. It is expected that Erdogan will try and strike the bargain with MHP and other Nationalists to achieve the number required for amendment. MHP will like Erdogan to take further action against Kurds, which Erdogan will readily agree in return for their support in the Parliament. There are at least 2-3 independents too, according to sources who will side with the ruling dispensation.   

The last time such a referendum was done and Judiciary was purged, Gulenists filled up the post vacated by the Kemalist deep state. After the current purge, it will be filled up by the AKP affiliates.

Sources also confirm that CHP will also come on board in lieu of a deal to stop the widespread purge of Kemalists in other institutions. During the last few years of purges, a section of Kemalists in military, who are more nationalists, had stuck a deal with Erdogan that as long as they are allowed to take care of the Kurdish problem, Erdogan will have their support. These elements were a minority in 4th Corps and majority in 7th Corps of the 2nd Army. It was after this deal that 7th Corps was asked to intensify the operation against Kurds and they did so.

It is obvious now that although Kurds also opposed the coup, the new deal with CHP and MHP will mean that Army will be given more mandate to crush the Kurds. The 7th Corps will remain untouched and unmolested. The peace process will be scrapped. Additional units of Gendarmerie will also be dispatched once the purge is complete. The decision to send at least 5 battalions of Gendarmerie has been taken and it will be enforced soon.

Turkey seems to have irrefutable information regarding the linkage between US agencies and the Gulenists who participated in the coup. Also, Erdogan is raising the stake. He will keep targeting President Obama personally in days to come.  It is expected that the prosecutor will formally name US agencies in their report. This will be used as a hedging chip by Ankara to pursue US to handover Gulen. Erdogan is not a very rational man. It is possible that he will further the problem with US. As far as NATO is concerned, he is really irritated by the comments made by the head of states from NATO member nations. It is possible that the situation will deteriorate. He is already working up the crowd against US in his speeches and has asked his other aides to do the same. Sources claim that he is afraid that the US will go for another attempted coup and want the people to be sufficiently worked up to tackle such a scenario.

He will also use the limits prescribed by The Montreaux Convention vis-à-vis Black Sea in general and Bosporus Straits and the Dardanelles Straits in particular. Any short term goal of NATO to encircle Russia through Black Sea has been hampered. Either US plays the ball soon or Erdogan will ruin the party.

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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017