Michael M. Gunter
Dr. Gunter is a professor of political science at Tennessee Technological University and the author of 14 books on Kurdish and Armenian issues.
Recep Tayyip Erdoğan — Turkey's current president (elected 2014) and former prime minister (2003-14) — in his first decade in power, won three parliamentary elections by ever-larger shares of the popular vote because he had helped to build Turkey into a burgeoning economic powerhouse and a moderate Islamic democracy. In the past half-decade, however, despite winning Turkey's first popular election for president in August 2014 and presiding over another great parliamentary victory in November 2015, Erdoğan's increasing authoritarianism has helped precipitate the disastrous decline of the nation as well as his own inevitable fall from power. What happened, and what lessons can be gleaned? Can Turkey's decline be reversed and its progress revived?
Erdoğan created the Adalet ve Kalkinma Partisi (AKP), or Justice and Development Party (JDP), as a moderate, social-conservative party with Islamic roots in August 2001 after the two previous Islamic parties — the Virtue Party (Fazilet Partisi) and the Welfare Party (Refah Partisi) — had been banned, along with their longtime leader and Erdoğan's former mentor, Necmettin Erbakan (1926-2011).1 Erdoğan had already earned an admirable reputation for honesty and efficiency as the mayor of Istanbul during the mid-1990s. Having apparently learned a lesson from his earlier political experiences as an Islamist politician, Erdoğan specifically declared that the AKP did not have a religious agenda and would work within the secular-democratic framework. Barely a year later, in the parliamentary elections of November 2, 2002, the AKP swept to victory. After solving a brief problem concerning an earlier conviction for having publicly read lines from an Islamic poem,2 Erdoğan became prime minister of Turkey in March 2003, a position held until becoming the first popularly elected president in August 2014.
When he first assumed power, many critics warned against Erdoğan's supposed secret Islamic agenda. This did not materialize, though the economy kept expanding, to the advantage of many who had usually been left behind. Erdoğan seemed to have proven his critics wrong; indeed many began to compare the AKP with Europe's democratically-oriented and economically progressive Christian Democrats. In addition, Erdoğan began to tame and then politically defang the military, Turkey's ultimate political arbitrator.3
One of Erdoğan's goals in reforming Turkey's political and economic situation was to win membership in the European Union (EU), with which accession negotiations began in October 2005. The effort eventually foundered,4 but as a reward for his worthy accomplishments, the international community too sought to reward the Turkish leader. The West held him up as a moderate Muslim alternative to the Islamic extremism plaguing much of the Middle East.5 And to his credit, Erdoğan achieved real successes: a record 7.5 percent average annual growth rate, foreign investments that jumped from $1.2 to a record $20 billion and a decline in inflation. In addition, AKP social-welfare networks played an important role in reducing the negative consequences of a shift to a market economy. Turkey's chronically inflation-ridden currency was replaced by a new lira that held its value. As the economy took off and incomes sharply rose, so did Erdoğan's popularity. He was duly rewarded with even more votes in the national elections of 2007 and 2011.6
Erdoğan also sought a solution to the Kurdish problem by emphasizing Islamic unity. As a result of skillful positioning in the ideological marketplace and portraying itself as the party of opposition to the "system" while being "sensitive" to the Kurdish problem, Erdoğan's AKP was able to secure an amount of support in the ethnic Kurdish regions.7 In August 2005, he also famously stated publicly in Diyarbakir that Turkey had a "Kurdish problem" and needed more "democracy" to solve it.8 After his AKP won an even greater electoral victory in July 2007 against strong military opposition and elected his then-friend and colleague Abdullah Gul as Turkey's new president, however, Erdoğan and his party were soon put on the defensive by a nearly successful attempt in the Constitutional Court to ban them as a threat to Turkey's secular order.
Having barely survived this threat to his political existence, Erdoğan and the AKP seemed to lose their reformist zeal and became a party of the status quo. Addressing the Kurdish issue during the campaign for the local elections of March 2009, Erdoğan called on his Kurdish opponents in the pro-Kurdish Democratic Society Party (DTP) to love Turkey or leave it.9 This remark by the security-oriented prime minister of 2009 provided a sharp contrast to the one who in 2005 had called for more democracy to solve the Kurdish problem.
Nevertheless, Erdoğan engaged in negotiations with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) from 2008 to 2011 at meetings in Oslo (the Kurdish Opening).10 In addition, on June 30, 2012, Erdoğan met with the iconic Kurdish political spokeswoman and member of parliament (MP) Leyla Zana, who declared that she had confidence in his ability to solve the Kurdish problem.11 However, this meeting caused a great deal of bitter debate in the Kurdish community. Furthermore, Erdoğan advanced few concrete proposals, and the Kurdish Opening eventually closed.
Nevertheless, Erdoğan approved further negotiations, which finally led to a ceasefire with the PKK in March 2013. These too eventually failed; neither side was willing to compromise enough.12 Following the failure of the AKP — for the first time since it came to power in November 2002 — to retain its majority in the parliamentary elections of June 7, 2015, heavy fighting began again. Many believe Erdoğan purposely goaded the PKK into it so that he could unite the Turkish nationalist vote and regain his majority. He did just that in the snap parliamentary elections of November 1, 2015.
Based on his performance to date, one might conclude that Erdoğan does not grasp the depth of the Kurdish issue because he has little sense of ethnic or civic nationalism. His dominant identity is Muslim, and he thinks that Islamic identity will magically solve the problem.13 Although he has been somewhat more concerned with the Kurds than most other Turkish leaders, Erdoğan has failed to develop any coherent policy. Indeed, since his ceasefire with the PKK broke down in July 2015, Erdoğan has seemingly turned his back on any approach other than military force.
In recent years, Erdoğan has also attempted to convert Turkey's government into a presidential system that would grant him significant new powers.14 Indeed, he became Turkey's first popularly elected president in August 2014, forcing former ally and one-time president Abdullah Gul out of politics and hand-picking his new prime minister, Ahmet Davutoglu — whom he then fired in May 2016 to appoint the even more compliant Binali Yildirim. Erdoğan has also jailed many perceived political opponents: journalists, academics, military officers, and Kurdish leaders, among others. Media freedom in Turkey, as ranked by Freedom House,15 Reporters Without Borders16 and Bianet,17 has deteriorated at an alarming rate as Erdoğan aggressively used the penal code, criminal defamation legislation, and the country's antiterrorism law to punish critical reporting. Journalists have faced growing violence, harassment and intimidation. Can Dundar and Erdem Gul — editor-in-chief and Ankara bureau chief, respectively, of the leading opposition newspaper, Cumhuriyet — are two examples of this egregious situation. Erdoğan personally filed a criminal complaint against them for leaking state secrets, and both were sentenced to five-year prison terms in May 2016 for reporting on how Erdoğan's government had tried to ship arms to jihadists in Syria. Zaman, a well-respected (but Gulenist–run) newspaper and Turkey's largest, was placed under state control, another instance, among many, of Erdoğan's effort to curb public criticism of his actions.
The Ergenekon trials of supposed ultranationalists and retired military officers charged with planning violent campaigns to destabilize Erdoğan's AKP and seize power began on July 28, 2008, and continued until February 2011.18 The original 2,455-page indictment (ultimately reaching 8,000 pages) described an elaborate plot ultimately connecting 531 military officers, mafiosi, ultranationalists, lawyers and academic figures who supposedly attempted an illegal intervention against the Erdoğan government. Critics, however, accused Erdoğan — in league with his then-Gulenist allies, who had infiltrated the police and judiciary — of simply trying to take revenge on their military and Kemalist opponents with all these charges.
On August 5, 2013, Istanbul's High Criminal Court sentenced 275 of the accused, including the former chief of the General Staff, General Ilker Basbug, to life or long prison terms. However, on April 21, 2016, the High Court of Appeals overturned the convictions because of procedural flaws and the case's lack of merit. Although a new trial remained possible, many felt that dismissal of the case indicated that the original charges were based on little more than conspiracy theories promoting Erdoğan's and increasingly the Gulenists' agenda.19
It has proven difficult for Erdoğan to amend the Constitution to his satisfaction,20 so he has used de facto executive power over the political system to achieve some of his aims. To symbolize his vision of a strong president, he built a huge (1,000 rooms) Pure White Palace (Ak Saray) so large that aides move around the grounds by means of shuttle vehicles. Given that this new structure was built on supposedly protected land, Erdoğan's opponents have referred to it as the Kac-Ak Saray, or illegal white palace, in reference to Erdoğan as a would-be sultan. In 2013, Erdoğan turned on his erstwhile Islamist allies, the Gulenists, after they accused him of corruption. The wide-scale Gezi Park riots in June 2013 against his perceived authoritarianism created more opposition to Erdoğan's rule.
On the night of July 15, 2016, a failed coup occurred in Turkey; its aftermath has led to drastically changed conditions likely to make the political situation, including the Kurdish problem, much worse. At least 260 people were killed and more than 2,000 were injured, according to government reports. Erdoğan himself, however, declared to his supporters that the failed coup was a "gift from God."21 The failed coup gave him an excuse to further his own authoritarian ambitions, while purging his few remaining opponents.
Amnesty International (AI) reported that the Turkish government had fired or suspended at least 50,000 people from various institutions, including judges, teachers, soldiers, police and journalists.22 The government was labeling "terrorists" anyone it did not like or agree with. AI also reported it had credible evidence that post-coup detainees, including generals, were being beaten, tortured and raped/sodomized either digitally or by gun barrels. Turkish police were keeping detainees in stress positions for up to two days at a time, beating them and denying them food, water and medical treatment. The detainees were being held arbitrarily, denied access to lawyers and family, and not properly informed of the charges against them. AI termed these reports "extremely alarming, especially given the scale of detentions." In the vast majority of cases, lawyers added that no evidence establishing reasonable suspicion of criminal behavior was presented against their clients.
The Turkish government also declared a sweeping three-month state of emergency, giving it the power to rule by decree and bypass the duly elected parliament. Under one decree, suspects could be detained for as long as 30 days without charge, and the government could listen in on all their conversations with attorneys. As already mentioned, opponents of the government, even peaceful ones, were being accused of "terrorism." To make room for the thousands of post-coup detainees, Erdoğan released from prison thousands of supposedly nonviolent criminals not connected to the attempted coup.
This new state of emergency was added to the government-enforced curfews that had allowed its forces to roam freely against the civilian Kurdish population since the summer of 2015, when the Turkish-PKK ceasefire broke down and heavy fighting resumed. Kurdish leaders in Turkey tried to dissociate themselves from the attempted coup — many of the military leaders now under arrest had been involved in the government's war against the PKK. Erdoğan, however, still needed the PKK as an enemy to unite Turkey's nationalist vote behind him. After all, the pro-Kurdish Halklarin Demokratik Partisi (HDP, People's Democratic Party) had cost him an absolute majority in the parliamentary elections of June 7, 2015. Thus, even though HDP co-chair Selahattin Demirtas had immediately denounced the coup, Erdoğan chose not to thank him or invite him to the presidential palace, unlike the leaders of the Republican People's Party (CHP) and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), the other main parties in parliament that had condemned the coup. This snub was clearly intended to isolate the peaceful pro-Kurdish party.
Many Kurds in Turkey feared that the HDP's exclusion from Erdoğan's post-coup rallies and other peaceful events would further push the Kurds toward greater extremism. They believed this was Erdoğan's intention in order to secure Turkish-nationalist support. His earlier attempt to criminalize the 1,128 Turkish and Kurdish academics who signed a petition in January 2016 asking the government to end its renewed violence in the southeast,23 and his successful campaign to strip HDP co-leader Selahattin Demirtas and other HDP MPs of their parliamentary immunity so they could be tried on trumped up charges of treason, had already served to marginalize the Kurds. Thus, if conditions had become so bad for many ethnic Turks — military officers, judges, lawyers, journalists and teachers, among others — what could hated and feared minorities such as the Kurds expect? As close friends of the Turkish Kurds concluded: "Kurds across the country are now threatened with suspension of their civil rights and freedoms by the widespread crackdown that Erdoğan has launched in the wake of the attempted coup."24
At the end of May 2016, a subsequent report stated that Turkey's continuing war against the PKK had cost about $400 billion over the past three decades, adding that since the new fighting had begun in July 2015, "About 5,000 rebels have been killed in the southeast and in airstrikes in northern Iraq…, while 438 security personnel, including 296 soldiers, have died, according to the state-run Anadolu news service."25 Although state censorship prevented complete coverage of the ongoing fighting, another report claimed that "Turkey deployed 20,000 soldiers and police officers to Mardin and Hakkari Provinces in March 2016 as part of a new wave of operations to expel the PKK from several district capitals."26
Erdoğan's hand-picked former prime minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, once touted the policies of "zero problems with neighbors" and strategic depth. These have morphed into nothing but problems with neighbors and a strategic quagmire. The 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq — and the overthrow of Saddam Hussein — is a major background cause of this catastrophe. Iraq has been shattered into its sectarian and ethnic parts; it exists as a state only in the minds of true believers in the United States.27 The resulting instability has opened up opportunity spaces for both the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in Iraq28 and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria/the Levant (ISIS/ISIL).29 More recently, the Syrian civil war has also boosted ISIS, as well as institutionalizing Rojava (western or Syrian Kurdistan) as a second de facto autonomous Kurdish state (in this case, closely linked to the PKK).30 ISIS and Rojava, two dynamic non-state actors, have all but erased the borders drawn in the Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916. Moreover, in all of these new situations, including his early call for the demise of Bashar al-Assad's regime, Erdoğan has arguably come down on what seems to be the losing side.
In a well-documented, misguided attempt to facilitate the overthrow of Assad and restore stability to his southern Syrian neighbor, Erdoğan allowed jihadists from all over the world to transit Turkey and cross into Syria.31 Erdoğan also hoped to reduce or even eliminate the perceived threat from Rojava, which Erdoğan saw as a proto-PKK state that would consolidate its success against ISIS into a contiguous territory along Turkey's southern border. Thus, Turkey passively watched ISIS try to destroy the Syrian Kurds holed up just across the Turkish border in Kobane from September 2014 to January 2015.
As Erdoğan explained, support for the Syrian Kurds in Kobane would be tantamount to aiding the PKK, a terrorist enemy that had been trying to dismember Turkey for more than 30 years: "For us [the] PKK is what IS [ISIS] is."32 Why should Turkey get involved when the United States, its superpower NATO ally, would not do more? It suited Erdoğan that ISIS and the Syrian Kurds were weakening each other while Turkey sat idle.
Furthermore, many Turks felt betrayed: by giving the Syrian Kurds air support against ISIS, their American NATO ally was strengthening Syrian Kurdish attempts to gain autonomy, and this could encourage separatism among Kurds in Turkey as well as the seizure of Arab land near the Turkish border.33 On June 15, 2015, for example, Syrian Kurdish forces — led by the PKK's closely associated Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its militia the Peoples Defense Units (YPG) and women's branch, the YPJ — took control of the Syrian border town of Tal Abyad. This supposedly forced its non-Kurdish population to flee to Turkey, where a burgeoning refugee population of 2.7 million was destabilizing the country.
Moreover, illustrating the law of unintended consequences, blowback had already led to the capture of 49 Turks when ISIS overran Mosul in June 2014. They were only released after who-knows-what bribes and threats. Subsequently, Erdoğan came to blame ISIS for deadly attacks that killed ethnic Kurdish citizens in such Turkish cities as Suruc (Kobane's twin) and Ankara in July and October 2015. These attacks furthered the Kurdish belief that the Turkish government was unable or unwilling to protect them. Some actually claimed that Erdoğan had turned a blind eye to further the perception of Turkey under siege and increase his fortunes in the elections held on November 1, 2015. Such a wag-the-dog strategy might have helped Erdoğan regain power in the short-run but would certainly hinder his chances of restarting the Kurdish peace process.
In the summer of 2015, Turkey finally claimed to have entered the struggle against ISIS, allowing the United States to use the Incirlik air base to carry out bombing raids.34 However, most Turkish air attacks hit the PKK bases in the Qandil Mountains along the border of the KRG and Iran, and even on occasion Syrian Kurdish YPG forces in Rojava. This led some to conclude that Erdoğan was simply using ISIS as a foil to really go after the PKK and the PYD.35 The situation grew even more complicated on September 30, 2015, when Russia began air strikes against Syrian rebels, only to have a Turkish missile destroy one of its jets on November 24, 2015.
Cemil Bayik, the co-head of the PKK's umbrella Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK), claimed that Turkey was really supporting ISIS and that Russia might begin directly supporting YPG/YPJ forces in Syria.36 The Turkish action against Russia also had the potential to draw the United States into a confrontation with Russia, which might be supporting the U.S. bombing campaign against ISIS in a civil war that was becoming a Hobbesian struggle of all against all. As 2015 came to a close, Erdoğan did begin a domestic crackdown against ISIS, arresting several hundred suspects. It came too late, however, to prevent worse problems.
In the autumn of 2015, the Syrian crisis expanded when more than a million Syrian refugees, among others, began entering Europe from Turkey. This desperate sea of humanity threatened the stability of the European Union and soon led the EU to offer Turkey $6.8 billion, progress toward visa liberalization and a revitalization of Turkey's moribund EU accession process in return for Turkish help in stemming the refugee flood.37 However, this deal had become problematic by the summer of 2016, as Erdoğan's increasingly arrogant behavior repelled the EU.38
The Syrian civil war has presented Erdoğan with additional daunting obstacles to peace in Turkey. As of September 2016, at least 18 separate bombings connected in one way or another with Syria had killed more than 350 people in Turkey during the previous 12 months. The deadly blast in Istanbul on January 12, 2016, that left 13 foreign tourists dead was followed by another on February 17 against a bus filled with Turkish soldiers in what had been considered the most secure district in Ankara, killing 28 while wounding more than 60. A horrific attack against the Istanbul Ataturk airport on June 28, 2016, killed 45 and wounded 230; the bombing of a Kurdish wedding party in Gaziantep on August 20, 2016, killed 54 and wounded even more. There were several other such strikes, illustrating the deteriorating situation.
Turkey blamed ISIS for the Istanbul bombing; the PYD's YPG militia or the PKK offshoot, the Kurdistan Freedom Falcons (TAK), for the one in Ankara; and ISIS for the Istanbul airport and Gaziantep wedding-party assaults. Although the U.S.-backed Syrian Kurds denied culpability, it was clear that all four of these attacks were at least partial blowback from the violence radiating out of Syria as well as the renewed Turkish-PKK fighting.39 What is more, the February Ankara bombing elicited vituperative recriminations from Erdoğan against the United States for its aid to the YPG.40 (Denunciations of the United States increased exponentially when Turkey began to blame Washington for allegedly supporting the Fethullah Gulen Terrorist Organization [FETO], or parallel state, which Turkey accused of backing the failed coup of July 15, 2016.)41
For its part, the United States declared that the YPG was not a terrorist organization and urged Turkey to stop shelling its operatives in northern Syria, action that had begun when the Syrian Kurds crossed west of the Euphrates River in mid-February 2016 in their drive to join the isolated Kurdish canton of Afrin (Kurd Dagh) in Syria's west with the already unified Syrian Kurdish cantons of Kobane and Hasaka (Jazira) to the east.42 The PYD — now the lead organization in the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a coalition of 13 Kurdish and Arab fighting groups from northeastern Syria that had been patched together on October 10, 2015, becoming the main boots on the ground for the U.S.-led military campaign against ISIS — was seeking to eliminate the Manbij pocket that anchored the 98-kilometer ISIS foothold on the Syrian-Turkish border and connected it with the Syrian headquarters of ISIS in Raqqa to the south. Erdoğan bitterly opposed the SDF; its success in eliminating the Manbij pocket presented Turkey with an almost unified, pro-PKK southern border that Erdoğan saw as an existential threat, especially after the renewal of his struggle against the PKK in Turkey.
Indeed, in March 2016, the PYD had already announced the establishment of an autonomous region based on federalism in Syria for the three Kurdish cantons of Jazira, Kobane and Afrin, territory that included large Arab minorities.43 The area in question contained a large portion of Syria's resources: nearly two-thirds of its gas and oil reserves and important cotton and wheat-growing areas as well as almost two-thirds of its water resources, ten dams and much of its grazing land. Although all the inhabitants of this putative federal region would theoretically be represented in a decentralized bottom-up administration divorced from the oppressive nation-state — based on PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan's theory of democratic autonomy lifted from the writings of American anarchist Murray Bookchin44 — it was clear that the real power would be centralized in the hands of the PYD/PKK.
Both Turkey and the Assad regime, despite their mutual animosity, bitterly condemned this move, while the United States and Russia took a more neutral view. Thus, on August 24, 2016, Turkish forces entered northern Syria and with their jihadist allies quickly pushed a demoralized — or possibly compliant — ISIS out of the border town of Jarabulus, demanding that the Syrian Kurds and their allies (the SDF) pull back east of the Euphrates River. The Turkish purpose was to halt the expansion of Rojava, a move the United States partially supported, given Turkey's importance in the struggle against ISIS, but also found problematic: it has a de facto alliance with the Syrian Kurds, after all.
If Turkey continues to become more involved in Syria to counter both Rojava's expansion and Russia's support for Assad, all three of which Turkey sees as its principal foes, a disastrous escalation could ensue. This could even include an indirect clash with the United States; the SDF coalition provides the most viable boots on the ground against ISIS, which the United States views as the main enemy.
Turkey should recall that the United States refused to support it in Cyprus in 1964, when the Soviet Union had threatened intervention.45 Similarly, NATO might not support Turkey in a Syrian incursion that produces a clash with Russia, much less the United States, which supports the PYD/YPG/SDF. If a Turkish invasion of Syria goes badly, Turkey might even end up losing Hatay, the province Ataturk's patient and astute diplomacy added to the country in 1939 but Syria has never recognized. Erdoğan made a visit to St. Petersburg on August 9, 2016, in an attempt to mitigate these dangers — as well as to mend fences with Vladimir Putin and bring lucrative Russian tourism back to Turkish beaches — but it is not likely to reverse the overall strategic situation.
The Russian-Assad advance in Syria that began early in 2016 has clearly improved their strategic position. This will include deciding who would be invited to future peace talks and under what conditions. The Turks will continue to face challenges to their statecraft as they attempt to avoid further immersion. In addition, Erdoğan should work more closely with his U.S. and NATO allies instead of just pretending to do so while actually supporting jihadist oppositionists. Furthermore, Turkey should get over its unreasonable fear of the Syrian Kurds and seek to embrace them, just as it successfully reversed its opposition to the Iraqi Kurds in 2007. Despite Erdoğan's errors, once the Syrian civil war ends, Turkey likely will remain the most powerful country in the region as well as the sixteenth-largest economy in the world. The Syrian Kurds will have no alternative other than to embrace Turkey — to the mutual benefit of both. Meanwhile, Turkey should avoid confronting Russia (or the United States) in a senseless war that cannot be won.
In his drive to protect and increase his authoritarian ambitions, Erdoğan seems largely impervious to the damage he is creating for himself and Turkey. Although his approval rating jumped from 47 to 68 percent after the failed coup,46 it is likely that some of this new support stems from modern Turkey's disdain for coups. In addition, there are those fearful of being branded supportive of the coup if they oppose Erdoğan's methods. However, Erdoğan has created too many enemies and too much chaos, both domestic and external, for his own good. Human-rights abuses are expanding and, since the failed coup, involve many elite Turkish groups — the military, the judiciary, journalists and academics, among others — in addition to peaceful Kurds. Many prominent Turks are embarrassed by how Erdoğan has abused the system to further his own glory, damaging the state in the process. Scholars are hesitant to publish these facts, fearing that their families and friends might be the objects of retribution.
In some ways, Erdoğan's ongoing struggles and crises remind one of the fevered situation Mao Zedong created during China's Cultural Revolution in which one erstwhile supporter after another was "revealed" to be an enemy. Finally, however, came Thermidor and a more rational leadership. Once the current dictatorial aberration is corrected, the well-established Turkish ship of state will be righted and its more natural progress resumed.
1 For a brief period (June 1996-June 1997), Erbakan was secular Turkey's first Islamist prime minister, but was forced to resign by the military for violating secularist provisions of the Constitution.
2 "The Mosques are our barracks, the domes our helmets, the minarets our bayonets and the faithful our soldiers."
3 The military successfully staged coups in 1960, 1971 (indirectly), 1980 and 1997 (indirectly), seeing itself as the ultimate guardian of the Turkish Republic originally founded by Kemal Ataturk, supreme military commander in Tukey's epic War of Independence during the early 1920s. However, when it tried again indirectly to influence the parliamentary elections in July 2007 by posting on its website the so-called e-memorandum (e-muhtira) warning against the threat posed by the AKP, Erdoğan prevailed. For background on the historical role of the military in Turkish politics, see William Hale, Turkish Politics and the Military (Routledge, 1994); and Mehmet Ali Birand, The General's Coup in Turkey: An Inside Story of 12 September 1980 (Brassey's Defense Publishers, 1987).
4 Michael M. Gunter, "Turkey's Floundering EU Candidacy and Its Kurdish Problem," Middle East Policy 14 (Spring 2007): 117-123.
5 See, for example, Michael Crowley, "Did Obama Get Erdoğan Wrong?" Politico, July 16, 2016, http://www.politico.com/story/2016/07/obama-turkey-225659.
6 Constanze Letsch, "Turkey's Economic Success Threatened by Political Instability," The Guardian, January 9, 2014, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jan/09/turkey-instability-threate…. However, a case can be made that Kemal Dervis, as minister of economic affairs from 2001 to 2002, laid the groundwork for Erdoğan's perceived economic success with his tough stabilization program, deep structural changes and sweeping bank reforms that protected against political manipulation.
7 For background, see Michael M. Gunter and M. Hakan Yavuz, "Turkish Paradox: Progressive Islamists versus Reactionary Secularists," Critique: Critical Middle Eastern Studies 16, no. 3 (Fall 2007): 289-301.
8 Cited in "The Sun Also Rises in the South East," Briefing (Ankara), August 15, 2005. Subsequently, however, see "Turkey's Erdoğan Says the Country Never Had a Kurdish Problem," Ekurd, March 16, 2015, http://ekurd.net/Erdoğan-says-turkey-never-had-a-kurdish-problem-2015-0….
9 Cited in "Turkey Press Scan (02 April 2009)," The Journal of Turkish Weekly, April 2, 2009, http://www.turkishweekly.net/2009/04/02/news/turkey-press-scan-02-april….
10 Michael M. Gunter, "Reopening Turkey's Closed Kurdish Opening?" Middle East Policy 22 (Summer 2013): 88-98.
11 "Zana Reveals Details of Erdoğan Meeting," Hurriyet Daily News, July 1, 2012, http://www.hurriyetdaily-news.com/zana.
12 For an analysis see Michael M. Gunter, "The Kurdish Issue in Turkey: Back to Square One?" Turkish Policy Quarterly 14 (Winter 2016): 77-86. The entire issue of this journal contains many other articles related to the failure of the ceasefire.
13 For background, see M. Hakan Yavuz, Secularism and Muslim Democracy in Turkey (Cambridge University Press, 2009); and M. Hakan Yavuz, Islamic Political Identity in Turkey (Oxford University Press, 2003).
14 Soner Cagaptay, "Erdoğan's Nationalist Path to a Full Presidential System," Washington Institute for Near East Policy, May 24, 2016, http://www.washingtoninstitute.org/policy-analysis/view/Erdoğans-nation…; P. Scharfe, "Erdoğan's Presidential Dreams, Turkey's Constitutional Politics," Origins: Current Events in Historical Perspective 8 (February 5, 2015), http://origins.osu.edu/article/erdo-s-presidential-dreams-turkey-s-cons…; and Semih Idiz, "Erdoğan Aims to Create Stronger Presidential System," Al-Monitor, February 3, 2015, http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2015/02/turkey-Erdoğan-presid….
15 Freedom House, "Turkey 2015 Press Freedom Report," https://freedom/house.org/report/freedom-press/2015/turkey, which ranked Turkey as "Not Free."
16 Reporters Without Borders, Turkey, https://index.rsf.org/#!/index-details/TUR, accessed August 23, 2016, where Turkey ranked 149th out of over 180 states.
17 Bianet, "Increasing Pressure on Press: Democracy in Question," Media Monitoring Report 2015, 3rd Quarter, http://bianet.org/english/freedom-of-expression/168464-increasing-press…, accessed August 23, 2016. Bianet is an independent Turkish press agency based in Istanbul that has somehow managed to survive.
18 For background, see Yusuf Ziya Durmus, "Court Overturns Verdicts in Coup Case Allegedly Tied to Gulenists," Daily Sabah, April 21, 2016, http://www.dailysabah.com/investigations/2016/04/21/court-overturns-ver…; and "Justice or Revenge?" The Economist, August 10, 2013.
19 In 2014, former Turkish president Kenan Evren — the general who had led Turkey's military coup in 1980 that most observers felt saved the country from the violence it had fallen into although at considerable cost to human rights — was convicted of crimes against the state, demoted to the rank of private and sentenced to life imprisonment. He died a year later. Erdoğan had secured amendments to the Turkish constitution allowing Evren's trial.
20 For background, see Michael M. Gunter, "Turkey: The Politics of a New Democratic Constitution," Middle East Policy 19 (Spring 2012): 119-125. The Turkish constitution provides two different ways for its amendment: 1) through a two-thirds majority in parliament (i.e., 367 out of the 550 MPs voting in favor), or 2) a three-fifths majority (330 votes) plus passing a popular referendum. Currently, Erdoğan's AKP has only 317 MPs. This gives him yet another reason to court the ultra-right MHP, which has 40 MPs. Erdoğan might also seek to call new elections in the hope of the pro-Kurdish HPD failing to cross the 10 percent threshold, with the result that his AKP would win most of the HDP's current 59 MPs.
21 Cited in "After the Coup, the Counter-coup," The Economist, July 23, 2016, 14.
22 A subsequent report increased the figure to 80,000 civil servants suspended from their jobs and more than 20,000 arrested. Mustafa Akyol, "Turkey's Great Purge," New York Times, August 23, 2016, http://www.nytimes.com/2016/08/24/opinion/turkey's-great-purge.html. The following discussion is based largely on Amnesty International, "Turkey: Independent Monitors Must Be Allowed to Access Detainees amid Torture Allegations," July 24, 2016; Merrit Kennedy, "Amnesty International: After Turkey's Failed Coup, Some Detainees Are Tortured, Raped," National Public Radio (NPR), July 25, 2016; "Amnesty International Reports 'Credible Evidence' Turkey Torturing Post-coup Detainees," Haaretz, July 29, 2016, http://www.haaretz.com/middle-east-news/turkey/1.733018; Jason Hanna and Tim Hume, "Turkey Detainees Tortured, Raped after Failed Coup, Rights Group Says," CNN, July 27, 2016, http://www.cnn.com/2016/07/26/europe/turkey-coup-attempt-aftermath/; William Reed, "Turkish Police Torture, Rape Own Soldiers, Officers, Judges," The Clarion Project, July 25, 2016, https://www.clarionproject.org/analysis/turkish-police-rape-own-soldier…; Elizabeth Redden, "Turkey's Fraying International Ties," Inside Higher Ed, July 29, 2016; and interviews with various sources who asked to be anonymous given the dangerous situation.
23 "Turkish President Vows 'Treasonous' Academics Will Pay the Price," Hurriyet Daily News, January 20, 2016.
24 Peace in Kurdistan Campaign, "Neither Coup nor State of Emergency: Turkey Needs Peace and Democracy," July 25, 2016.
25 Selcan Hacaoglu, "Siege at Edge of Fallen Empires Tests Erdoğan's Hold on Turkey," Bloomberg, May 26, 2016, http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-05-26/turkey-s-kurdish-conf….
26 Genevieve Casagrande, Christopher Kozak, and Franklin Holcomb, "Russia & Turkey Escalate: Russia's Threat to NATO Goes beyond Eastern Europe/The PKK Participation against Europe," MESOP, May 23, 2016.
27 For background, see Peter Galbraith, The End of Iraq: How American Incompetence Created a War without End (Simon & Schuster, 2006); and U.S. Vice President Joseph Biden's still very relevant three-state solution in Joseph R. Biden and Leslie H. Gelb, "Unity through Autonomy in Iraq," New York Times, May 1, 2006.
28 For background, see Michael M. Gunter, The Kurds: A Modern History, 2nd ed. (Markus Wiener Publishers). Among many other excellent studies on the KRG, see the relevant sections of David Romano, The Kurdish Nationalist Movement: Opportunity, Mobilization and Identity (Cambridge University Press, 2006); and Denise Natali, The Kurds and the State: Evolving National Identity in Iraq, Turkey, and Iran (Syracuse University Press, 2005).
29 Among many other recent studies of ISIS, see Till F. Paasche and Michael M. Gunter, "Revisiting Western Strategies against ISIS," Middle East Journal 70 (Winter 2016): 9-29; and Michael M. Gunter, "Iraq, Syria, ISIS and the Kurds: Geostrategic Concerns for the U.S. and Turkey," Middle East Policy 22 (Spring 2015): 102-111.
30 On the Syrian Kurds, see Michael M. Gunter, Out of Nowhere: The Kurds of Syria in Peace and War (Hurst & Company, 2014); and the review essay on this book by Jonathan Steele, "The Syrian Kurds are Winning!" New York Review of Books, December 3, 2015, 24-27.
31 See, for example, David L. Phillips, "Research Paper: ISIS-Turkey List," Huffington Post, November 9, 2014, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/david-l-phillips/research-paper-isis-turk…, which cites numerous sources. In addition, see Amberin Zaman, "Syrian Kurdish Leader: Ankara Supporting Jihadists,"Al-Monitor, September 23, 2013, http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/security/2013/09/pyd-leader-salih-musli…; and "Syrian Kurds Continue to Blame Turkey for Backing ISIS Militants," Al-Monitor, June 10, 2014, http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2014/zaman-syria-kurds-rojava….
32 "ISID ne ise PKK da odur," Al Jazeera Turk, October 4, 2014, as cited in International Crisis Group, "A Sisyphean Task? Resuming Turkey-PKK Peace Talks," Crisis Group Europe Briefing No. 77 (International Crisis Group, December 17, 2015), 4n10.
33 Alexander Sehmer, "Thousands of Arabs Flee from Kurdish Fighters in Syria's North," Independent, June 1, 2015. Also see similar claims in "'We Had Nowhere to Go' Forced Displacement and Demolitions in Northern Syria" (Amnesty International, 2015).
34 Liz Sly and Karen De Young, "Turkey Agrees to Allow U.S. Military to Use Its Base to Attack Islamic State," Washington Post, July 23, 2015.
35 Tim Arango, "Turkey Confirms Strikes against Kurdish Militias in Syria," New York Times, October 27, 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/28/world/europe/turkey-syria-kurdish-mil….
36 "KCK's Bayik: Turkey Downed the Russian Plane to Protect IS," Kurdish Info (Firat News Agency), November 26, 2015, www.kurdishinfo.com/kcks-bayik-turkey-downed-the-russian-plane-to-prote….
37 "EU Reaches $3bn Deal with Turkey to Curb Refugee Crisis," Al Jazeera, November 30, 2015, http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2015/11/eu-seeks-deal-turkey-curb-refugee….
38 "Europe's Murky Deal with Turkey," The Economist, May 28, 2016, 43.
39 Michael Cruickshank and Gissur Simonarson, "A Kurdish Convergence in Syria," New York Times, February 25, 2016, http://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/26/opinion/a-kurdish-convergence-in-syri….
40 "Turkish President Accuses U.S. of Supporting Terrorism," Today's Zaman, February 23, 2016, http://www.todayszaman.com/diplomacy_turkish-president-accuses-us-of-su… 413109.html.
41 Tim Arango and Ceylan Yeginsu, "Turks Can Agree on One Thing: U.S. Was Behind Failed Coup," New York Times, August 2, 2016. For a strong case that the Gulen movement did indeed mastermind the failed coup, see Michael A. Reynolds, "Damaging Democracy: The U.S., Fethulllah Gulen, and Turkey's Upheaval," Foreign Policy Research Institute, September 26, 2016, fpri.org/article/2016/09/damaging-democracy-u-s-fethullah-gulen-turkey's-upheaval, among others. Fethullah Gulen is an important interfaith Islamic scholar and imam who heads the Gulen or Hizmet (Service) Movement, which is an international network of universities, hospitals, charities, business associations, news outlets and schools spread across more than 150 countries. He has lived in exile in the United States since 1999. Some dismiss him as a dangerous cult leader infiltrating existing state structures such as those of Turkey, while others hail him as an enlightened beacon of interfaith ecumenicism. Apparently, he is both. Formerly an ally, he became a bitter political enemy of Erdoğan in 2013 after accusing Erdoğan of corruption. The two actually had already begun a power struggle earlier. Erdoğan accused Gulen of masterminding the failed coup and demanded that the United States extradite him. As of October 2016, the United States has refused on the grounds that there was no credible evidence indicating Gulen was guilty. On the other hand, given how many Gulenists have infiltrated various Turkish institutions, it is likely that some of them were involved. However, this does not prove that Gulen himself was even aware of the attempt, much less masterminding it. Gulen has been ambivalent toward the Turkish-PKK peace process. For background, see M. Hakan Yavuz, Toward an Islamic Enlightenment: The Gulen Movement (Oxford University Press, 2013). During my trip to Turkey in October 2016, I spoke with some who suggested that the Turkish Armed Forces Assistance (and Pension) Fund (OYAK) also might have been involved in the failed coup because Erdoğan was threatening to eliminate its lucrative benefits for retired Turkish military officers.
Many Turkish conspiracy theories argue that former CIA official Graham E. Fuller, who did originally help Gulen obtain a green card to remain in the United States, masterminded the attempted coup. This is doubtful since Fuller is now retired from the CIA and teaches as an adjunct professor of history at Simon Fraser University in Canada. Fuller is very knowledgeable about Turkey and other related subjects, and he recently self-published an insightful analysis: Turkey and the Arab Spring: Leadership in the Middle East (Bozorg Press, 2014). Another fanciful conspiracy theory has it that Henri Barkey, an American academic who happened to be in Turkey at the time attending a conference, also masterminded the attempted putsch. Although it is true that the United States did not denounce the coup until it had clearly failed and many in the U.S. government had become frustrated with Erdoğan's behavior, it is unlikely that the United States was behind the failed coup. U.S. Vice President Joe Biden repeated this denial during his visit to Turkey on August 24, 2016. "U.S. Had No Foreknowledge of Turkey Coup Attempt: Biden," Press TV, August 24, 2016, http://www.presstv.ir/Detail/2016/08/24/4815/Biden-US-Turkey-coup-yildi…, accessed August 26, 2016. However, further revelations may eventually alter this assessment.
42 "U.S. Calls on Turkey to Stop Shelling PYD, Citing Syria Ceasefire," Today's Zaman, February 24, 2016, http://www.todayszaman.com/diplomacy_us-calls-on-turkey-to-stop-shellin….
43 "Syria: Opinions and Attitudes on Federalism, Decentralization, and the Experience of the Democratic Self-Administration," The Day After, May 19, 2016, http://tda-sy.org/federalism%d9%80decentralization%9%80report/.
44 Abdullah Ocalan, Prison Writings III: The Road Map to Negotiations, trans. by Havin Guneser (Cologne: International Initiative Edition, 2012). For further thoughts on these ideas, see Joost Jongerden and Ahmet Hamdi Akkaya, "Democratic Confederalism as a Kurdish Spring: The PKK and the Quest for Radical Democracy," in The Kurdish Spring: Geopolitical Changes and the Kurds, Mohammed M.A. Ahmed and Michael M. Gunter, eds., (Mazda Publishers, 2013), 163-185.
45 George S. Harris, Troubled Alliance: Turkish-American Problems in Historical Perspective, 1945-1971 (American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, 1972), 114-15.
46 Ceylan Yeginsu, "After Failed Coup, Turkey Enjoys a Rare Period of Unity," New York Times, August 23, 2016, http://www.nytimes.com/2016/08/24/world/europe/after-failed-coup-turkey….