A Failed Coup Still Threatens Democracy

July 21, 2016

This past Friday, the Turkish army staged an attempted coup against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The coup failed, due in large part to the large number of military forces that remained loyal to the President within Istanbul and Ankara. 312 people died and nearly 1,500 people were injured as a result of the event, but the aftermath may be even more damaging. Erdogan has since detained more than 7,000 individuals, including prosecutors, university officials, top generals, and his own advisors. Critics have suggested that Erdogan is using the coup as a way to purge the government of his enemies and consolidate power.

Democracy is not perfect and in many instances the leaders elected are not either; Erdogan certainly has a questionable track record with regard to government corruption and cracking down on social media. However, a violent removal of a freely and fairly elected leader creates an environment for more authoritarianism even when a military coup fails. Turkish democracy is either in jeopardy or going through a dangerous transition.

U.S. relations with Turkey have recently been strained under Erdogan. Despite being close during the Cold War, the two countries have disagreed on the Erdogan Administration's engagement with the Muslim Brotherhood, diplomatic disagreements with Israel, and restricting the press.

At the start of the coup attempt, the United States and its NATO allies suspended their coalition airstrikes in the fight to secure Turkey’s border from the spread of ISIS. While this is not necessarily a sign that Turkey’s NATO status is currently in jeopardy, especially given that the coup did not appear to succeed, it is a clear warning that anti-democratic movements can and will put the nation’s NATO status at risk if another attempt should occur in the future. Since Friday, airstrikes have resumed and 50 U.S. owned nuclear weapons are still located within the country.

Turkish political stability is key in stopping a potential influx of foreign fighters entering Syria through Turkey. Erdogan’s post-coup actions are ultimately further destabilizing the country and could potentially create another undemocratic movement to remove him. This could lead to more drastic authoritarian policies by the administration; conversely, another removal effort could undermine traditional democracy within the country and create a power vacuum in which foreign fighters or extremist parties could gain a stronger foothold within the country.

While cracking down on members of Erdogan’s political opposition is problematic, even more problematic is that the consequences of the coup have stretched to educational institutions as well; as Bloomberg reported, over 1,000 university heads at universities across the country were asked to step down in the past week. Additionally, 21,000 private school teachers had their teaching licenses cancelled. Education is a core component of a free society, and this coup has caused an assault on the right to free thinking regarding democracy.

President Erdogan has suggested that the death penalty could be used against coup organizers or supporters. If this suggestion becomes reality, Turkey’s relationship with the larger European continent could be called into question since all EU member nations are prohibited from employing capital punishment.

The Syrian refugee crisis will likely remain unaffected by the coup according to Peter Foster of The Guardian. Turkey hosts the highest number of refugees in the world, and while the international community has invested funds and resources for those refugees, most of the money comes from the Turks.

As the Obama Administration begins to transition out of office, U.S. relations with Turkey should be a key focus of the incoming administration as Turkey represents a key ally in the fight against ISIS as well as a key player in the economic development of the region. Continuing our currently strained relationship with Turkey will be challenging enough for the next President. A destabilized Turkey would only make achieving U.S. international interests that much more difficult.



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