Turkey coup is shaking the whole region

A civilian beats a soldier after troops involved in the coup surrendered on the Bosphorus Bridge in Istanbul (REUTERS/Murad Sezer)
A civilian beats a soldier after troops involved in the coup surrendered on the Bosphorus Bridge in Istanbul (REUTERS/Murad Sezer)

Military jets screeching over Ankara. Soldiers and tanks barricading bridges over the Bosphorous in Istanbul. The attempted coup by sections of the Turkish army on Friday night has shaken not only Turkey itself but also the Middle East and Europe.

The story is still developing and very little is known about the soldiers behind the coup. But for the Middle East’s largest democracy and Nato’s second biggest army to suffer this coup has exacerbated the sense that many of the old certainties are being upset.

It appears now that the initial phase is over, but with more than 1,500 arrests reportedly made from within the military itself, the real counter-coup has only just begun. Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in remarks immediately after the coup appeared to have been pushed back, was firm in his language, talking of a “betrayal of the motherland” and warning the plotters would pay a heavy price. With reports that a military fighter jet loyal to the government shot down a helicopter carrying some of the plotters, no one should doubt those words. There will be more force to come.

That, then, is unlikely to help the divisions within the country. Turkey is facing a very difficult domestic and geopolitical situation. It is badly affected by the Syrian civil war, sheltering more refugees than any other country, and suffering devastating attacks from ISIL. The PKK has also launched terror attacks inside the country. Indeed, initial suggestions appeared to be that the coup leaders were angry that Mr Erdogan was not forceful enough in his responses to the PKK. This attempted coup will only exacerbate internal tensions and make these challenges harder to combat.

Whatever else may be said about Mr Erdogan, he remains popular among many segments of Turkish society – so popular, in fact, that after his appearance via the Facetime app on national television calling for Turks to take to the streets, thousands braved armed soldiers to do just that. Some lay in front of tanks. He will need that public support to weather this crisis. Unfortunately, this coup attempt is likely only to intensify his authoritarian streak.

Most western countries, fearful of anything that could destabilise Europe at the moment, back the democratically elected government. In the coming weeks, the real toll on Turkey will become clearer. For now, the attempted coup has added to a sense that parts of the Middle East and Europe are shaking.

Published: July 16, 2016 04:00 AM

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