The 15 July 2016 failed coup attempt against Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and, on the other hand, Ankara’s recent re-orientation of its foreign policy towards Russia, Israel and Iran, including its August military intervention in Syria are seen by most analysts as signs of a changing trend not only in Turkey’s political and social history but also in the geopolitical balance of the whole region.
Only weeks after the failed coup, President Erdoğan’s position became stronger than ever, with his approval ratings reaching new highs. The fact that the Turkish president has benefited from the failed coup made some observers even suspect that he staged the entire operation.
At the same time, Ankara began to take new initiatives on the foreign scene. Turkish forces began an offensive in Syria, officially against Daesh (IS, ISIS/ISIL), but in fact against the American-backed Kurdish forces. On the diplomatic field, Turkey’s sudden rapprochement with Russia made the West worry and the reconciliation with Israel happened also surprisingly quickly.
The changes were seen as necessary for Turkey since, before the recent developments, Mr. Erdoğan’s increasingly authoritarian stance and confrontational approach has left the country diplomatically isolated. Turkey was on bad terms with Russia and Israel, President Erdoğan’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood antagonized Egypt, while his Syria policy failed to remove Bashar al-Assad’s regime. Turkey’s fear of Kurdish nationalism has also affected its alliance with the United States. Washington supports Syrian Kurdish militias, but Turkey sees them as an extension of the PKK armed group, which last year resumed its attacks on Turkish security forces. The relationship with the European Union was also affected by the stalling of Turkey’s membership application and recently by the refugee problem.
I. Turkey after the failed coup: a stronger regime and a new “democracy”
For many historians and analysts of the Turkish internal scene, the so-called “Gülenist” coup attempt is one in a long history of political wars. In its recent history, Turkey had seen four previous military coups, in addition to several unsuccessful attempts. Raising a “cadre” within the state has been a national ambition pursued by almost every group, such as Kemalists, nationalists, leftist, rightists, Sunnis and Alevis. The recent coup is, according to Turkey observers, another episode in Turkey’s history of competition for the control of the state. This time, those who wished to control the state were part of the Gülen movement, a group which aims to establish “a new Muslim age”, in fact to resuscitate the Islamic caliphate.
The modern state of Turkey, from its beginning in 1923, has centralized control over all bureaucracy, security forces, education (including universities), foundations and wields huge influence over media and the economy. Since the state is so powerful, centralized and definitive, it is desired and fought for at all costs by its political actors, military officers and shadowy and secretive networks. The phenomenon is known as prebendalism in which the grabbing of state power and revenues is only possible through a complex network of clientele relationships and can only be maintained when a term in office predominantly serves the interests of that network and its wider constituency. It is executed within a modernist story of strong state, effective bureaucratization, grand nation designs, brutal maintenance of differences and elimination of threats.
The Gülen movement: the first contender for the state in the 21st century
The Gülen movement began as a grassroots movement in the 1970’s with the Islamist political party, Milli Gőrüs, an Islamist movement with ties to the Muslim Brotherhood (AKP emerged from Milli Gőrüs to restore Islamic religion and culture). The foundation of Gülen’s teachings is that state and religion should be reconnected and the country re-emerges as part of a pan-Turkic regional power.
Fethullah Gülen teaches a Hanafi version of Islam, deriving from Sunni Muslim scholar Said Nursi’s teachings. Although he never met Said Nursi, Fethullah Gülen is his most influential disciple. Gülen stated that he believed in science, interfaith dialogue among the People of the Book and multi-party democracy.
While his ideas are rooted in Sufi mysticism, Gülen’s teachings have gradually come to focus on reforming civil society through Islamic spiritualism. The religious movement he founded (Hizmet meaning service in Turkish) has sought to train a new “gold” generation (Altin Nesil) that is both faithful to Islamic Turkish traditions and modern in its political and economic outlook. Fethullah Gülen formed his first group of disciples in the 1960s when he worked as an imam for the State in Izmir. By the following decade, the movement’s ideas had spread to other regions in Turkey. When Turkey adopted a series of market-oriented reforms in 1980, a newly affluent middle class emerged that began to financially support the Hizmet movement’s activities. Turkey’s economic growth, coupled with the deep Islamic faith of its people, enhanced the popular appeal of the market-oriented religious movement. The subsequent opening of the Balkans, the Caucasus, and Central Asia in 1989 allowed Gülen’s followers to globalize their economic and religious activities. Read the rest of this entry »