By: Zana Silevani, Lynx Global Intelligence
Turkey’s significance in the international community
Historically, the Republic of Turkey has served the international community as a commercial hub which has facilitated international trade, communication and intercultural exchange for decades. Modern day Turkey is an extremely valuable partner as it has characteristically carried on it’s traditions of free trade, military cooperation and fortified secular values. Turkey has established it’s presence in the international community—it holds tremendous weight when discussing economic and political affairs. The economic and strategic value of Turkey is attributed to it’s physical coordination as it is situated in a unique geopolitical position. Turkey borders Syria, Iraq, Iran, Armenia, Georgia and Bulgaria with Russia and Ukraine just across the Black Sea.
In 2014, The Republic of Turkey ranked in as the 27th largest economy in the world . The dynamic nature of the Turkish economy has facilitated strong partnerships with it’s primary import trade partners: China ($24.6B), Germany (23.5B), Russia ($14.7B), Italy ($12.3B) and the United States ($11.8B)—it’s largest export destinations: Germany ($16.9B), Iraq ($10.8B), the United Kingdom ($10.3B), France ($7.87B) and Italy ($7.58B) . Furthermore, as a critical member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), Turkey is an important asset for US interests in the Middle East and Europe. Geopolitical configuration and a versatile economy puts partnerships with Turkey at a high priority, but the many successes of the Republic of Turkey overshadow the murky essence of recent Turkish political developments. Turkish nationalists such as President Reccep Tayyip Erdogan and his Justice and Development (AK) party have consolidated executive power after the recent Summer 2016 coup d’etat attempt which has resulted in the arrest and detainment of thousands of people accused of aiding the coup.
The failed 2016 coup attempt and a new face for the Republic of Turkey
July 15, 2016—chaos erupted as a faction of the Turkish military took up arms and attempted to overthrow President Erdogan. The military began with the occupation of the Bosphorus bridge which connects the two shores of Istanbul then attempted to control key points in the Turkish capitol of Ankara . The separatist faction which called themselves the Peace at Home Council, were defeated when loyalists to Erdogan’s existing regime thwarted the coup attempt and restored power. Using state operated media (TRT) Erdogan was able to garnish support to abolish the coup and rally his supporters. At least 90 people were killed and nearly 1,100 more were injured during the coup attempt . The coordination of the coup was ultimately blamed on the exiled cleric Fethullah Gulen who resides in Pennsylvania, USA and is a long time opponent of President Erdogan and his Justice and Development party. The coup attempt resulted in massive material losses, but ideological damage in Turkish civil society took the harshest damage as President Erdogan began a campaign aimed at suppressing opposition through detainments and arrests. Thousands of bureaucrats, academics, political leaders and military personnel have been expelled, arrested, or detained as a result of allegations of involvement in the coup.
The failed July 15, 2016 coup d’etat attempt in Turkey shook the foundations of the state and thrusted Turkey away from it’s traditional secularism and towards civic nationalism. President Erdogan has utilizes a parliamentary state of emergency to bypass constitutional provisions and mobilize political power to the executive branch. President Erdogan and his Justice and Development party have undertaken considerable measures to consolidate executive power . After the summer of 2016, the Turkish state has detained over 35,000 individuals thought to have some sort of tertiary involvement in the influence or potting of the 2016 coup d’etat attempt . Over 17,000 individuals have been arrested in connection with the coup attempt—one third of Turkish security forces have been arrested on specific charges. Arrests after the coup are based on allegation of affiliation with the Gulen movement. Ultimately, Erdogan has delineated executive power to suppress Kurdish influence in Turkey. Kurdish mayors, lawyers and activists have been expelled from their posts and accused of having ties to Kurdish separatist organizations. The new far-reaching executive authority has monopolized AK party initiatives.
The new US administration and the future of US-Turkey relations
In early February 2017 President Trump and President Erdogan publicly voiced mutual admiration for one another in a late night phone call, but the US has not established a stance on it’s future with President Erdogan. In the phone call president Erdogan remained firm in his stance to influence decisions which favor disarming Kurdish YPG militias in Syria. The US administration has not commented on future endeavors with Kurdish militias in Syria, but continues to maintain Turkey’s NATO status as a crucial geopolitical asset to strategic operations in Syria. Because of the geopolitical importance of Turkey in air/ground campaigns, Erdogan must cooperate and deter interest in weakening the Kurdish front against ISIS.
The US must leverage Turkish cooperation to grant Kurds in Syria resources to continue to engage ISIS on the ground in northern Syria. The YPG have proven to be non-confrontational and malleable to US interests on the condition of material support. The YPG are a crucial indigenous force who provide essential tactical and intelligence support to US Special Operations Command personnel on the ground in Syria. Ultimately, President Erdogan perceives the new US presidency as an opportunity to initiate communication which supplements Turkish interests in cooperation in the Syrian Civil War. Turkey is seeking to strengthen ties with the US to ultimately influence US military cooperation with Kurdish factions in Northern Syria. Through the recent radical political transition in Turkey in the summer of 2016 was drastic, President Erdogan remains opportunistic in seeking to gradually restore US-Turkish relations which experienced significant strain towards the end of 2016 with the departure of president Obama.
Granting Turkey greater autonomy to influence US defense policy will significantly alter US-Kurdish partnership in Syria. Turkey will ultimately remain a formidable and valuable US defense partner. Though Turkey has taken an abrupt nationalistic and at time anti-western turn, the United States needs Turkey as a partner to supplement it’s campaigns in Iraq and Syria. Turkey provides invaluable resources to the US with optimal strategic capabilities in the global war on terror.