The audacious coup d’état attempt by a section of the Turkish army against sitting President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in mid-July captivated audiences around the world. The section of the armed forces, which labeled itself as the “Peace at Home Council”, seized control of the Bosphorus bridge and the Ataturk airport in Istanbul. Meanwhile, in the capital Ankara, rebel controlled helicopters bombed the Turkish Parliament as well the headquarters of the police special forces. Hulusi Akar, the Turkish Armed Forces chief, was held hostage by the coup perpetrators at the military headquarters.
President Erdogan, who had been vacationing in the Turkish south-eastern coastal city of Marmaris at the time of the coup d’état attempt, did a facetime interview with CNN Turk in which he urged the Turkish people to take to the streets in protest. The coup attempt eventually failed after thousands of Turkish civilians heeded the call made by Erdogan and took to the streets, defying the orders of the plotters.
In his first speech made on state television, Erdogan accused “those in Pennsylvania” for orchestrating the the coup attempt against him — an apparent reference to Fethullah Gülen, the founder of the Hizmet movement and a former Erdogan ally. In the aftermath of the coup, Erdogan has clamped down heavily on several army personnel, police officials, lawyers, judges, civil servants, academics and journalists accused of being sympathetic to Gulen.
Although the world leaders came out in droves to condemn the attempt to derail Turkey’s democracy, they also expressed reservations regarding Erdogan’s heavy crackdown against the several members of the Turkish civil society for their alleged ties to Gulen.
While the world media has largely turned its attention towards Erdogan’s clampdown on pro-Gulen functionaries in the aftermath of the coup attempt, hardly any light has been shed on how it has recast the country’s foreign policy positions.
In November last year, relations between Erdogan and Putin soured after a Russian Su-24 bomber was gunned down by Turkish forces on the Syrian border. In retaliation, Russia aborted its plans to construct a $12 billion Turkish Stream project – a new pipeline which was supposed to supply gas to Turkey and other East European countries at a cheaper price. Russia also imposed economic sanctions on Turkey and banned all charter flights going into the country in order to hurt its Tourism industry.
A few months later, the United States orchestrated and supported a deal struck between the European Union and Turkey which aimed at limiting the number of asylum seekers that entered the European mainland through Turkish territory. The deal also signaled the prospect of a Turkish accession to the European Union in the future. The United States also considers fellow NATO member Turkey as an important ally in its war against ISIS, having set up several air bases in the country.
How a few months change everything.
A couple of weeks before the coup attempt, Erdogan wrote a letter of apology to Vladimir Putin wherein he labeled Russia as a “friend & strategic partner” of Turkey. A few hours ago, Putin announced that Russian economic sanctions on Turkey are to be lifted in a phased manner in the coming months. Putin has also lifted a ban on Russian tourists visiting Turkey and restored construction of the planned gas pipeline. Erdogan, meanwhile, took the opportunity to thank President Putin for expressing his support for after the failed coup attempt saying it “meant a lot psychologically”.
Turkish relations with the United States, however, have taken a turn for the worse since July 15. Erdogan has demanded that the United States immediately extradite Gulen, the alleged mastermind of the plot, to Turkish territory. Gulen emigrated to Pennsylvania in the US in 1998 in a case of self imposed exile from his homeland. Yesterday, Turkish Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag warned that “if the US does not deliver [Gulen], they will sacrifice relations with Turkey for the sake of a terrorist”.
The United States, meanwhile, has issued several statements emphasizing that Turkey needs to present it with hard evidence of Gulen’s involvement in the July coup attempt. “We fully anticipate that there will be questions raised about Mr. Gulen”, said US Secretary of State John Kerry. “And obviously we would invite the government of Turkey, as we always do, to present us with any legitimate evidence that withstands scrutiny. And the United States will accept that and look at it and make judgments about it appropriately.”
While Turkey has managed to mend its relationship with Russia in the past one month, it’s long running alliance with the United States has definitely taken a major dent. Washington’s political maneuvering vis-a-vis Fethullah Gulen will shape Turkey’s future as a member of NATO and test its commitment in eradicating ISIS.