Experts from Istanbul, Washington, and Moscow Agreed that the western media has been painting an inaccurate picture of the coup attempt
The attempted military coup in Turkey claimed the lives of 240 and wounded more than 1,400. The attempt, which failed mainly due to the unwavering solidarity of Turkish people for democracy and freedom, surprised people around the world and particularly in Washington. On Monday, July 25, Turkish Heritage Organization (THO) organized a teleconference “Democracy is Under Attack in Turkey” to discuss the recent coup attempt in Turkey, its consequences for Turkey's domestic politics, and implications on U.S. - Turkey relations.
Dr. Michael Reynolds, Professor of Near East Studies at Princeton University, Dr. Joshua Walker, Fellow at the German Marshall Fund of the U.S., and Dr. Gulnur Aybet, Chair of Political Science and International Relations at Bahcesehir University, shared their analysis of the recent coup attempt in Turkey.
Western Media Painting an Inaccurate Picture
Professor Dr. Aybet, who was in Istanbul during the coup attempt, described her experience as “surreal” and “shocking”. Dr. Aybet, who has been speaking to western media sources, indicated that Turks were particularly disappointed with western media’s inaccurate depiction of developments and post-coup attempt focus. According to Dr. Aybet, instead of focusing on the solidarity and strength of Turkish citizens and their choice for democratically elected government, western media deliberately focused on criticizing the state of emergency and other precautionary measures that was put in place.
Dr Aybet said that the western media has been exaggerating and misinterpreting the travel restrictions on academics. She continued to say that considering the state of emergency in France, western fear of Turkey’s state of emergency was strange to her, as the decision to expand the administration’s powers has little effect on the daily lives of people in Turkey.
Dr. Aybet described the coup-attempt as “well planned, yet very hastily conducted”. Emphasizing the desperation and the violence associated with the attempt, Dr. Aybet indicated that these troubling elements were able to remain in the military for a long time which makes the currently ongoing restructuring of the military necessary.
Gulen’s Extradition is as Much Emotional as it is Legal
Echoing Dr. Aybet’s views on western media, Dr. Walker said that the western media has been talking about Turkey as if this were 1985 but the coup attempt did not make sense in today’s Turkey.
Moving to a central issue in U.S.-Turkey relations, Dr. Walker indicated that the extradition of Fethullah Gulen has been a thorn in the side of Turkish – U.S. relations. According to Dr. Walker, Americans view and explain Gulen’s extradition case as a legal matter that will be decided by the judiciary system based on current treaties and laws. However, Turks, who view the extradition as much emotional as legal, find this frustrating. “Most people don’t think the U.S. was planning this coup but the average Turk feels that the U.S. housing Gulen shows the U.S. is not helping, and it leads to anti-Americanism” said Dr. Walker.
Dr. Walker argued that it is difficult for Americans to understand the intricate Gulenist network which has infiltrated sectors as diverse as the Ministry of Education, the military, and the judiciary. As a result, the main focus has become the wide ranging purges which were deemed necessary.
Government’s Actions Will Determine Turkey’s Future
Speaking from Russia, Dr. Reynolds argued that the coup was worse than any terrorist attack Turkey had experienced. According to Dr. Reynolds, the broader effects of the coup-attempt will be determined by the Turkish government in the coming weeks. “Based on the government’s actions during investigations into coup-suspects, Turkey could either experience another step away from institutional democracy towards autocratic rule, or could strengthen inclusive democratic values and maintain checks on government power” said Dr. Reynolds.
Dr. Reynolds said that the main focus in the U.S. has been the advancement of President Erdogan’s personal authority into Turkish politics in the aftermath of July 15 coup attempt instead of the military’s attempt to remove Erdogan from power, which is a clear violation of democratic processes for succession of power outlined in Turkey’s constitution.
Dr. Reynolds argued that little attention has been paid to this second interpretation in the United States, and that Turkey is rife with non-democratic forces outside the Erdogan administration including the plotters of the July 15th coup-attempt, and Kurdish groups using terrorist tactics to advance their political objectives. With regards to Gulen’s involvement, Dr. Reynolds said that recent indicators make his involvement more likely but the evidence had to be examined with the utmost scrutiny.
Turkey’s Relations with the U.S. EU and Russia
Dr. Aybet criticized the western governments for being “weak” and “ambivalent” in their responses. Bahcesehir University Political Science and International Relations Department Chair, Dr. Aybet was particularly critical of Secretary of State John Kerry for questioning Turkey’s future in NATO. She emphasized the crucial aspects of U.S.-Turkey cooperation including the Syrian conflict, international terrorism, and Incirlik Air Base. With regards to the Incirlik, Dr. Aybet said that Incirlik is a Turkish base that is used by NATO members and she does not foresee any immediate concerns due to the nature of the strategic alliance.
Dr. Walker argued that recent events in Turkey, in addition to Obama’s relationship to Erdogan and American domestic political issues, have “unleashed some hurtful stereotypes” about Turkey. According to Dr. Walker as the disconnect between Turks and Americans grows, a new phase of bilateral relations that are based less on rights and shared values and much more on mutually beneficial transactions, similar to the one between Turkey and Israel were going to develop. However, Dr. Walker indicated that the United states will have to get along with Turkey in the long run because of its shared goals in the Middle East. On the strategic importance of the Incirlik Airbase, Dr. Walker said that “it would be a disaster for U.S. to leave Incirlik, which is a strategic glue that keeps turkey and U.S. together.”
Dr. Reynolds said that the immediate response in Washington and western media that labels Turkey as “unreliable ally” should be evaluated with caution especially considering the fact that U.S. is currently openly working (arming and training) with PYD and YPG, an organization that is essentially the same as PKK.
Dr. Reynold also said that while the west portrays President Erdogan as inflexible and highly ideological leader it overlooks the fact that he showed impressive degree of pragmatism and made deals to improve the severely strained relations with Israel and in Russia. Considering these developments, Dr. Reynold said that Turkey and the U.S. has a lot more at stake than either Russia or Israel therefore making a long-term cooperation between the two countries necessary.
Echoing Dr. Walker and Dr. Aybet’s views on the Incirlik Airbase, Dr. Reynolds said that Incirlik will continue to be very important for the U.S. and besides a potential examination of the procedures affecting the nuclear weapons stationed at the base with NATO, he did not foresee the U.S. leaving the base anytime soon.
Commenting on the coverage of the coup attempt in Russian media, Dr. Reynolds said that in comparison to the U.S. the Russian media has been doing a lot less emotional reporting. He said there were reports that the Russian intelligence notified the President about the coup, which may help warming the relations.