What changes and doesn’t change after Turkey’s failed coup

Annie Slemrod

Middle East Editor

With more than than 290 dead, 1,400 injured, and 9,000 arrested (including 30 governors), a dramatic coup attempt by a segment of the Turkish military is over, or at least in its dying throes.

Supporters of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan came out to the streets to protest the putsch on Friday evening, at his call. Tellingly, so did some of his opponents. After a weekend crackdown, the leader appears to have emerged in a strong position. However, he is far from invincible, and the country remains divided.

As Erdogan’s government continues to cull the judiciary and the armed forces, and to shut down independent media outlets, it is clear that the repercussions will be felt for some time, both inside and outside the country.

Here’s how the aftermath is playing out in some key areas of concern:

Refugees

While Turkey has been preventing fleeing Syrians from crossing its borders – going so far as to shoot those who attempt – the country has allowed 2.7 million into the country, and this has largely been thanks to Erdogan.

Had the coup succeeded, history dictates that there could well have been a backlash against the refugees. Take Egypt’s 2013 coup: ousted president Mohamed Morsi backed some segments of the Syrian opposition (as does Erdogan). After his ouster, Syrian refugees became the target of abuse; many were forced to flee the country.

Now, not only will the refugees’ situation presumably remain stable, but Erdogan may even have a freer hand in pushing forward his plan to grant citizenship to some 300,000 Syrians – a proposal that had been dominating headlines up until this weekend’s sudden turn of events.

Metin Çorabatır, president of the Ankara-based Research Centre on Asylum and Migration, told IRIN that Erdogan’s renewed power, even if it is temporary, might allow him to push through the citizenship plan.

Past efforts to expand protections for refugees in Turkey have repeatedly been blocked, in part by security concerns. But, with that sector clearly weakened, Çorabatır said activists should seize this opportunity and reopen the debate about who actually deserves protection, or even citizenship – reforming a system that doesn’t officially recognise refugees.

“Erdogan came out as a stronger leader than before, and he has a free hand to change things how he would like to,” Çorabatır said. “So in that sense, human rights activists and others should [take the chance] to explain to the government that the asylum system should be changed … and they can discuss nationality.”

That said, Erdogan’s supporters may not be as sympathetic to the plight of their Syrian neighbours as the president is said to be. Nationalist sentiment is running high. There have been reports of mobs attacking Syrian neighbourhoods in the wake of the coup attempt, although these could not be independently confirmed by IRIN.

EU-Turkey deal

Turkey’s long-stalled accession to the EU was supposed to be given fresh impetus by a deal to return one migrant who did not qualify for asylum from Europe to Turkey in exchange for resettling one qualifying Syrian on the continent.

However, the agreement was quickly halted by questions over its legality and there have been no mass returns. Now there’s another potential hitch: the death penalty.

 

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Capital punishment is no-go for the EU: abolition is a precondition for entry, and Turkey abolished it in 2002 as part of reforms aimed at membership.

But, following the coup, politicians from Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) have called for reintroducing the sentence. Erdogan has said he will consider it (not for the first time), and the hashtag “I want the death sentence” was reportedly trending on Twitter in Turkish over the weekend.

While European leaders threw their support behind Turkey’s elected government, EU chief Donald Tusk also warned of concerns of a potential crackdown.

“The key question will be what kind of Turkey comes out from this crisis. How Turkey manages to come out of and deal with the consequences will be crucial not just for Turkey, but the whole region and EU-Turkey relations.”

Presumably, the EU won’t react favorably to the death penalty either, and any execution would throw a major spanner in the EU-Turkey works. German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman hammered this home Monday. “A country that has the death penalty cannot be a member of the European Union," he said. "The introduction of the death penalty in Turkey would mean the end of accession talks."

PKK

Negotiations broke down between the state and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in July 2015, and since the end of last year the two groups have been battling it out in the country’s majority Kurdish southeast.

Civilians have been paying the price, with more than 350,000 displaced and more than 250 killed.

Kristian Brakel, director of the Heinrich Boll Foundation (and a Turkey expert), doesn’t foresee a major change in Erdogan’s policy towards the PKK.

That said, the rise in nationalistic sentiment in the wider population “never historically bodes well for the Kurds,” he noted.

Fighting the PKK, which Turkey considers a terrorist organisation, has been a flagship Erdogan policy. But the militants will be emboldened if the post-coup purge leads to a badly fractured military (there have already been several detentions in the southeast)

The fight against so-called Islamic State

While the relationship has been tense at times, cooperation appears to have been on the up in recent days, with Ankara backing a Kurdish-led offensive against IS in Manbij.

That may now be at risk.

Incirlik airbase, which the US uses to send jets to Syria and Iraq, was temporarily shut down after Turkey said it had arrested plotters there. The airspace is meant to be open again, but operations are likely to be hampered by the reported detention of the base's commander.

Erdogan and his allies blame US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen for the attempted takeover – Erdogan has pledged to “clean all state institutions of the virus” of Gulen supporters and has said he will request the cleric’s extradition.

But others have strongly suggested that the United States itself was somehow involved in the coup.

Gulen denies involvement in the plot and has thrown the blame back on Erdogan.

US Secretary of State John Kerry, meanwhile, has strongly denied that his country played any part in the events and has invited Turkey to “present us with any legitimate evidence that withstands scrutiny”.

This war of words can’t be good for ties between the countries and their deal to battle IS.

“Let’s wait and see how it develops,” cautioned Brakel.

While Turkey has been cozying up to Russia, Israel, and America of late, a formal request for Gulen’s extradition “would definitely be a strain on US-Turkish relations”, he added.

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