July 18, 2016

TSG IntelBrief: Turkey in Full Crisis

• The July 15 failed coup in Turkey and subsequent purge have tremendous repercussions across numerous geopolitical and regional issues.

• At least 265 people were killed in the short-lived coup and more than 15,000 people have been detained or dismissed in its aftermath.

• Violent instability will likely alter Turkey’s central role in both the fight against the Islamic State as well as the refugee crisis.

• Relations between Turkey and the U.S. may experience strain to a degree rarely seen between NATO members.


The aftermath of the failed coup in Turkey has turned into a full-scale purge of the police, military, and judiciary. The political and social tensions leading to the oddly-timed and poorly-executed coup remain as deep and divisive as they were before July 15. The attempted takeover by units of the Turkish military left at least 265 people dead and many more wounded—though the casualty count could have been much higher. The ensuing domestic crisis will have a reverberating impact across a wide range of pressing issues, such as the military campaign against the so-called Islamic State in neighboring Syria.

On July 18, Turkey announced that 8,000 police officials had been suspended on suspicion of supporting the coup; 6,000 military personnel, including at least 100 senior officers, as well as scores of judges, have also been detained or dismissed. Mass suspicion and wide-ranging investigations are common in the aftermath of failed coups, yet the scale and targets of Ankara’s reaction suggest that President Erdogan will use recent developments to further consolidate his power. Broad public support was crucial to turning back the military units that turned against their government; it remains unclear, and perhaps unlikely, whether or not Erdogan will attempt to unify a society increasingly divided between secularism and Islamism.

U.S.-Turkish relations have suffered in the aftermath of the failed coup. Turkish officials cut the electricity and restricted U.S. personnel movement at Incirlik airbase for several days. The move was intended both to investigate Turkish military personnel at the base who were closely involved in the coup, and to notify the U.S. that Ankara had some leverage in the coming fight over cleric and political figure Fethullah Gülen.

Gülen, leader of the Gülen movement, was once a close associate of President Erdogan as the two built parallel political and social movements in Turkey over the last 13 years. However, Erdogan now considers Gülen to be not just an enemy of the state, but perhaps its greatest enemy. Gülen currently resides in eastern Pennsylvania—leading Turkey to believe that the U.S. is harboring a Turkish traitor. Turkish officials have issued public statements effectively declaring that anyone helping Gülen will be considered an enemy of Turkey. Erdogan cares deeply about this issue. Though Turkey and the U.S. have an extradition treaty, Turkey has not formally asked for Gülen’s extradition, and it is unclear how the U.S. would respond if it does.

Ankara’s Zero Problems’ foreign policy long ago became one of constant tension with neighbors; the failed coup and aftermath will only exacerbate Turkish relations with the outside world. Turkey’s relations with the European Union will continue to decay as Erdogan moves further from EU-style governance. The military campaign against the Islamic State will continue, but will be negatively effected by the deteriorating U.S.-Turkish relationship. Though Ankara had been moving against the terrorist group in recent months, it may now be more concerned with purging its police and military units, giving the Islamic State some room to breathe. Turkey plays a central role in stemming the flow of foreign fighters, as well as that of refugees, but the government may be distracted by internal issues. There is never a good time for a coup, failed or otherwise, yet the timing of the Turkish coup is particularly unfortunate. The Turkish people soundly rejected the attempt by the military to assume control of the country; it remains to be seen what will emerge from the chaos. 


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