Erdogan has nine lives, survives Gulen’s coup

Turkish authorities have just stopped short of alleging that the abortive military coup last night has geopolitical significance. The hints are coming in driblets.

President Recep Erdogan is on record that the coup was masterminded by the followers of Fetullah Gulen, the Islamist preacher operating out of the US. Then, the justice minister repeated the allegation.

The state-run Anadolu news agency since named Colonel Moharrem Kose as the leader of the coup. Kose used be an officer in the Turkish armed forces who was dishonourably discharged in March 2006 for links with Gulen’s shadowy organisation.

Meanwhile, Ibrahim Melih Gokcek, Mayor of Ankara and a close political associate of Erdogan, came up with a stunning disclosure that the coup’s participants included an officer belonging to Gulen’s organization who was also involved in the killing of a Russian pilot in Syria last November. Gokcek said:

It was the ‘parallel state’ that has deteriorated our relations with Russia. It was an incident, in which one of the pilots of this structures has participated, I guarantee it. He was one of the coup’s participants. We have not voiced it until now. But I, Melih Gokcek, say that our relations have been deteriorated by these villains.

Of course, a need arises to connect the dots. Gulen fled to the US in 1998 when the Turkish intelligence began investigating his followers who had infiltrated the Turkish state security agencies and the armed forces and the judiciary.

In 2008, Gulen got the ‘green card’, which was apparently on the recommendation by two top CIA officials. He has since been living in recluse in Pennsylvania and never left the US on a visit abroad.

A former chief of Turkish intelligence Osman Nuri Gundes wrote in his memoirs in 2011 that Gulen’s network provided a cover for the CIA to conduct covert operations in the former Soviet republics of Central Asia as part of the US strategy to use political Islam as an instrument of regional policies.

Indeed, from his vast and luxurious estate in Saylosberg in a remote part of eastern Pennsylvania, heavily guarded and out of bounds for visitors, Gulen launched a network of mosques and madresses in the Central Asian countries. (Interestingly, Russia and Uzbekistan banned Gulen’s ‘schools’.)

Now, the coup attempt in Turkey comes in the wake of the Turkish-Russian rapprochement and nascent signs of a shift in Erdogan’s interventionist policies in Syria. Of course, Turkey is a ‘pivotal state’ in the US’ regional strategies and the Turkish-Russian rapprochement comes at a most awkward time for Washington, since:

It is a ‘force multiplier’ for Moscow’s efforts to strengthen the Syrian regime;

It promises to revive the stalled Turkish Stream gas pipeline project (the $15 billion project to transport Russian gas via Turkey to southern Europe) as well as the construction of the $20 billion nuclear power plants in Turkey with Russian reactors;

It blocks the US plans to establish permanent NATO presence in the Black Sea (which requires Turkey’s cooperation in terms of Montreaux Convention of 1936 whereby non-Black Sea countries cannot permanently keep warships in those waters);

It may jeopardise the US operations in Iraq and Syria which heavily depend on Incirlik base in Turkey;

It works against the balkanization of Syria;

Turkey’s foreign-policy orientation changes on the whole; and,

It works against Israeli, Saudi, Qatari interests in Syria.

Erdogan too is a savvy politician and will keep the Americans guessing. But the Sultan knows that god has given him a fresh lease of life – and make no mistake, he will remain wary of US intentions.

A coup is always a gambit. The plotters of the coup miscalculated that the bulk of the Turkish military would support the overthrow of the authoritarian president who has imposed civilian supremacy on the Pashas. But Erdogan’s masterstroke to bring in “people’s power” into the streets took them by surprise – reminiscent of Boris Yeltsin’s act in putting down the coup attempt in 1990.

Erdogan is a charismatic politician and has survived thanks to his sheer popularity. In the 2014 poll he secured a clear-cut mandate with 51% support of the electorate. Now, the secularists, ‘Kemalists’ and right-wing nationalists also rally against the coup. That makes a massive support base.

Gulen now becomes a serious issue between Washington and Ankara. There is no likelihood of Washington agreeing to the extradition of Gulen, who is a ‘strategic asset’. (Read the riveting piece on Gulen in the Open Democracy entitled What is Fetullah Gulen’s real mission?)

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