Richard Giragosian

The aftermath of the failed coup: Implications for Turkish foreign policy

The repercussions of the failed coup attempt by a small, but dangerous group within the Turkish military continues to resonate within Turkey.  During the doomed coup attempt, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan reacted resolutely.  But he was also as divisive as he was decisive.  And in the aftermath of the threat to his power, he has become both vindictive and vengeful.

For President Erdogan and many of his stalwart AKP supporters the coup attempt was also seen as a vindication of what they have long seen as a looming threat from the “parallel state” of Fethullah Gulen and his underground network of supporters. 

Revenge and retribution 

As each day passes, the Turkish president exacts his personal and political revenge, and extends his retribution to an ever wider circle of Turkish society.  Moving well beyond the armed forces, a purge has expanded to target police, judges, civil servants and even teachers and university rectors.

And in a move reminiscent of such historical purges in Soviet Union and China, President Erdogan went even further, imposing a “ban on foreign travel” for Turkish academics.  This was then only topped by the announcement of a three-month state of emergency, a move that effectively sidelines the parliament and subverts the judiciary.

Wider implications

Yet even beyond the dynamic domestic repercussions, the current climate of fear also holds wider implications for Turkish foreign policy.  On a broader level, the impact on Turkish foreign policy is rooted in the domestic arena, most obviously because President Erdogan is now demanding the extradition of Gulen from the United States.    

While this demand only adds yet another fresh element of tension in Turkish relations with the United States, on top of a series of previous conflicts, it also puts the U.S. in a delicate and difficult position. Yet it also threatens Turkey’s role within the NATO alliance.  This was also evident in the Turkish move to temporarily impede operations at the NATO air base in Incirlik, aimed at exerting pressure over Gulen.  It was also further complicated by the arrest of the Incirlik base commander and the General in charge of Turkey’s NATO “rapid-reaction” unit for their complicity in the coup attempt.

Although the U.S. has made it clear that it will make no move to turn over Gulen without clear and convincing evidence, Turkey’s neighbor and fellow NATO member Greece was more responsive, vowing to move quickly over the case of several Turkish soldiers who fled to Greece seeking asylum as the coup collapsed. 

For Azerbaijan as well, the new post-coup climate required a new pledge of allegiance, this time with the closure of the private, but firmly pro-government Azerbaijani television station ANS, whose broadcasting license was quickly suspended after it dared to conduct an interview with Gulen.  The Aliyev government then closed down all television and radio-station licenses linked to Gulen and shuttered a private Gulen-affiliated university.

Rapprochement with Russia

At the same time, reflecting an easing of the crisis between Moscow and Ankara even before the coup, Russian President Vladimir Putin has agreed to meet his Turkish counterpart in early August, sealed after a friendly and supportive telephone call from Putin to Erdogan after the coup.  And as the coup attempt tended to accelerate the repaired climate between Erdogan and Putin, marking the closure of the crisis sparked by the Turkish downing of a Russian warplane in November 2015.  It also prompted a unilateral move by Russia to lift all restrictions and sanctions imposed on trade and tourism with Turkey. 

The Earlier coup

In addition to the broader repercussions of the current post-coup climate, there is also an even deeper impact on Turkish foreign policy.  More specifically, the most significant change in Turkish foreign policy came in an earlier coup, months before the 15 July attempt military.

This earlier coup was not directed against President Erdogan, however.  Rather it was a silent coup directed by President Erdogan, which targeted former Foreign Minister and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu in early May.  The forced resignation of Davutoglu not only removed an obstacle to the president’s pursuit of even more personal and political power, it was also a move to reassert full control over foreign policy.   

This was especially important, as the ousting of Davutoglu, who was both the architect and master of foreign policy, transformed the process of foreign policy.  It meant that Erdogan personally, and though an ever smaller circle of advisers politically, became responsible for both the strategic direction and the tactical architect of Turkish foreign policy.   

This coup of foreign policy also included other victims and scapegoats, ranging from the talented Under Secretary Feridun Sinirlioğlu to several other impressive more mid-level standouts within the Foreign Ministry.   

What next?

Thus, in the wake of the still dynamic but still dangerous post-coup climate of revenge and retribution, the course of Turkish foreign policy will only likely continue to be driven by a domestic agenda, and determined ever more by a personal presidential vendetta.  It is equally evident that Turkish foreign policy will also be as decisive and divisive as the president who now controls it.