Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan may have somehow survived a serious coup attempt in 2016, but Turkey seems to be moving towards a coup yet again and this time around, the Turkish President might find it hard to quell the rebellion shaping up against him.
In this context, Turkey has reportedly ordered the detention of 304 members of the military who are allegedly linked to the US-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen. Ankara claims that Gulen had orchestrated the 2016 coup attempt, an accusation denied by the US-based cleric. The latest crackdown by the Erdoğan administration is a part of a series of such actions following the 2016 coup attempt. It only goes on to show how Turkey’s President remains insecure about his position.
Erdoğan’s latest purge in the Turkish military was spread over 50 provinces. The investigation also targeted officers at the middle and senior levels in the Army and the Air Force. Five Colonels and ten Captains have become victims of Erdoğan’s brutal crackdown. On Tuesday, Turkish police reportedly arrested 198 soldiers.
Tens of thousands of Turkish soldiers have been arrested and jailed since the 2016 coup attempt, showing that Erdoğan is going increasingly paranoid about the waves of dissent taking root against his administration in the military circles. Even the civilian establishment hasn’t remained untouched. Till now more than 100,000 civil servants, including police officers and teachers have been handed suspension orders over alleged links to Gulen.
Turkey’s President clearly cannot trust his country’s military establishment. Therefore, his administration is cutting the military leadership to size. But is it going to help Erdoğan avoid another coup? Well, excessive control by the Erdoğan administration only seems to be fueling even greater friction between Turkey’s civilian authority and military establishment.
As per a RAND report published in February, the Turkish military’s “discontent could even lead to another coup attempt at some point, and Erdogan appears to take the threat seriously.” According to the American think tank, there are several reasons behind the growing discontent in the Turkish military. One of these reasons is the assertion of civilian supremacy over the military leadership.
Since 2008, the Erdoğan administration has been interfering in the Army’s promotion and selection process, apart from “overseeing purges” of military personnel. The report further stated, “Reforms implemented since the 2016 coup attempt and constitutional changes approved in 2017 further reinforced presidential and civilian control over the Turkish Armed Forces, muddied the chain of command, increased interservice rivalry, and led to a politicization of the officer corps. Parliamentary oversight of the military budget and posture has diminished under the constitutional changes.”
Erdoğan’s crusade against the Turkish military has both operational and departmental fallouts. At an operational level, the uncertainty surrounding sudden suspensions and detentions of tens of thousands of military officials have debilitated the Turkish military’s strategic and tactical capacity, readiness and morale.
The RAND report also warned, “Middle-level officers are reported to be extremely frustrated with the military leadership and concerned about being removed in the continuing post-coup purges.”
Apart from the friction with the military leadership, it also needs to be noted that Turkey has changed drastically since 2016. In 2016, the Turkish economy was in good shape and the Turkish polity was still not radically Islamist or belligerent. Therefore, the coup attempt did not enjoy public, political or military support.
However, over the past four years, Erdoğan’s dictatorial streak has made him highly unpopular. Within his administration, the Turkish President had suspected fallout with his own son-in-law and former Finance Minister, Berat Albayrak. The military, of course, doesn’t fancy an overbearing President and the people of Turkey are bearing the brunt of Erdoğan’s ineffective economic policies. If and when, the next military coup happens in Ankara, Erdoğan would have to give way for a brutal regime change unlike 2016.