On Tuesday, August 9, 2016, the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan arrived in St. Petersburg to hold talks with the Russian President Vladimir Putin. This was Erdogan’s first foreign visit since the July 15 abortive coup against his elected government. St. Petersburg is Putin’s hometown.
Addressing a joint press conference after the talk, Putin said: “I believe that we have all the necessary prerequisites and opportunities for restoring our relations between our two countries to the full extent and Russia is ready and willing to do that.”
On his part, Erdogan said: “As a result of the negotiation we had today, political, cultural and economic relations between Russia and Turkey can finally be restored to the appropriate level we used to enjoy before the crisis.”
Ties between the two countries have been acrimonious since November last year when Turkey, citing a brief violation of its airspace along Turkey’s border with Syria, shot down a Russian military aircraft. Russia’s President Vladimir Putting ordered punishing economic sanctions, imposed a travel ban on Russian tourists visiting Turkey and suspended all government-to-government relations.
Unable to ignore the damage, Erdogan conveyed regrets to Putin; the regrets were accepted which paved the way for August 9 meeting. Interestingly, the two Turkish Air Force pilots linked to the downing of the Russian Su-24 bomber have been detained in connection with the recent failed coup attempt in Turkey, according to Turkish Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag.
Areas of cooperation
Turkey wants to bring ties with Russia to pre-crisis levels with cooperation in the defense industry sector and energy projects including the Turkish Stream gas pipeline and the Akkuyu nuclear plant, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said at the press conference.
As a result of the negotiation we had today, political, cultural and economic relations between Russia and Turkey can finally be restored to the appropriate level we used to enjoy before the crisis,” Erdogan said.
Erdogan also outlined a list of areas of cooperation where Ankara is eager to engage in cooperation.
“I would like to emphasize that we are willing to provide strategic investment status to the Akkuyu project, and we have just reached an understanding on this issue with President Putin. We also intend to promote cooperation in the area of defense industry and defense production,” he stressed.
The Turkish head of state additionally pledged to implement the Turkish Stream natural gas pipeline project, vowing to ensure a route for Russian gas exports heading toward Europe.
Russia will gradually lift the restrictions it had imposed against Turkish companies, Russian President Vladimir Putin said during the press conference.
“After the press conference, we shall have an opportunity to speak to the heads of large companies from both Russia and Turkey. I mean the gradual lifting of the special economic measures, restrictions introduced earlier against Turkish companies,” Putin told a press conference after the meeting.
Did not discuss the Syrian issue
Ironically, Erdagon and Putin did not discuss the thorny Syrian issue. “During today negotiations we didn’t discuss situation in Syria,” Recep Tayyip Erdogan said answering the question from journalists.
Vladimir Putin has also confirmed, that the Syrian crisis will be discussed later. “We believe that the Syrian crisis can be resolved only through diplomatic decision,” he noted. “We have experienced many challenges in our relations recently, but we should restore our relations on pre-crisis level for citizens’ sake,” President Putin said in conclusion.
Russia sides with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad while Turkey, like US and other European nations, want to topple Assad. They support rebel groups, including the so-called Islamist ones, who are fighting Assad. But the Syrian leader remains firmly in power more than five years after the civil war began.
According to Andrey Kortunov, director general of the Russian International Affairs Council, there was room for the two sides to move closer together on options for a political transition to end the five-year civil war and on the shape of a new constitution for the country.
However, Russia’s TASS news agency quoted Erdogan’s spokesman Ibrahim Kalin “in cooperation with Russia, we would like to facilitate a political transition in Syria as soon as possible.” But he repeated Turkey’s long-held stand that such a move would only be possible with Assad’s departure.
TurkStream gas pipeline
While the timing of Erdogan’s Russia trip could be interpreted as a signal to the West, Faruk Logoglu, a former Turkish ambassador to Washington, doubted it meant a full Turkish embrace of Russia or lasting damage to U.S. ties.
“The Turkish-American relationship is like a catholic marriage: there is no divorce. Both sides need each other,” he said. “It has experienced severe tests in the past and I think it will weather this one as well.”
However, closer ties between Ankara and Moscow could be more troublesome for Europe, which sees a plan for a gas pipeline from Russia to Turkey, a project known as TurkStream, as a complication in its efforts to cut dependence on Russian energy.
“Gas cooperation between Russia and Turkey could be scary for the European Union,” said Akin Unver, assistant professor of international relations at Kadir Has university in Istanbul and an expert in regional energy.
“The EU wants to diversify suppliers and link eastern Mediterranean gas to Europe in the long run … if Russia bypasses all that with TurkStream that would not help. But the EU is in no position to bargain. Politically, it is very weak.”
EU officials fear that TurkStream will be expanded to bypass Ukraine as a transit route for supplies to Europe, increasing dependence on Russian gas export monopoly Gazprom and shutting in alternative supplies from the Caspian region.
Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak has said Turkey will “play a large role as a transit country” to supply Europe – the very prospect which worries EU officials. Brussels is instead promoting a chain of pipelines known as the Southern Gas Corridor to transport gas from the Shah Deniz field in Azerbaijan to European markets by 2020.
Erdogan to West: ‘Mind your own business’
President Erdogan’s visit to Russia came at a time when the Turkish government is discontented and displeased with the Western countries not showing support to his elected government but criticizing his government action against the perpetrators of the July 15 abortive coup.
Erdogan said Western leaders who were criticizing the Turkish government’s reaction to the July 15 coup attempt should “mind their own business.”
He said: “When five to 10 people die in a terror attack, you [Western countries] set the world on fire. But when there is a coup attempt against the president of the Turkish Republic, who always protects the democratic parliamentary system and who was elected with 52 percent of the general vote, instead of siding with the government you side with the perpetrators.”
Erdogan also criticized the head of the US general command for suggesting that crackdowns in the Turkish military after the failed coup attempt had harmed the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS).
“I am concerned that it will impact the level of cooperation and collaboration that we have with Turkey which has been excellent, frankly,” General Joseph Votel said, speaking at the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado, US.
After the failed coup of July 15, more than 8,500 officers and soldiers, including 157 of the 358 generals and admirals in the Turkish military’s ranks, were discharged. Prime Minister Binali Yildirim has announced that the military’s shipyards and weapons factories will be transferred to civilian authority; military high schools and war academies have been shut; military hospitals will be transferred to health ministry; and the gendarmerie, a key force in anti-terror operations, and the coast guard will be tied to the interior ministry.
“Know your place,” Erdogan said in response. “The US general [Joseph Votel] stands on the coup plotters’ side with his words. He disclosed himself via his statements,” Erdogan said, as he repeated calls for the US to extradite Fethullah Gulen, who is accused of plotting the abortive coup through his followers penetrated in the Turkish civil and military bureaucracy.
Following Erdogan’s comments, Votel issued a statement denying he was supporting the coup plotters. “Any reporting that I had anything to do with the recent unsuccessful coup attempt in Turkey is unfortunate and completely inaccurate,” Votel said in his statement. “Turkey has been an extraordinary and vital partner in the region for many years. We appreciate Turkey’s continuing cooperation and look forward to our future partnership in the counter-ISIL fight.”
Massive purge in civil and military bureaucracy
In the aftermath of the abortive coup, the government has dismissed 2,745 judges including members of Turkey’s highest judiciary board. Licences of 21,000 private school teachershave been cancelled. Around 50,000 soldiers, police, judges, civil servants and teachers have been suspended or removed. Erdogan ordered 1,577 deans of universities to resign.
According to Metin Gurcan, an ex-army officer now working as a columnist for Al-Monitor’s Turkey Pulse,on July 27, 1,684 ranking officers of the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) were dismissed for constituting a threat to national security and for their affiliation with the Fethullah Gulen Terror Organization (FETO).
The purge ruling, which cannot be appealed, covered 2% of 40,000 officers in the TSK and 1% of approximately 90,000 noncommissioned officers. The ranks most affected were generals and admirals.
Of the 325 generals in Turkey’s army, air and naval forces, 149 (45.8%) were discharged on July 27, including two four-star generals, seven lieutenant generals, 27 major generals/vice admirals (12 army, 11 air force and four navy) and 126 brigadier generals/rear admirals.
Before the purge was made public, Land Forces Chief of Staff Gen. Ihsan Uyar, the No. 2 name of that major command, and Gen. Kamil Basoglu, commander of Training and Doctrine of the army, submitted their resignations.
Army, air and naval commanders will be under the Minister of Defense, and gendarmerie, police and coast guard will be under the Ministry of Interior.
Erdogan has already said the chief of General Staff and Military Intelligence Organization (MIT) should be directly attached to the presidency and that such a move would require structural reforms in Turkey’s security. But because of a lack of support from opposition parties for such a radical change, a constitutional amendment will be needed to make those changes.
This is not the first coup plot to fail in Turkey
This is not the first coup plot to fail in Turkey.
According to the Geneva Center for Security Policy, following the 1960 coup, for example, Colonel Talat Aydemir spearheaded two coups in 1962 and 1963, but – like the most recent coup attempt – failed to win the support of the Turkish high command. The Turkish military, during this time, was divided – much like today – and ultimately took steps to prevent “factionalization” within the institution, beginning with a purge of 1,400 of Aydermir’s reported sympathizers from the military academy in 1963 and 1964.
The next intervention took place in 1971, through the issuing of a memorandum that forced the resignation of the then elected Prime Minister, Suleyman Demirel, and then again in 1980.
The military, in 2007, posted a memorandum challenging the legitimacy of the AKP’s then candidate for president, Abdullah Gul, because his wife wore a headscarf. The Turkish military has traditional viewed its role as guardians of Turkish secularism, a concept that includes other political tenets – known as “six arrows” – that collectively are defined as Kemalism. The constitutional court implicitly backed the military, as did the main opposition party, the Republican People’s Party (CHP). The AKP subsequently called a snap parliamentary election, calculating that the public would side with them, and ultimately won 341 seats, an increase from their previous position, and easily exceeding the number of seats needed to elect Gul.
Turkey court issues arrest warrant for Fethullah Gulen
A court in Turkey has issued a formal warrant for the arrest of Fethullah Gulen, who has lived in Pennsylvania since 1998, whom the government accuses of being behind the failed coup that resulted in the death of more than 250 people. The official Anadolu news agency said that on August 4, 2016 an Istanbul-based court issued the warrant for Gulen for “ordering the July 15 coup attempt”.
The order for Gulen’s arrest is seen a step toward a formal extradition request to the United States, which Turkish officials say will be submitted after an investigation into the botched coup.
Erdogan has been calling for the extradition since 2013, when he accused Gulen’s followers, who held positions in the judiciary, of orchestrating a corruption inquiry that implicated Erdogan’s inner circle. An arrest warrant for Mr. Gulen was issued in Turkey in 2014, accusing him of directing “an armed terrorist organization” that illegally tapped the conversations of the prime minister and president.
Metin Gurcan, a senior columnist, provides an insight into the Gulen movement which has been active in Turkey for 40 years and operates in 130 countries employing hundreds of thousands of people in the fields of education, health and trade with annual revenue exceeding $50 billion.
Metin argues that “ we tend to see the Gulenist structure in a modern paradigm as a hierarchical body, with rigid internal discipline and followers who are strongly devoted to its highly charismatic leader. This is where we make mistakes when analyzing the Gulenist structure.”
According to Kahraman Sakul of Istanbul Sehir University who spoke to Al-Monitor, the Gulenist network is based on much more complex relations. He said, “Contrary to sustained media comments, I don’t think the network model of Gulenists emulates the classical pyramid model of terrorists. The Gulen movement has transparent, overt networks of trade, finance, education, media, health and social media and secret, covert networks of military and intelligence bureaucracy.”
“Until now, international opinion focused on overt Gulenist networks. But the testimonies of soldiers detained after the coup make it clear there are enormous differences between the overt and covert networks of the Gulenist movement,” Metin says adding:
“In their official narratives used by overt networks, Fethullah Gulen is portrayed as an “opinion leader.” We are told that his basic goal is to spread his service worldwide, to serve global peace by doing business all over, to overcome prejudices between religions and culture, and to ensure interfaith dialogue. But what we hear from testimonies of pro-Fethullah Gulen Terror Organization (FETO) military officers, the narrative used in secret networks is quite different.
“Chief of General Staff Hulusi Akar, who was taken hostage by his closest associates on the night of the coup attempt, has said he was approached by air force brigadier Hakan Evrim, who told him, “If you wish, we can arrange for you to talk to our opinion leader Fethullah Gulen,” which proved their absolute obedience to Gulen.
How Gulen nework works?
“Soldiers in the covert networks are obliged to carry out the orders passed on to them by their civilian “older brothers.” No Gulenist in uniform knew any other officer of the same affiliation. This is best explained by the testimony of Muhammed Uslu, a civilian working in the private secretariat of the Prime Ministry who was also the “older brother” of Lt. Col. Levent Turkkan, the senior aide to Akar. We were amazed to hear how Uslu received the daily recordings of the office of the Chief of General Staff and passed them on to another civilian brother he didn’t even know.
“The group that constitutes the core of the secret network would spread the unquestionable instructions to lower levels, where the only requirement was to carry them out. This blind obedience also meant that many bright Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) officers with master’s and doctorate degrees were passing on what they learned to “older brothers” they didn’t even know.
“ Secret cells of Gulenists do not operate on a hierarchical pyramid model. Their nets don’t operate on the basis of perpendicular hierarchies of command and control but on horizontal hierarchy. For example, there are reports that on the night of July 15, many generals were ordered around by colonels and even more junior ranks. An air force noncommissioned officer is said to have issued orders to generals to apprehend Erdogan.”
Gulen Movement’s absolute secrecy in a way was the basic cause of the July 15 coup failure, Metin concludes. Gulen followers successfully infiltrated the Turkish officer corps by outmaneuvering its no-beard and no-headscarf rules. Gulen no doubt justified such concealment with his own interpretation of the Islamic tenet of taqiyah. His interpretation of Islam allows the dishonesty of systematic deception.
“Turks Can Agree on One Thing: U.S. Was Behind Failed Coup,” this was the headline of the rticle published on August 2, 2016 by the New York Times. The article written by Tim Arango and Ceylan Yeginsu pointed out:
“Turks, in their exasperation that the United States has not turned over Mr. Gulen, have made this analogy: What if Turkey, in 2001, had harbored Osama bin Laden? Given the widespread sentiment that Mr. Gulen was behind the coup, a failure to extradite him would probably provoke a popular backlash in Turkey against the United States, and would confirm for many that the Americans had conspired against Turkey. “
Gülen came to America in 1998, reportedly to seek medical treatment. Since then, he has directed his global empire from Pennsylvania. A federal judge granted him a green card in 2008. Shortly after he left for America, a series of secretly recorded sermons featuring Gülen aired on Turkish television. In one of them, he told his followers:
“You must move in the arteries of the system without anyone noticing your existence until you reach all the power centers…You must wait for the time when you are complete and conditions are ripe, until we can shoulder the entire world and carry it…”
“You must wait until such time as you have gotten all the state power, until you have brought to your side all the power of the constitutional institutions in Turkey … Now, I have expressed my feelings and thoughts to you all in confidence. Know that when you leave here — as you discard your empty juice boxes, you must discard the thoughts and the feelings that I expressed here.”
Foreign Policy magazine has described Gulen as an opportunist while Pepe Escobar calls him a CIA asset. Interestingly, a former C.I.A. official and a former American ambassador to Turkey helped Mr. Gulen receive a green card, according to the New York Times.