From the Coup aftermath series, this analysis approaches a much more prospective subject but with an introspective character. The risks of having the entire top commanders of the Army arrested and the way the State and the Army will work in the future having faced the AKP-Gulen Movement element are main pillars of this analysis. Moreover the very likely scenario in which the political class would not be capable of trusting the Army anymore is already shaping. As an effect, the political body would need to take decisions to evade its dependency on the Armed Forces; even if that mean’s outsourcing security.
Following the recent failed Coup d’etat, attempted by a breakaway faction within the military ranks, Erdogan has launched an all out assault on both private and public sectors, judicial and defense institutions, arresting, suspending or firing now 50,000 individuals
- 15,200 teachers and other education staff had been sacked
- 1,577 university deans were ordered to resign
- 8,777 interior ministry workers were dismissed
- 1,500 staff in the finance ministry had been fired
- 257 people working in the prime minister’s office were sacked
- The news came on top of the arrests of more than 6,000 military personal and the sackings of nearly 9,000 police officers. About 3,000 judges have also been suspended.
An official state of emergency has been declared in the State following a Security Council held yesterday (July 20) and the European Convention of Human Rights has been recently suspended. The witch-hunt is officially designated to be against the followers of the “parallel structure” (shorthand for Gulen Movement) which are blamed for the Coup.
Fetullah Gulen, now 75 is in a self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania, USA. His network is mostly comprised of:
- The Hizmet (Service),
- Foundation schools (islamic oriented), currently under closer in Turkey and in process to be closed in different other parts, (as Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan etc.);
- Business conglomerates as Koza Ipek Holding (print, marketing, media assets, mining companies), Feza Publications (Zaman; Today’s Zaman) and many others.
- Individuals infiltrated within the ranks and structures of the system (Media, Police, Intelligence, Army etc.).
The AK party relied on the Gulen movement to eliminate the secularist establishment in the state and the military; but the two groups broke away starting with 2012, 2013.
In the 1970s, Gulen formed a sect of his own that people later called “Gulen Camaati” (Gulen community) or “Hizmet” (service) named by its followers. In the context of those times, the Gulen movement, as any islamist movement, had a hard time navigating through the ultra-secular establishment. The group was banned but re-emerged in the 80’s and has began to enlarge upon receiving consistent donations from select businessmen, therefore undertaking a politicization process.Their activity grew so quick that even in those time the government had warned about the “Gullenists/ Fettulahcilar” infiltrators from their structures. (as seen in a newspapper from 1986)
— Medyascope (@Medyascopetv) July 23, 2016
Gulen had a powerful Media reach, both by TV and traditional newspapers, as Zaman and the more recent Today’s Zaman – both of which were closed by the Government earlier this year. Here you have a recording of Gulen in the 80’s calling for his followers to infiltrate the system, conceal their intentions and wait for the best time until launching an uprising.
The 90’s were not to kind to Gulen. After a short period of “Islamic liberalization” in the 80’s (which also launched Turk-Islam as a national policy), the political establishment returned to its secular roots, therefore Gulen emigrated in the United States in 1999. Yet his movement never stopped growing. In the same year, Erdogan, then the elected Mayor of Istanbul, from the Islamist Welfare Party, was serving a jail sentence for allegations of religious intolerance because he recited a poem that contained Islamic verses in 1997 at a public gathering.
After both Gulen and Erdogan faced setbacks for their promotion of Islam, they both began operating under a much more disguised way. The AKP was created by mostly reformists from Felicity Party (Saadet Partisi) which also settled from the beginning an ideological gap between Erdogan and Gulen. The Felicity Party provided the ideological Mili Goruș that is guiding the AKP even today, while Gulen Movement follows a democracy-friendly (allegedly), moderate and “modern face of the Sufi Ottoman tradition”.
When AKP came to power and Erdogan became the Prime-Minister in 2003, Gulen already had loyal supporters in high levels within the Police, Justice department, Media, Army and especially in educational institutions. Erdogan was a close ally, as well as the AKP which enjoyed a lot of active support from the Gulenists. In spite of holding different views on Political Islam they were sides of the same coin. Both came from an Islamic background that fought against the tide and were always attacked by the secular establishment.
In 2013, Erdogan completely broke with Gulen, after a series of secret audio and video recordings emerged about corruption cases in the AKP government and Erdogan’s inner circle, which he suspected were leaked by the movement. Furthermore the Gulen Movement had in past backed the Army and other organizations to project its own power, as seen in the Ergenekon or Sledgehammer episodes.
According to Erdogan’s advisers, the Turkish president was planning to clean up the army in August of this year, says Radio Free Europe. That may have led the plotters to strike before they were ready
a glimpse into the deep state
The Gulen movement is shorthanded named in Turkey as ”the parallel structure” as it is designated to be a main actor in today’s Turkish Deep State (Gizli Devlet). A term describing the complex network of underground power struggles by individuals from the army, police, paramilitary groups, intelligence, mobs or private companies, with the objective to influence outside political behavior.
The term first appeared in public use in 1996, during the Susurluk Scandal, that involved the assassination of Abdullah Çatlı (right wing extremist; listed contract killer by INTERPOL), Huseyin Kocadağ, a senior police official and beauty queen Gonca Us; survivors Interior Minister Mehmet Ağar and Sedat Bucak (MP and leader of Bucak tribe). The last mentioned was trailed and underwent only one year in jail, and only in 2004, after he won multiple seats in the Parliament, thus having immunity.
The first mentioned, Abdullah Çatlı contract-killer and right-wing extremist, ex-member of the Grey Wolves paramilitary group, was a well knower of the Turkish Deep State playing a huge role in it. He was appointed as leader of a special MiT (Turkish Intelligence) Task Force ordered by general Evren (Coup leader of 1980) to attack the Armenian ASALA and the Kurdish PKK.
The MIT paid him in heroin, and it was for drug trafficking that he was eventually arrested in Paris on 24 October 1984. He was sentenced to seven years imprisonment and in 1988 he was handed over to Switzerland, where he was also wanted on charges of drug dealing. Despite a fresh seven-year sentence, he contrived to escape in March 1990 with the assistance of mysterious accomplices.
In the 90’s Abdullah Çatlı was caught-up in the middle of a turf war between the Intelligence (MiT) and the Police Force; the MiT founded a separate Counter-terrorism unit, thus Çatlı was distanced; he himself engaged in personal gains as drug trafficking and freelance assassinations. While Çatlı’s story ends in 1996, imagine there are hundreds of “fixers” like him, active and experienced, operating with institutional cover for political targets.
Worth to mention that Turkey’s political face is similar to European politics just on the outside. While the inside holds the custom of drug trafficking, military wings and assassinations. The Deep State is a social-political engineering that embodies these traits.
The 2003 Operation Sledgehammer (Turkish Balyoz Harekâtı) is the name of an alleged Turkish secularist military coup plan in response to the liberal Justice and Development Party (AKP) gaining office. The Gulen Movement was rumored to have been involved. The ones detained were released from prison in 2014, which was shortly after the AKP-Gulen relations broke. Erdogan has accused Guleninsts infiltrated in the judicial sector to have been behind their release.
The 2008 Ergenekon trial is considered to be one of the biggest attacks on Erdogan from within the underground network; that event also revealed a more in depth and public look into the Deep State and its many mysteries. Roughly 150 politicians, ex-military officials, journalists and powerful demimonde characters stand accused. State prosecutors suspect the group of being behind plans to overthrow the government. As members of a secret network, called Ergenekon, named after a mythical valley celebrated by ancient Turks, the group allegedly planned to assassinate members of the country’s political and cultural elite. The later 275 condemned for the conspiracy were overturned in April 2016 because allegedly there wasn’t enough evidence to prove the organization even existed. The pattern shows in both Sledgehammer and Ergenekon cases that the Gulen Movement had aggressively increased it’s power after its split with AKP.
The idea of the Ergenekon conspiracy, as prosecutors see it, was for Turkey to sink into fear and chaos before being rescued by an Army coup that would reinstate peace and order. The armed forces, after all, see themselves as protectors of the nation they inherited from Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of modern-day Turkey. The Turkish military has staged coups several coups in the country’s recent past. It does sound a little familiar to what happened days ago…
Turks have always known they have many parallel actors in its government and security services, not all of which were legitimate or even widely known. Bulent Ecevit, a former prime minister, also broke the silence on the deep state in the 1970s, acknowledging that there were secret paramilitary operations working “within the government”.
There are indeed forces underneath the visible political system (hegemonic at first sight) that want to overthrow it and reinstate secular influence. And as stated, Fethullah Gülen, not being actually secular, as it promotes a softer version of Islamization, it’s easy to see why there wasn’t too much support for the Coup even if the Army isn’t that “idealistic democratic Kemalist defender”.
Conclusion: While not knowing exactly what groups are exactly behind the curtains of today’s Deep State (Ergenekon, Grey Wolves, Gulen Movement) the Armed Forces are their foot-guys. AKP was covertly attacked for years by underground conspiracies, but was never actually challenged by a legitimate political group. As seen that the AKP wasn’t attacked by opposition parties when this Coup broke-out. There again I will reiterate that for some reasons, there was not enough support for the perpetrators. As external actors are concerned, of course the European Union and the US would prefer a much more democratic, liberal and secular government in place, but as the aftermath showed, none of them did too much to help the perpetrators, except for waiting a bit more before releasing a statement. But the reason why they didn’t support the Coup, staying instead on stead-by, was because they were probably informed of the low-chances of the Coup succeeding.
I would end this section of the analysis by showing an interesting exchange of declarations, showcased in an Al-Jazeera analysis from 2010, regarding the trials from 2008 and their aftershock:
General Ilker Basbug, Turkey’s military chief, accused the government in December 2009 of waging “asymmetic psychological warfare” against the military. One AK Party deputy, Avni Dogan, declared on 20 February 2010 that “they blacklisted us for 40 years, now we are blacklisting them”.
Impact on the Armed Forces
Now that we see the relation between the Army and Erdogan, Turkey should question its own security commitments to itself. Kurdish fighters have secured land in Rojava (Syria), Pashmerga is defending with success Iraqi Kurdistan, ISIS is not showing huge signs of regressions in Syria, and terror attacks have not stopped in Turkey, nor have they become minimal.
The threats to Turkey’s security interests have not paused their intentions as the Army began to weaken. Hundreds of Commanders were replaced, most of them belonging to the Air Force. Even those two pilots that downed the Turkish jet in November 2015 were involved in the Coup. Overall 6,000 military personnel were sacked. That is an enough number to accentuate the distrust between the Government and Army, and the fear of being persecuted by soldiers and officers.
I would firmly state that the Turkish Army is a lot more weaker than it was on Friday, (July 15th); their regional position compromised, and their capacity of inflicting power on the international stage is severely damaged. It would probably take years for the Turkish Armed Forces to regain their power in the Middle East and deter border incursions from the PKK or ISIS just by guarding it. Even though today (July 21) Turkey has just send fighter jets to hit PKK location in Iraqi Kurdistan. That decision could be interpreted in more than one way:
- Assure enemies that the Army is not frozen, and will continue to uphold its objectives.
- Keep the Army busy by tasking it with immediate missions to undertake; it’s one way of keep the Armed Forces distracted from political affairs.
The renewed hostiles with PKK can be perceived as a “keep the army busy” campaign. Even though the Kurds were the first to engage Turkish troops after Ankara refused to enter Kobani (2013) and fight ISIS; thus breaking the peace agreement that AKP historically secured – that cost the Party voters that shifted from the more nationalistic MHP.
The Incirlik Air Base, located near Adana is a key military base for Turkey, and a huge geo-strategic spearhead for the US-led CJTF-OIR against Da’esh (ISIS/ISIL/IS). Overall a great position for a military base, that thanks to its opening, it can be used for operations in the Middle East, incursions in Caucasus, North Africa and the Mediterranean. In regards to this base, a senior Turkish official said Gen. Bekir Ercan Van, the base commander, as well as 11 other service members from the base and a police officer, were placed under arrest. The airbase is closed, trapping US airmen inside, power is shut and airspace has a “no-fly zone” designation; so the air strikes are suspended.
Aside the Incirlik Air Base, almost every major Turkish military was involved in the Coup. Replacements on the top of the chain-of-command might not brig the stability it needs in these times, as ordinary soldiers fear being trapped between the fury of the Government post-Coup measures and the orders of the high ranking officers; therefore making the defense system inoperative. But in face of current issues, the Intelligence Agency (MiT) take has come under attack during the Coup (facing helicopter fire on its HQ’s in Ankara) could propose a series of measures.
Outsourcing Security and Defense
When the government is ineffective, the army is unresponsive, insufficient or untrustworthy, some States do feel the urge to outsource their security solution-crafting. Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, or Libya are one of those mentioned. In the 90’s the Saudi’s are believed to have been paying-off Al-Qaeda to assure the State’s security. Basically they’ve payed a protection tax in order for Al-Qaeda to conduct their “business” outside the Kingdom. As the Pakistani ISI allegedly used the Taliban’s to protect their interests and even wage some negotiations with the US in their name, thinking that they wouldn’t bomb Pakistani locations. Libya’s government relies mostly on non-state actors to guard their most precious objective and interests as a unity government has just formed and even so, the trust between Tripoli and Tobruk is workable but not consistent. All of them have payed “the price” and witnessed the boomerang effect that comes on the long run.The Saudi’s have crossed a “red line” of supporting terrorist organizations, being discredited by the international community and recently the US (families of victims from 9/11 can now sue the Saudi government); Pakistan was bombed by the Taliban multiple times and have now officially lost every power over them, FATA region is more “tribalized” than ever; while Libya’s security situation is not getting any better.
The Muslim Brotherhood is yet another example of using non-state actors, like militias, local armed groups or networks to project power and protect their governance. Given AKP’s reach to the Muslim Brotherhood and their support for them in Libya, Egypt and other places, the relation could certainly give access to many opportunities of outsourcing security.
If Turkey would consider using non-state actors to provide security solutions, this could result in losing State sovereignty. In the same idea, Turkey has been establishing tribal forces to fight alongside the Army even from the 80’s. The Village Guards were formed in south-eastern Turkey, in the Kurdish areas. Their role is to be the first respondents; they conduct patrols, provide protection in region and they have the responsibility to act when there’s a call or an emergency against the PKK. Overall, Turkey has 46,000 such Village Guards, and their system is heavily regulated (salaries, pensions, security checks) by the State and supervised by MiT, JITEM (Gendarmerie Intelligence) and Police. The nature of the Village Guards is an auxiliary one, of support and of a tactical social presence, than really one of a total need-to by the defense sector.
Much in the same way the US was outsourcing Private Contractors to provide security in key locations in Iraq and Afghanistan. If I where to guess regarding the security necessities, an outsourcing undertaking would involve cross-border operations and border security – tasks that would diminish the Army’s importance and role at the Iraqi and Syrian borders thus deepening the gap between Government and Armed Forces, AKP and soldiers.
Why is this a risk? We can just take a look at Pakistan and realize why. The connections that a non-state actor tasked with lots of resources (financially and logistically), supervised as it may be by a State corps (Intelligence), and granted with license to kill, tasked with important objectives, could grow roots into state affairs, especially in the defense sector. In no-time a country could become heavily influenced by blurred non-state groups with overall illegal harmful objectives.
Turkey has cooperated in the past with FSA groups, some of which have presumably later moved to Anhar al-Sham (non-jihad but conducting extreme Islam). Ankara has been mostly supporting the same groups as UAE, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. Tasking them with border protection in exchange of boosted support could be a huge compromise. Anhar al-Sham was in fact, a candidate of facilitating in the past the long-wanted safe-zone/ no fly zone for Turkey in Northern Syria. Anhar al-Sham has refused Turkey’s plan of a buffer zone, in the end, therefore the leadership was replaced with Mohaned al-Masri a.k.a. Abu Yehia, an individual in better relations with Turkey. Anhar al-Sham is also one of the most successful groups of rebels in Syria and is also a persistent target for Russian, Syrian Air Forces.
Conclusion: It’s one thing to use a group as a proxy in an external country, but another to bring it to your own doorstep. Deepening cooperation, support by implicating an external non-state actor in domestic affairs, even with border protection, could boost their capabilities. Providing a technical support as supplies (lethal and non-lethal) and then a strategic legitimization by tasking them with State important operations would in fact extend the gap between the State and the Army, and empower the Non-State actor of choice.
Risks as conclusions
Securing Islamist fighters for the current government could be a next step into throwing Turkey into a civil war, where the Army could play on the other side. And choosing certain groups in doing so could corroborate into the destabilization of Turkey and facilitating the Syria-Iraq crisis to spill over into the country. This has recently become the next “worst-case” scenario after all of the past ones already occurred in Syria.
While the context is not mainstream or well known, the recent announcement of state of emergency and the continue crack-down, still shutting of military basses have led me to believe that most of the defense sector is under rampage and the government is actually having trouble containing it. Also, the damage to the Governmental-Army trust and cooperation has been severe and would need a long time, and frequent changes on the “top” to rebuild the mechanism.
Having Gulen extradited and arrested would bring a moral hit for the Coup plotters. The same thing happened when Ocalan was arrested and then PKK suffered a huge blow. Continuing with the PKK comparison, the organization lost its purpose, the captured leader was reformulating its precedent more aggressive statements and ultimately, followers ceased to be so enthusiastic. It almost brought PKK into a total collapse. So there is totally a pattern that the Turkish leadership could follow.
The void in which so many inputs come-in still leaves an overall impression of ambiguity and uncertainty. Another risk comes into play when there’s the question of US-Turkey relations. The most recent trademarks of the Turkish-US relations revolve around the fight against ISIS:
- The Air base in Incirlik and base from Diyarbakir are pivotal important assets for the US in reducing its expenses and boost its efficiency and frequency in striking ISIS targets in Syria and Iraq, than from the Persian Gulf.
As Ankara’s concerned, the US has aided or was aware of the Coup, thus passively supporting it. Ankara calls out to Washington to extradite Gulen. The US would have immediately cooperated with a new Government, if promised a more democratic and secular approach, but didn’t believe in the high chances of success, therefore it showed restrain.
- Incirlik Air base was closed so the investigation could go on, and arrest the commander of the base alongside several officers involved.
- Closing of Incirlik Air Base means that the US needs to rely more on the fighter jets from the Persian Gulf, stationed near UAE, in order to conduct air strikes against ISIS in Syria in Iraq.
The current US naval power in the Persian Gulf consists of:
- USS Boxer (LHD-4) a Wasp-class amphibious assault ship of the United States Navy; operated by both US Navy and US Marines; containing air assets as F-35B Lighting and AV-5B Harrier, but also helicopters and Ospreys for Expeditionary Force transportation. The USS Boxer is support asset of the 5th fleet and has been detached there for a while to mainly focus more on Iraq than Syria, thus explaining the high number of helicopters.
- USS Dwight Eisenhower (CVN-69) is a is a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier currently in service with the United States Navy, and has been recently (June) transferred under the authority of the 6th fleet for supporting US Security interests in Europe. In the same time, the aircraft carrier has entered the Mediterranean, now in place in the Persian Gulf, to replace the returning-to-port USS Harry S. Truman, as part of the rotational force. This Carrier Strike Group holds assets as F/A-18E/F Super Hornet’s. This CSG has also conducted operations in 2015, launching 1,800 sorties against Da’esh.
- While assets are in place even from the Gulf, the distance is highly bigger, which increased fuel costs, equipment and frequency of flights.
- There are roughly 200 from the Incirlik Air Base to the Syrian border, and almost 600 the Iraqi one.
- From the waters of UAE, there is almost 800 km to western Iraq where there’s consistent ISIS presence; 1000 km to the Syrian border.
The degradation of asset capabilities in the fight against Da’esh and recent series of friendly statements towards Iran and Russia, and hostile ones against the EU could be simply indirectly pressure on the US. Erdogan and the AKP enjoys a strong popular support and can survive for the moment without too much external support, thus creating space to maneuver and put pressure in order to get their demands fulfilled – Gulen.
The US-Turkish relations could be affected by a more persistent approach towards non-state actors in Syria, such as Anhar al-Sham, and NATO can suffer on its south-eastern flank if the national armed forces will not be quickly reinforced and recovered. Apart from the political situation, which could become stronger than ever, the biggest blow Turkey felt was in the defense sector and that could determine more behavioral tendencies on the international stage, with both non-state and state actors.
It’s also important to bear in mind that the situation in Turkey is a concealed battleground that has been going for ages between all kind of non-state, transnational, legal and illegal groups. Gulen has had for decades a prominent influence into many of the State’s institutions while the ultra-secular Deep State was hunting the AKP from Saadet times. For the AKP, this is a fight for survival, so the group is willing to prioritize this fight above conserving relations with traditional allies, for the moment. Nonetheless, such a consolidated and mutual-dependent relation between the US and Turkey would have low chances of falling-out.
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