The average Wyomingite cares about Turkey-at Thanksgiving. This week-end’s failed military coup to topple Turkey’s President Recep Erdogan, (pronounced air-doo-won) thrust Turkey (ancient Asia Minor) to the media forefront. Many world political leaders condemned the attempted coup, claiming that Erdogan has “constitutional authority,” and “duly elected.” Others in the U.S. dismissed that claim, maintaining he was not elected, as we understand it. Formerly Turkey’s Prime Minister, for a decade Erdogan helped expand the reach of the Islamic state, and precipitously dismantled Turkey’s Constitution through purging pro-secular parliament members in Ankara, in the high court, and ranking military, to advance his Islamist bent, loosening the “grip of secularism” that has been in place since 1926. Politicos are understandably focused on local Wyoming races, or the appointment of Indiana Governor Mike Pence as Trump’s running mate. Legitimately, some will ask, “What difference does Turkey make in our lives?”
The failure of this coup, Middle East experts claim, embolden President Erdogen to further erode their constitutional style Republic, much as President Obama has ours through executive orders. Not coincidentally, our president reaffirmed that he “stands firmly behind President Erdogen.” Many conclude this is further proof of a global caldron, and Turkey’s the “bull’s eye” between the secular and Islamic caliphate. There’s very little that’s simple in that part of the world. To gain today’s context, one must reflect back at the influence of Turkey’s Kemal Ataturk, who founded an independent Turkey, pulling it out of the ruins of the Ottoman Empire, through implementing bold reforms, that rapidly secularized and westernized the country, shrinking the centuries of Islamic grip in public life.
Ataturk served as Turkey’s President from 1923 to 1938. His government adopted new legal codes based more on European models. He sagely told an audience in 1926, “The civilized world is so far ahead of us,” he continued, “We have no choice but to catch up.” Under his leadership, thousands of new schools were built, primary education was free and compulsory, and women were given equal civil and political rights. Abolition of the caliphate and the sultanate in 1924, assured the independence of the Republic. Apposing Muslim nations surrounding Turkey, he encouraged Turks to wear more modern European style attire, and promoted the wearing of western style hats rather than the traditional fez. He introduced many radical departures from the former Ottoman Empire. His new Turkish civil code, promoted a “new cultural Turkish Republic.” Subsequent Turkish presidents have serially moved away from Ataturk’s watershed movement. Not surprisingly, President Erdogen has over emphasized the “executive” side of his office since 2014. Sound familiar?
Former State Department official, and Middle East specialist, David Taferi, observed that under Erdogen, more journalist have been jailed in Turkey than China, with his heavy handed influence on the media, and civil liberties, has made him the target of many critics. During this week-end’s coup, social media was shut down. Erdogen was out of the country, communicating via cell phone face time, to rally support, urging citizens in Ankara and Istanbul to flood the streets in support of his regime. The foreign TV feeds were murky at best to estimate who was prevailing at the time. Most of his support comes from the rural regions of Turkey, where the Islamic influence is greatest, outside of Ankara and Istanbul. Mosques leaders and Islamist entreated the people to “take to the streets” to support President Erdogen.
As a U.S. strategic partner in the fight against Issis, Erdogan has been schizophrenic. Our misguided foreign policies, and State Department’s feckless strategy, going back to Bush 43’ days, has positioned Turkey as the second best armed military among NATO members, next to the U.S. Their massive border along Syria serving as a “freeway” for Syrian recruits and Issis fighters has exasperated U.S. military advisors, challenging Erdogan’s alleged support of our interests. One military analyst calculated Turkey’s recent role in supporting U.S. interests, “We are getting miserable customer service for the high price we’re paying.” Though a repugnant notion to some Americans, the Turkish military has been the sole best defender of their constitution, with successful coups in 1960, 1971, and 1980. Many are convinced Erdogan will parlay that coup into a pretext to jail, or execute those who fomented the uprising, silencing his political opposition, tightening his death grip on consolidating his expansion of Islamic influence. Our State Department props up this entente.
The adiaphorous U.S. citizen asks, “Why is this upheaval in Turkey important?” First, the stakes are elevated in terms of our investment in that country-financially, strategically, and geo-politically. The southern base in Turkey we fly our sorties from was grounded during the coup attempt. Turkey’s Euro-Asia corridor renders it a vital nexus from the East and West. One can argue whether we should be in this battle. Since we are, Turkey is pivotal to our air campaign and stability in the region. Second, Erdogan’s relentless attack on Turkey’s Constitution jeopardizes the security of another NATO ally. While their constitution’s unlike ours, it demonstrates what cataclysmic events occur when an “elected leader” ignores its primary document that promises liberty. We’ve watched it over the last seven years with President Obama. Third, as Turkey slips backward toward a 7th Century interpretation of a caliphate world, we’re at greater risk. That region will blaze like a tinder box-literally and politically. We’ll “smell the smoke.” Sadly, U.S. leadership’s abysmal. Will the Islamic world go the way of Khomeini or Kemal?
Erdogan’s “financial dalliances” with Syria and the U.S. are equivalent to a fickle, sophomoric crush. Ever the opportunist, waiting in the wings, is Vladimir Putin, bare chest, to “sweep Erdogan off his feet.” Our Republic, for 240 years, has transitioned from one administration to another seamlessly. A Lesson? Regrettably we stand idly as our president eviscerates our Constitution as surely as Erdogan. We don’t count on a military coup. Who are we counting on? Trump? Psalm 33:12, “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord.” What do you think?
Mike Pyatt’s a Natrona County, WY resident. His email’s firstname.lastname@example.org