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Turkey’s failed coup: What are the regional implications?

Dr. Theodore Karasik

Published: Updated:

While the aftermath of the attempted coup by a faction within the Turkish military – known as the “Peace in the Country Council” – continues to unfold, immediate ramifications are evident within Turkey and in Ankara’s foreign affairs conduct.

Obviously, Turkey’s internal dynamics played out immediately. The military appeared to be divided from the start as the officers and servicemen involved did not anticipate the strong message of unity from President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, government ministers, and some generals who were able to call in to TV channels or send messages via FaceTime and Twitter.

The call to the streets by Erdogan, the messages of unity from Turkish political parties outside of the AKP orbit, and also from Turkey’s mosques in support of the Turkish government helped quash the plot.

However, the damage is done: clashes were followed by killing of dozens, mass arrests, and summary executions reportedly carried out by Turkish supporters of the AKP.

The ripple effect of the coup attempt – based on what appears to have been a pending purge of Gulen supporters from the military’s ranks, “discord” over the departure of former prime minister Davutoglu, stripping of parliamentary immunity of Kurdish MPs, and crackdown on the media, are set to reverberate going forward.

The Turkish President is likely to emerge stronger and harsher against the Gulenists and there are calls for the parliament to bring back the death penalty for the coup plotters that will obviously put Ankara on a collision course with the European Union.

More importantly, the Turkish elimination of Gulenists will also impact Ankara-Washington relations as Muhammed Fethullah Gulen resides in Pennsylvania. This fact makes Erdogan and his supporters angry with the United States.

The US Secretary of State John Kerry has invited Turkey to present evidence against the Gulen movement. Perhaps the next administration will need to deal with the perception that America is allowing the Gulenists to maintain their opposition to the AKP and by pressuring America on Incirlik Air Force base. Such threats against Washington’s use of the base are not unprecedented.

The Soviet parallel

Some analysts have compared the Turkish coup to the Soviet coup of 1991 in terms of organization and failure. They need to be reminded that the coup on that occasion failed eventually.

There are possibilities of Turkey facing trouble in the future in terms of its own regional bifurcation between Anatolia and the remainder of the country. Local observers note that for the past year Anatolia’s increasing “independence” with a robust economy has benefited the belligerents in the Syrian crisis.

Others compare this to coup attempts against Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez in 2002 or even the successful one against Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi in 2013. Such comparisons are not useful: Turkey’s situation is unique because of the historical nature of the Turkish military coups and the protection of Kemalist ideas. With Erdogan’s ire, those days may now be numbered.

On the whole, Turkey going through catharsis at this critical juncture in the war against ISIS, and the Syrian peace process, could not have come at a worse time.

Dr. Theodore Karasik

Nevertheless, the implications for Turkish foreign policy in the region are troubling. First, Turkey’s purge of the military is likely to affect the capability of that force to conduct operations in the short term. In my view, it is likely that a weakened Turkish military may boost ISIS and Kurdish factions who seek to target the country.

Second, Erdogan will have to focus more on Turkey’s immediate needs as opposed to Ankara’s foreign policy projects in Africa and specifically in Libya. Since the mid-2000s, Turkey has been working overtime to increase its influence in this continent for economic purposes. Ankara’s Libya policy is also perhaps going to lapse, giving an edge to the Tobruk (House of Representatives) government over Tripoli.

Third, the failed coup may have an immediate impact on Turkey’s relations with Russia. Given that Erdogan just mended relations with President Putin, Kremlin is likely thrilled that Turkey’s President was jolted from within. Moscow seems to be aware that it can now manipulate pressure points on Ankara in regards to Kremlin’s policy in Syria, the Caucasus, and beyond.

On the whole, Turkey going through catharsis at this critical juncture in the war against ISIS, and the Syrian peace process, could not have come at a worse time. The coup attempt is likely to send shockwaves for months to come, affecting regional security and challenging all observers and stakeholders to take a deep breath and prepare for months of uncertainty in this NATO member on the cusp of deep self-reflection.
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Dr. Theodore Karasik is a Gulf-based analyst of regional geo-political affairs. He received his Ph.D in History from UCLA in Los Angeles, California in four fields: Middle East, Russia, Caucasus, and a specialized sub-field in Cultural Anthropology focusing on tribes and clans. He tweets @tkarasik

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.