Istanbul, the city that lies in two continents, experienced waves of shock when forces loyal to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan quashed a coup attempt by some members of the military that began Friday evening and devolved into turmoil and violence. The attempted coup appeared to crumble in the early hours of Saturday, after crowds answered President Erdogan’s call to take to the streets to support him. Erdogan, who was on vacation at the coast when the coup was launched, flew into Istanbul in the pre-dawn hours of Saturday vowing to purge the military of traitorous elements and promising to embark on a revenge mission against the military plotters who threatened his government and regional stability, raising fears for the future of democracy in the region.
In addition, the chaos and confusion resulting from the attempted coup is reflected in the question of how many people have been killed in the hours the coup took place. According to reports, 265 people have been killed in night of chaos, 1400 others injured, 2,839 soldiers are being held in prison, 2,745 judges have been rounded up and are facing arrest and President Erdogan and his government seem to have taken control of the country once again.
A Black Stain on Democracy
Prime Minister Binali Yildirim has called the coup attempt against President Erdogan a “black stain on Turkish democracy”. Turkey is one of the world’s few Muslim majority democracies and it sits at a key crossroads between the West and the Middle East. It’s the latest worrying example of deteriorating stability in a country that a few years ago was being promoted to the wider Muslim world as a model of democratic governance and economic prosperity. A country used as an example to lure other Muslim countries to join the “democracy trend”. The coup leaders, claiming to speak for the entire Turkish Armed Forces, said they had organized the coup in the name of protecting democracy — despite the fact that Erdogan and his party were democratically elected.
From the latest events in the country, it is imperative that we ask a few questions: Is it legitimate to topple not so democratic or quasi-democratic regimes through undemocratic means? Should governments be sanctioned, even those democratically elected but severely and persistently harm democracy and violate human rights? Is it permissible to overthrow or bring down dangerous governments only at the ballot box, even though one knows the road to it is paved with brainwashing, ignorance and sometimes corruption? We realize that a coup d’état is never the answer or solution and should be heavily frowned upon. Unfortunately, the failed coup may only serve to strengthen President Erdogan’s consolidation on power. However, Western and Middle Eastern leaders have offered vocal support for Turkey’s democratic institutions.
A Threat to Regional Security and Economic Ramifications
The failed coup against the ruling regime will have an insurmountable impact on regional peace, security and stability. Turkey plays a critical role in the fight against ISIS in Syria, the handling of Syrian refugees, and in serving as a transit point for foreign ISIS fighters. The Incirlik Airbase which is used by the US for air operations against ISIS has been forced to shut down due to the uncertainly cloaking Turkey at the moment. This means, time is being lost in the fight against ISIS. At the same time, Turkey is also battling with the separatist Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) which involves a 30-year guerrilla war between the Turkish state and Kurdish militants, flaring across the predominantly Kurdish southeast of the country. In addition, the terrorist’s attacks within the nation have led to hundreds of people losing their lives and hundreds more wounded.
Making bad matters worse, the violence will take its toll on the tourism industry as the value of the country’s currency has plummeted. The Turkish lira declined 5% against the U.S. dollar, a dramatic move for a major currency. Early reports about unusual military activity on Twitter shortly before U.S. markets closed at 4 p.m. ET on Friday caused the iShares MSCI Turkey ETF (TUR) to close down 2.5%. The ETF, which tracks Turkish stocks, plunged another 6% in after-hour trading.
The International Community, the United States, Russia, NATO and the European Union have all appealed for stability in Turkey, with US President Barack Obama calling on all parties in Turkey to back the democratically-elected Government. Turkey being no stranger to coups, with the military seizing power in 1960, 1971 and 1980 and the military instrumental in convincing the government to resign in 1997, all eyes will be on Turkey to follow all developments while trying to determine if President Erdogan can heal a deeply divided Turkey.