As a former U.S. military officer, I’m generally not in favor of military coups. One of the first things that officer training emphasizes is that the military is subservient to civilian authority. The military is governed; it does not govern.
So for me to come down on the side of a military coup, there’s got to be a very compelling reason. Such a reason exists in Turkey today, and can be summed up in one name; Recep Tayyip Erdogan. As I’ve written in this space before, this guy needs to go.
Let’s look at a very brief historical overview of the Islamic world and Turkey’s place in it.
The religion of Islam started in the early 7th century, in what is now Saudi Arabia. After the death of its founder, Muhammad, the new faith saw a succession of four stewards, known as caliphs. As I understand it, certain Muslims, the Shia, considered the fourth of these, Ali, to be the only legitimate successor to Muhammad, resulting in the Sunni-Shia split. At any rate, the area governed by these four caliphs comprised the Rashidun Caliphate.
In the nearly one and a half millennia since then, the world has seen the rise and fall of several other caliphates. The first of these, the Umayyad Caliphate, extended its power throughout the Middle East, North Africa, and up into Europe. It was only at the decisive battle of Tours in 732 AD that Charles Martel halted its expansion. The Abbasid Caliphate took over the reigns shortly thereafter, and lasted until the early 16th century. Not to be outdone in the field of superstitiously motivated barbarism, the Christian world had a blast launching crusade after crusade during this time. Yay for fights and knights and tights and stuff!!
There were some other competing caliphates during all this, but the next big entry onto the stage was the Ottoman Empire in 1517. I don’t know why they named it after a comfy footstool, but there you have it. Anyway, these guys found themselves on the losing side of World War I, and the allies partitioned the empire soon after.
Of course, many Turks were dissatisfied by the allied occupation of their country, and fought a war of independence led by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. Guess what? They won! So the Republic of Turkey was born in 1923 with Atatürk as its first president. He proceeded to implement a series of reforms which abolished the institution of the caliphate, modernized Turkey, and created a secular democracy based not on religious fundamentalism, but on the rational recognition of individual rights. He was sort of the George Washington of Turkey. Yay for Atatürk!
Since then, Turkey has been mostly awesome. They kind of sat out World War II, but threw in with the Allies in the final year. Then during the cold war, they became a member of NATO, and along with Iran, helped form a southern bulwark against Soviet expansion. There have been problems too of course. Turkey has been at odds with Greece over the island of Cyprus for years. They’ve also got a substantial Kurdish separatist minority which causes internal tensions.
Then, finally, we have the coups.
The Turkish military, since the time of Atatürk, has been one of the most trusted institutions in the country. It sees itself as the guardian of Atatürk’s secular democratic reforms, and whenever the military sees a threat to Turkey’s secular identity or the stability of the country, it will not hesitate to take the reigns of power, albeit temporarily. This has happened in 1960, 1971, and 1980.
Then, in May of 2014, I called shenanigans. I won’t rehash the craziness called Erdogan again in this post, but suffice it to say that this guy seems to fancy himself as a modern day Ottoman emperor. He has increasingly seized more power for himself, created an autocracy in Turkey, and moved the country away from secularism back toward the dark ages of the caliphates. Also, he’s nuts. So a couple of years ago, I predicted that his actions would push Turkey to a breaking point and that there would be chaos someday soon.
Well, it took a couple of years, but I was right. During the past week,we saw yet a fourth attempted coup in Turkey. Unfortunately, it failed. From what little I can gather so far, the attempt was launched by lower level officers, wasn’t coordinated with the rest of the military, and wasn’t well planned. Oh well, better luck next time guys. Except you’ll soon be hanging from a rope. Such are the fruits of failure, so I guess there won’t be a next time…for you.
But for Turkey, I think there will be a next time. Sure, Erdogan will use this incident as an excuse to seize even more power. But ultimately the people and the guardians of Atatürk’s legacy won’t let this stand. Someday, this guy will go, whether voluntarily or not. And then Turkey can get back onto the path of growth, prosperity and peace.
So until then, I’m still holding my Turkish Lira (were you wondering when I’d get around to the currency trading aspect of this?). So keep your eyes open for signs of that next coup, and as always…keep pipping up!
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