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Turkey’s Basket-case Moment

by John Brian Shannon | July 19, 2016

On Friday, July 15 at 19:29 GMT, both bridges linking Turkey to Europe were closed to vehicular and pedestrian traffic. A few minutes later, military helicopters and fighter jets were patrolling the skies over Istanbul and Ankara. Shots rang out.

So began Turkey’s basket-case moment where a coup was suspected to be in progress, although as is normal in these cases accurate information was difficult to obtain.

Read: TIMELINE-Turkey’s attempted coup (Reuters)

Thankfully, many brave Turkish citizens posted the events unfolding before their eyes on their social media accounts and that’s how the world became informed about the attempted coup in Turkey. (Thank You for posting in English!)

Almost as quickly as it began it was over — with reports of 265 dead and thousands injured in clashes around the country.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Prime Minister Binali Yildirim have vowed to crack down on perpetrators, threatening to invoke the death penalty. (Which might cost Turkey it’s shot at EU membership if they follow through on that threat)

As of Tuesday, July 19, 2016 at 13:00 hrs GMT, Turkey submitted a formal extradition request to the United States for cleric Fethullah Gülen, the supposed mastermind behind the Turkish coup. Gülen who was once one of Erdogan’s closest allies now lives in Pennsylvania and opposes the direction President Erdogan has taken the country (and let’s be honest, he probably wouldn’t mind becoming President of Turkey himself)

Read: Turkey Formally Requests Extradition of Exiled Cleric Fethullah Gülen From US (ABC News)

Fethullah Gülen. File photo. gulenmovement.ca

Fethullah Gülen. File photo. www.gulenmovement.us

President Erdogan has indicated will hand over files to the United States government supporting his contention that Mr. Gülen is the mastermind behind the July 15th coup attempt.

How convincing these files are is anyone’s guess. But someone, somewhere, initiated this coup.

But until the evidence is heard and adjudicated by a legal court, it’s all hearsay and people shouldn’t rush to judgement until the facts become available.

LEGAL PRECEDENT

What will happen and what should happen, are two different things.

What should happen is that Turkey’s government should file the case with the International Criminal Court and leave it at that. The Turkish government could offer to reimburse the court for the full costs of the investigation, and make available Turkish officials who have relevant information. And whatever their ruling, President Erdogan and the Turkish government should thenceforth abide by that ruling.

As Fethullah Gülen was residing in the United States during the coup attempt, and therefore his purported crimes didn’t occur while he was inside Turkey, an international court is the ethical way to deal with this case.

Hypothetically, had he been masterminding the coup attempt from inside Turkey, it would be a much different matter. It would then be a matter for the Turkish justice system, and in that situation no other country would have any business telling Turkey how to conduct it’s internal affairs. (Although ‘fair comment’ about the case is to be expected and even welcomed)

But no, cleric Fethullah Gülen was living in a different country and is apparently involved in a long-running clash for power with the presently-serving President of Turkey.

How impartial can we expect a Turkish court to be in such a case?

Two factions are fighting for supremacy in Turkey, one of them (Recep Erdogan) won the last election with 52% of the vote, while the other (Fethullah Gülen) fled to the U.S. some years ago — yet still enjoys some level of support among the Turkish population.

At this point, the hostility between the two men is palpable and it looks like reconciliation between the two is highly unlikely, which points to a longer-term lack of vision and a lack of commitment to Turkey’s people on both sides of the argument.

It’s fair to say that Recep Erdogan has worked to improve the lot of Turkish citizens while in office, serving multiple terms as Prime Minister and President of Turkey.

And it’s also fair to say that much that could’ve gone wrong, didn’t… due to Erdogan’s deft handling of the multiple (and huge) challenges faced by his country in recent years.

Turkey has generously accepted and hosted millions of refugees from Iraq, Syria, Arab Spring countries — even accepting Kurds whose PKK membership is uncertain.

All in all, President Erdogan has done well once everything is factored-in; At least an 8-out-10 score on the proverbial leadership scale.

Which leads some observers to conclude that July 2016 would be the most unlikely and inopportune moment for an experienced political operator and religious figure like Fethullah Gülen to pull the trigger on a Turkish coup.

There is no doubt, someone, somewhere, initiated this putsch. Whether it turns out to be Mr. Gülen remains to be seen.