Following a failed coup attempt this summer, Turkey may become a new source of conflict in the Middle East, according to Georgetown’s Institute of Turkish Studies Director Sinan Ciddi and Aykan Erdemir, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, in a panel discussion sponsored by the School of Foreign Service Europe Forum at the Mortara Center on Thursday.
On the evening of July 15, the Turkish military attempted to seize control of major locations in Istanbul and Ankara, but it was ultimately stopped by forces still loyal to the state after Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan urged Turkish citizens to take to the streets and fight back against the instigators.
Close to 300 civilians were killed during the coup, and thousands were left injured.
According to Ciddi, the lack of secularism and democracy and a collection of human rights violations in Turkey contributed to the schism between Erdogan and the Turkish military.
“The coup attempt did not occur in a vacuum. It didn’t come out of nowhere,” Ciddi said. “The primary reason the coup attempt happened on July 15 is because the president of the country was in political alliance with the single other biggest political Islamist force in the country, and now they’ve fallen out with each other.”
In the months following the coup attempt, the Turkish government has accused members of the Gülen movement — an Islamic cultural and educational movement led by Turkish Cleric Fethullah Gülen — for being responsible for the coup.
More than 20,000 individuals including military officers, educators, prosecutors and judges have been arrested and detained for allegedly being loyal to Gülen. More than 60,000 public servants have been dismissed from their posts, while the Turkish military has seen a 40 percent purge of its officers since the failed coup attempt.
Erdemir said the coup could indicate that Turkey will become a source of conflict for the United States and its interests in the region. Turkey is currently a key partner for the United States and NATO in fighting ISIS and handling the Syrian refugee crisis.
“Turkey is a ticking time bomb with great potential for the Transatlantic alliance, as well as [the potential to be] the black swan that could bring the house down and NATO along with it,” Erdemir said.
Turkey’s role in the region is far more complex in the aftermath of the coup, according to Ciddi.
“What we have now is a grandiose mess,” Ciddi said. “I think we would have a much clearer picture had the coup actually been successful.”
SFS Europe Forum Chair Dante Mazzari, who moderated the event, said Turkey was a good choice for the Forum’s first event of the year given its relevance and complexity. The SFS Europe Forum is a graduate student organization that organizes events on current events affecting transatlantic and European relations.
“[Turkey] is something that I think a lot of folks are really interested in, and yet it’s very difficult to understand. We thought that the speakers we would be able to get would shed a little bit of light on that,” Mazzari said. “Sometimes here we get so steeped in these broader trends, but often you have to take a step back and look at what is going on beneath the headlines.”
Forum member Teresa Eder (GRD ’17) said the event helped shed light on the current situation in Turkey.
“I thought that the speakers were very much on point and did a lot to help people who maybe have never heard about Turkey understand what the environment was like and what’s going on,” Eder said.
Mazzari said the event offered a unique opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of an important topic.
“It all comes back to how lucky we are in this community to have access to people like Professor Ciddi who can pull these issues apart and really pull back the layers of the onion and give us a much more nuanced understanding,” Mazzari said.
Gozde Meseli (GRD ’18), a Turkish student who experienced the coup attempt firsthand and attended the discussion, said she was excited to hear another perspective on the state of her country.
“I really wanted to hear what these professors had to say. They were fairly objective, which I really like,” Meseli said. “It’s a very complicated issue, but I really enjoyed it.”
Correction: This article previously spelt Sinan Cidi’s name as Sinaan Cidi.