The coup attempt in 2016 fueled mistrust of Turkey’s western allies at the same time as Russia became a potential ally
Faced with a decline in the economy and its poll numbers, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is currently trying to reconnect with Washington, five years after his government and allies repeatedly accused the most powerful country of the world to conspire to violently usurp its power.
Thursday marks the fifth anniversary of Turkey’s 2016 coup attempt, a cataclysmic event that fueled suspicion and animosity towards the country’s NATO allies while accelerating a partnership with one of the most major competitors of the military alliance, Russia.
“We have seen the level of trust between Washington and Ankara at a historically low level,” said Imdat Oner, former deputy head of mission at the Turkish embassy in Venezuela.
Erdogan has long criticized NATO allies for failing to defend his country as the putsch unfolded on the night of July 15, which left more than 250 dead.
Members of his government even claimed that the United States was behind the attempted coup.
The Hurriyet Daily News reported in February that Home Secretary Suleyman Soylu, one of the most powerful figures in the government, accused the United States of being behind the attempted coup, while the Turkey was becoming more public in its efforts to improve relations with the Biden administration, according to the Reuters news agency. Hurriyet reported that Soylu also made the same statement five years ago, on July 16, the evening after the coup.
Oner, who is now a senior policy analyst at the Jack D. Gordon Institute for Public Policy at Florida International University, told The Media Line that Erdogan has fully taken over the country’s foreign policy following the attempted coup. state, leaving the Foreign Office to simply implement its decisions rather than helping to make them.
“When Erdogan took power and all control of foreign policy, anti-Americanism [and] anti-Western sentiment and rhetoric has spread among government elites, âOner said. “Anti-Americanism has become the heart of foreign policy.”
These positions were defended by the pro-government Turkish media, which increasingly dominated the press as the opposition media were forced to shut down.
One of Turkey’s leading pro-government tabloids reported that the CIA was behind the attempted coup a week after it was canceled.
The coup attempt introduced mistrust into what was already deteriorating relations between the West and Turkey, and this situation has not changed much.
Berk Esen, assistant professor of international relations at Ankara Bilkent University, said pro-government media often reported that officers involved in the coup had ties to NATO, fueling public suspicion.
âThe coup attempt introduced mistrust into what was already deteriorating relations between the West and Turkey, and that situation has not changed much,â Esen told The Media Line.
This mistrust was in part due to the United States’ refusal to extradite Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen, who has been living in voluntary exile in Pennsylvania since falling out with Erdogan, a former ally.
Washington has said it needs more evidence to extradite Gulen, whom Ankara accuses of organizing the coup attempt.
Meanwhile, Turkey has attacked Gulen supporters, both inside and outside the country, and has also jailed opposition politicians and journalists as part of the crackdown that has monitoring.
Almost 300,000 people have been jailed on charges of being linked to the coup, and 150,000 public sector workers have been dismissed or suspended.
âThe story became a story of human rights violations in Turkey and not some kind of trauma the country was facing,â said Aaron Stein, research director at the Philadelphia Foreign Policy Research Institute.
“I certainly think this fueled bad will in Ankara because they were criticized for what they thought was a measure to protect their government,” he said.
The crackdown has led the West to express even greater concerns about Turkey’s democratic retreat that began to accelerate years ago with the anti-government protests in Gezi Park in 2013, a wave of protests and unrest civilians calling for freedom of the press, expression and assembly.
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Stein told The Media Line that Washington publicly supported Ankara, with President Barack Obama speaking in favor of the Turkish government in the early hours of the coup attempt, but added that the United States could have sent high-level officials in Turkey more quickly.
When then-US Vice President Joe Biden visited Turkey a month after the attempted coup, Ankara launched its first offensive in Syria hours before his arrival.
Erdogan said his army would target a Kurdish militia in the country Ankara considers allies of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party in Turkey (PKK), considered a terrorist organization by Ankara, Washington and the European Union.
However, the Kurdish militia in Syria was allied with the United States in its fight against the Islamic State, or ISIS, a major rift between Washington and Ankara that has lasted to this day.
“We still haven’t really recovered from this in terms of confidence in the bilateral relationship,” Stein said.
The story became a story of human rights violations in Turkey and not some kind of trauma the country was facing
Esen said that at the same time that the coup attempt highlighted the main obstacles between Turkey and its Western allies, Russia also emerged as an alternative.
âThe coup attempt wasn’t the only reason, but I think it sparked this mutually beneficial relationship,â Esen said.
The two countries were feared to be on the brink of war due to Turkey’s destruction of a fighter jet in November 2015 that Ankara said entered its airspace, though Moscow has said it had remained over Syria.
Three weeks before the coup attempt, Moscow said it had received an apology from Ankara for downing the Russian fighter plane.
This meant that the two countries could now collaborate, including in Syria where Turkey had gone against American interests.
With Iran, Ankara and Moscow have reached agreements to end periods of intensified fighting in the war-torn country.
Turkey also bought a Russian missile defense system which many analysts say has become the biggest obstacle in relations with Washington.
The matter became even more serious when US President Joe Biden entered the White House, taking a much tougher stance against Erdogan.
Erdogan now finds himself trapped between two nuclear and competing powers, the United States and Russia.
âTurkey is in a much tighter and more delicate position,â Esen concluded. “United States [is] not really playing ball.