Turkey – a country that many of us associate with kebabs, moustaches and camels. There are many misconceptions surrounding Turkey, although I’m happy to say that kebabs are not one of them.
The history of the Turks spans more than 4000 years, but 1299 and the beginning of the Ottoman Empire seems a more appropriate place to start.
Perhaps you’ve heard the song Istanbul (Not Constantinople), well Constantinople – or modern day Istanbul – was the capital city of an Empire that stretched over what is today Greece, Bulgaria, Serbia, Montenegro, Slovenia, Croatia, Macedonia, Kosovo, Albania and Romania. The borders extended from what is considered in the present day to be the Middle East and North Africa, from Baku on the Caspian Sea to Algiers in Algeria.
Despite Islam being the Ottoman Empire’s recognised religion, Christians and Jews were free to practice their own religion under the millet legal system. This structure allowed each confessional community to rule itself. Thus, Muslims were governed under Sharia law, Christians under Canon law and Jews under Halakha.
Today, Turkey is a secular nation, despite between 96-99% of its population being registered as Muslim. This seems to come as a shock to many people, with Turkey often mistaken as an Islamic Republic.
The country has been the source of much news over the past 18 months, particularly following the refugee crisis that has been developing since early 2015. More recently, the attempted military coup to oust President Erdogan has garnered serious international attention.
At 7:30PM on July 15, 2016, a rogue faction of the Turkish military attempted to overthrow the democratically elected Erdogan government. Claiming that Erdogan had eroded the state’s secular traditions, it struggled to impose martial law and enforce a nation-wide curfew. Releasing a statement via Turkish television channels, those attempting the coup claimed the country was to be governed by a “peace council” and a new constitution was to be prepared.
In extraordinary scenes, the Turkish people took to the streets in protest, following a FaceTime message from President Erdogan broadcasted via CNN Turk.
It is unclear who masterminded the coup, however fingers within the Turkish government have been pointed at Fethullah Gulen, a Muslim cleric currently residing in Pennsylvania in the United States. Mr. Gulen leads a secretive religious movement that the Turkish government had been tracking for years.
Turkish officials have attributed the planning to the followers of Gulen, however the cleric has denied any involvement in the movement. Some have argued that the Turkish president, himself, may have devised the coup.
Since the rebellion, President Erdogan has labelled and prosecuted thousands of civil servants, calling them enemies of the state. This included every university dean in Turkey – a figure totalling more than 1,500. Current figures have approximately 300 people dead, 9,300 people arrested and almost 50,000 government officials and workers suspended.
But what does this mean for the rest of the world? And what would have happened had the coup succeeded.
The current situation may prove divisive. A state of emergency bill has been approved by Turkey’s parliament, like that of Belgium and France following recent terrorist attacks, which involves a partial withdrawal from the European convention on human rights.
This has garnered criticism from both sides of the spectrum, as it may further consolidate President Erdogan’s power. European politicians further warned that the coup attempt did not provide a “blank cheque” for the President to disregard the rule of law.
Around the world the United States’ President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry have both condemned the failed coup and voiced support for the democratically elected government. A press release produced by the White House stated that “the President and Secretary agreed that all parties in Turkey should support the democratically-elected government of Turkey, show restraint, and avoid any violence or bloodshed”.
This position was shared by the new British foreign secretary Boris Johnson, who said that it was extremely important that the democratic institutions within Turkey were supported.
The EU’s High Representative, Federica Mogherini, has also weighed in. Stating that “a swift return to Turkey’s constitutional order” was needed, stressing the importance of both checks and balances and “the importance for the rule of law and fundamental freedoms to prevail”.
Germany and Turkey share a strained relationship, with Angela Merkel and her government reportedly rejecting Erdogan’s attempt to seek asylum in the Germany during the attempted coup. Earlier in 2016 Erdogan also condemned the German parliament, following a vote to recognize the genocide undertaken by the Ottoman Empire of the Armenians. The Turkish president called for blood tests to be conducted on 11 of the members of the Bundestag with Turkish roots in order to determine “what kind of Turks they are”.
Turkey-European relations are increasingly important at present. An effective coup would have put the military in charge of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation’s (NATO) only Muslim member state, whose role is crucial in the fight against the Islamic State (IS). Furthermore, it would have created an even more unstable environment in a state that is attempting to cope with an extraordinarily high number of refugees escaping from IS via its Syrian border.
It is unclear as to how the situation will unfold following the failed coup, however world leaders have expressly warned President Erdogan not to use the event to further his political power. Guenther Oettinger, one of the 28 European Commissioners, stated that “he would strengthen his position domestically, but he would isolate himself internationally”.