On August 17, 2016, the SETA Foundation at Washington D.C. hosted a panel discussion entitled, “The July 15 Failed Coup Attempt: Implications for U.S.-Turkey Relations.” The event discussed recent tensions in U.S.-Turkey relations in the aftermath of the failed coup attempt in Turkey. Panelists included Halil Berktay of Sabanci University, Shadi Hamid of Brookings, Burhanettin Duran of the SETA Foundation, and Kadir Ustun of the SETA Foundation at Washington D.C. The panel was moderated by Kilic B. Kanat of the SETA Foundation at Washington D.C.
Halil Berktay, an emeritus faculty member at Sabanci University, pointed out that Turkish democracy “has not been without its ups and downs.” The fact that Turkey has experienced multiple coups in the past is part of what makes the July 15 coup attempt so unique in Turkey’s history. Berktay noted, “this time, when Turks realized that the military was once again trying to take their democratic will away from them, they poured out onto the streets.” During previous coups, the Turkish people chose to hunker down, and rebuild their democracy afterwards, rather than fight against the coup as it happened. July 15 was the first coup in Turkey where the Turkish people immediately and successfully challenged a military coup.
The General Coordinator of the SETA Foundation Burhanettin Duran argued that observers, both within Turkey and without, “must reassess their understanding of Turkish politics.” He argued that part of that reassessment must include the widespread view in the West that Turkey is creeping towards authoritarianism and Islamization.
Duran noted that nearly all Turkish citizens, around 95 percent, believe that the Gulen movement perpetrated the coup attempt. The Gulen movement was designed and built as a parallel state structure from the beginning, which is part of the reason that it is such a clear threat to Turkey, Duran contended.
“Washington’s reaction to the coup attempt was disturbing to most people in Turkey,” Duran explained, “the Turkish people expected much more” from their ally. He recommended cooperation between the two nations as an opportunity to rehabilitate the relationship and reassure Turkey of the U.S.’s commitment to it. The first step in doing this should be the U.S. agreeing to extradite Gulen.
Shadi Hamid, a senior fellow at Brookings, noted the parallels between U.S. action during the Egyptian coup against Mohammed Morsi and their immediate reaction to the coup attempt in Turkey. “The U.S. was complicit in the success of the Egyptian coup,” setting a dangerous precedent for the Turkish coup attempt. He contended that had the July 15 coup succeeded, or looked like it might, the U.S. would have at least been “indulgent” towards the coup plotters. Hamid said that from that perspective, he is highly sympathetic to Turkish suspicions of the U.S. However, those suspicions are having a corrosive effect on U.S.-Turkish relations.
Kadir Ustun, Executive Director of the SETA Foundation at Washington D.C., pointed out that while the Obama administration began on a high note, with Obama’s visit to Turkey, it has been in a constant state of flux since then. Ustun contended that much of that constant change is driven by uncertainty about the future of U.S. involvement in the Middle East. He pointed out that while Turkey has pushed for a broader, more regional strategy, the U.S. has continued to evaluate Turkey based only on how they have contributed to the anti-ISIS mission. Looking forward to the next administration, Ustun argued that the U.S. and Turkey will need to expand cooperation on regional issues. Rather than fixating on only one issue, like the fight against ISIS, the U.S. should take a holistic view of the relationship.