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A Check On Turkey, A Week After A Failed Coup Rocked The Country


The fallout from the failed coup in Turkey continues one week later. It was a bloody business. More than 200 died. And ever since, Turkey's president Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been cracking down hard on everyone from possible plotters to those who criticize him on Twitter. Erdogan is even tangling with the White House over one key critic who has millions of followers. He's a cleric by the name of Fethullah Gulen, who now lives in the U.S. And Erdogan wants him back.

In the midst of all that, conspiracy theories are swirling in Turkey, a country that, up until a couple of decades ago, saw a series of coups that brought the military to power. For some context, we turn to Omer Taspinar of the National War College. Thank you very much for joining us.

OMER TASPINAR: Thanks for having me.

MONTAGNE: Tens of thousands of regular folk, if you will - civil servants, teachers, those who comprise civil society - have been swept up in some way - fired, some detained. What exactly, do you know, is happening there?

TASPINAR: This is quite unprecedented in Turkey because, usually, when military coups happen in Turkey, they happen full force and with success. So this one was a botched attempt, a failed coup. And you have a still very popular elected leader who wants revenge. And they're still concerned, if I understand correctly, of possible coup attempts. And they're also very worried about the followers Fethullah Gulen, this cleric who lives in the United States in self-exile. His followers appear to be in different segments of Turkish bureaucracy, civil society. And there is a sense that all his followers now are suspect. So it's turning, probably, into a witch hunt.

MONTAGNE: I gather there's also a sense, though, that Erdogan is taking advantage of the situation, if you will, at some level to crack down on any and all people who might, in any way, oppose him.

TASPINAR: It's normal for Erdogan to do everything he can now to exploit this situation in terms of purging all dissidents, all followers of Fethullah Gulen - something that he wanted to do before the coup. But now he has a legitimate excuse to do so. He has basically three months, if not longer, to clean house, to basically clean all opponents.

MONTAGNE: Three months of emergency rule.

TASPINAR: Three months of emergency rule, correct.

MONTAGNE: There's been worry in the West that he has become increasingly autocratic. Given what has happened this past week, what does this mean for ties with the West, ties that have been valued and valuable to Turkey?

TASPINAR: Well, Turkey has been trying to become a member of the European Union since the 1960s. And in the last few months, because of the Syrian refugee crisis, there was a certain level of rapprochement between the EU and Turkey. The EU needs Turkey, Turkey's cooperation on Syrian refugees. I think this turn to autocratic rule in Turkey, which was already worrisome before the coup, will have major implications in terms of relations with the EU, with the United States as well.

The United States is concerned about Erdogan going overboard in terms of these purges. And Turkey's a NATO member, so there has to be certain democratic standards for NATO countries. Turkey is a valuable member of NATO. There is a military base in Turkey that the United States is using near the Syrian border - that's also at stake.

MONTAGNE: Apparently, a third of Turkey's generals and admirals have been detained. What does this do - and you're speaking about a base and it's a base that the U.S. uses - what does this do to, generally speaking, the important partnership that the U.S. military has with the Turkish military and also this base?

TASPINAR: There are still active-duty generals in place. If the United States fails to extradite Fethullah Gulen, Turkey may threaten to close the base, and that may hamper American efforts in Syria.

MONTAGNE: Because the base is used in the fight against ISIS. Right? It's...

TASPINAR: The base is...

MONTAGNE: ...Very valuable.

TASPINAR: ...Only 70 miles from the Syrian border. And most of the sorties against ISIS have been from this base. The U.S. has alternatives to this base. There's Kuwait. There's Qatar. There are carriers. But it's very convenient and much more economical to use the base. On the other hand, the real problem in Turkish-American relations right now, more than a potential military crisis, is this political crisis. But even then, I think the security of the base and especially the well-known secrets that there are nuclear ammunition in the base...

MONTAGNE: American.

TASPINAR: American, of course - NATO. This will not be jeopardized. In that sense, I don't think the United States needs to worry about loose nukes fluctuating in the country. This is not Pakistan. Turkey is a NATO ally, and they will still be strong mechanisms of military cooperation between Turkey and the United States. But there may be political trouble.

MONTAGNE: Omer Taspinar is a professor at the National War College, and he's also with the Brookings Institution. Thank you for joining us.

TASPINAR: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.