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Coup d’état haunts Turkish-American relations




Feb 18, 2021

Senior Turkish minister rekindled accusations of US involvement in the 2016 coup attempt in Turkey even as Ankara tries to calm Washington over its Russian missile purchase and avoid more sanctions under President Joe Biden. Repairing the fences remains a distant goal, with the Turkish public still largely convinced that Washington was behind the coup.

Rogue officers accused of having ties to US-based preacher Fetullah Gulen, an ally-turned-enemy of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, requisitioned fighter jets and tanks on July 15, 2016, in an attempt to overthrow the government. Some 250 people were killed and more than 2,000 injured before the government quelled the uprising the next day. The feud over the coup, coupled with US support for Syrian Kurdish militias seen as terrorists by Ankara, opened a major rift between the two NATO allies, leading Turkey to draw closer to Russia. Ankara has repeatedly criticized Washington for failing to extradite Gulen, whose vast network of supporters he referred to as a terrorist group under the acronym FETO.

Minister of the Interior Suleyman Soylu rekindled the row in early February, just as Ankara was making overtures to the Biden administration, which is expected to be tougher on Turkey than its predecessor. “It is as clear as day that America was behind the attempted coup of July 15. FETO did it at their request, ”Soylu told Hurriyet. “Since I became Minister of the Interior [in September 2016]I have seen the presence of FETO wherever America is influential, ”he said.

US State Department spokesman Ned Price quickly dismissed Soylu’s claims as “totally wrong. “Such” unsubstantiated and irresponsible allegations of US responsibility for events in Turkey are incompatible with Turkey’s status as a NATO ally and a strategic partner of the United States, “he said.

Despite US denials, opinion polls show that a majority of Turks remain convinced that the United States played a role in the 2016 coup and the first military coups in Turkey. Mehmet Ali Kulat, head of research and consultancy firm MAK, told Al-Monitor that 70% of respondents believed so in the company’s December survey on the matter. The rate had climbed to 81% in September 2016 after the coup and has fluctuated between 67% and 73% since then, he said.

According to Kulat, Turkish officials and the Turkish media are not the only influences shaping these perceptions. “Having witnessed the American interventions in the name of the establishment of democracy in the Middle East, the Turkish people regard the coup perpetrators as subcontractors and the United States as the real culprit”, a- he declared. The fact that Gulen and some of his senior cohorts continue to reside in the United States and “under American protection” has only reinforced those perceptions, he added.

Onur Oymen, former Turkish Ambassador to NATO and former member of parliament, said controversies over the US role in regime change and military coups in other countries have influenced the Turkish perceptions. He gave as an example the memories of the retired general. Wesley clark, who recounts how an American general told him of his intention to “wipe out seven countries in five years” in the aftermath of 9/11, in addition to reports from former U.S. officials that Washington knew before the coup. 1960 state in Turkey and tacitly welcomed that of 1980.

According to Oymen, some in Washington were apparently unhappy with the failure of the 2016 coup attempt. “This, of course, does not mean that the United States orchestrated or directed the coup. One cannot draw such conclusions without hard evidence. What matters to us are the official statements, ”he said, recalling that the then president Barack Obama denied any American involvement and Biden, then vice-president, visited Ankara in a show of solidarity the following month, apologizing for not coming earlier.

Oymen also recalled that Biden, in an interview before his election to the presidency, had described Erdogan as “a autocratAnd pleaded for the support of the opposition in Turkey “to face and defeat Erdogan”, but “not by a coup, but by the electoral process”. According to Oymen, “people hear these things on television and few people in the world would believe anyone who says great states don’t do such things.”

Huseyin Bagci, professor of international relations at Ankara Middle East Technical University, said the Turkish public believes what Soylu says, regardless of the truth. “I don’t think this perception will change in the foreseeable future,” he told Al-Monitor. Nevertheless, reversing perceptions is not impossible, he said, recalling how President Bill Clinton won over the Turkish public with his visit after a devastating earthquake in 1999, including the momentous moment when he was holding a baby who was pulling and twisting his nose.

Washington’s failure to extradite Gulen continues to fuel negative perceptions in Turkey, Bagci said, suggesting that Soylu’s remarks were intentionally timed. “It seems that Turkey has stepped onto the chessboard, saying [Biden], “You are responsible. You were in the Obama administration, so let’s negotiate this. I think it was a good initiative in this context. Then 54 senators criticized Turkey [in a letter to Biden]. Such mutual countermeasures may well lead to negotiations, ”he said.

According to Unal Cevikoz, former Turkish ambassador and now a prominent member of the main opposition Republican People’s Party, government control of the media easily served to fuel the perception that Washington orchestrated the 2016 coup at the top of the ranks. multiple crises in bilateral relations. . “Both sides made a mistake,” he said.

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