Turkey’s Troubling Turn – Terrorism & Security After the Attempted Coup – By Soner Cagaptay

20 July 2016 – Before the failed military coup on July 15, Turkey was struggling to recover from a bombing and shoot-out that killed 45 people at Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport on June 28. Although the attempted takeover complicates the country’s crackdown on terrorism, its security problems began long before this summer’s turmoil. The three jihadists who planned the attack had been in Turkey for quite some time, having traveled over 750 miles from Syria, rented an apartment in Istanbul, and then assembled bombs for a month. They did so without raising alarm for a simple reason: Turkey itself is radicalizing and the jihadists blended in.Much of Turkey’s religious turn has to do with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the most powerful democratically elected leader in Turkey’s history. He has run the country since 2003, first as prime minister and then as president since 2014. Over the years, he methodically eliminated Kemalism, the revolutionary–secularist Turkish ideology named after Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the country’s founder. Whereas Ataturk established a strict firewall to prevent religion from seeping into state affairs, and also firmly defined Turkey as a Western country, Erdogan put conservative Islam back into the country’s foreign policy, politics, and education system.

Kemalism required Turkish citizens to treat religion as a private matter and his government actively discriminated against overtly religious people. The tables have now turned. Erdogan considers citizens who are not outwardly conservative to be second class. Displays of religious piety guarantee government contracts, jobs, promotions, and access to power. A headscarf-wearing wife,

Jihadi propaganda is proliferating on the Turkish Web, and ISIS is accepted in certain circles, including various Istanbul neighborhoods where people can buy ISIS paraphernalia on the streets. Even more alarmingly, according to a report by the Soufan Group, more than 2,100 Turkish citizens have crossed into Syria to fight for ISIS. Turkey is now the fourth-largest contributor of fighters to ISIS, after Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, and Russia.

An equally troublesome development—the recently failed coup plot—will only weaken the Turkish military, with grave implications for the country’s security. For one, the attempted takeover only involved a small part of the military. This indicated that there were serious rifts in an organization that had managed to maintain solidarity through earlier coups, bitter counterinsurgency, and the controversial trials against the “Ergenekon gang,” a supposedly clandestine organization in the military accused of staging a coup in 2004. In yet another blow to the cohesion of state and society in the face of the growing ISIS threat, the failed coup will erode governmental and public support for what was once Turkey’s most trusted and united security institution.

If Erdogan does not crack down on jihadi radicalization, curb Islamization at home, and cut his ties with radicals inside Syria, Turkey will suffer severely—and the West too. It is possible that radicalization will spread to the five-million-strong Turkish diaspora in Europe, as it turns a blind eye to Erdogan’s troubling domestic policies in return for his cooperation on the refugee crisis. The United States also needs Ankara as an ally in its fight against ISIS. Washington should warn Erdogan, before it is too late, of how his religious policies have contributed to the problem of radicalization. This is especially important following the failed coup in Turkey since Erdogan succeeded, in part, by mobilizing his religious conservative base. Since then, Islamists and even some jihadists have come out to rally behind him. Although Erdogan may appear victorious today, in the long run, his policies will do little to strengthen his hold on power if his country grows ever less secure.