The military coup attempted in Turkey reinforces already strong anxiety about the Middle East.
The effort by elements of the armed forces to oust the elected civilian government has failed, in part because the military was not unified in support of removing current leadership.
Social media played a vital role in defeating the coup. That vehicle carried President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s dramatic appeal to the people, and coordinated the massive protest.
Under Turkey’s constitution, the military has a guardian role, and has intervened to remove governments or leaders four times since World War II. Following a 1960 military coup, President Adnan Menderes was executed.
The current dynamic is different, with coup plotters accused of being linked to Muhammed Fethullah Gulen, an opponent of Erdogan living in the United States. Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party also is founded in Islam.
Beyond immediate news, Turkey represents the complexity of a traditional society undergoing rapid industrial development. Since the 1920s revolution led by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, Turkey has had constitutional government.
Erdogan’s increasingly arbitrary, autocratic moves have strained but not broken that constitution.
Elections are still held, though freedom of expression has been curtailed.
Three aspects of history are especially germane. First, in contrast to some other Middle Eastern nations, Turkey has been rapidly modernizing the economy. This includes expanding trade and investment, reaching significantly into Central Asia as well as Europe.
Second, Turkey has been able to maintain reasonably good political and security relations with Europe and United States. The nation has a powerful, fully deserved reputation for military effectiveness. Economic development reinforces security relationships and influence.
NATO ties remain quite strong. The Turkish military is the second largest in NATO, after the U.S.
Turkey was a major combatant in the Korean War. In Afghanistan, the nation is a leader. Turkey oversees vital sea and land routes, including the Bosphorus Strait.
Third, Turkey represents a distinctive marriage of firmly-rooted Islamic religious and cultural traditions with Western governmental institutions. This draws on the nation’s Ottoman heritage of combining religious and secular dimensions. Criminal terrorist incidents occur in the context of this complex tapestry.
In “Lords of the Horizon — A History of the Ottoman Empire,” Jason Goodwin notes that he is writing “about a people who do not exist. The word ‘Ottoman’ does not describe a place. Nobody nowadays speaks their language … (Yet) for 600 years the Ottoman empire swelled and declined.” (1998 edition, p. xiii).
From the 13th century to the empire’s accelerating decline in the 19th century, the Ottoman territory — which crested at the Danube in Europe — was built on military success reinforced by secular executive practices, but not investment and trade.
While the Industrial Revolution initially passed Turkey by, that has changed dramatically. Over the past quarter century, the economy has moved from uncertainty to powerhouse. Growth has been strong, both corruption and inflation have been greatly reduced, and government red tape and bottlenecks have been steadily eliminated. Much of the credit belongs to reform Prime Minister and President Turgut Ozal, who held office from 1983 to 1993. His relationship with President George H.W. Bush was particularly important during the 1990-91 Gulf War.
In 2015 Turkey hosted the G20. Economic progress continues, but growth is slowing and the president steadily concentrates power.
Erdogan’s next moves will be crucial to Turkey’s future, and his own.
The people demonstrated commitment to democracy, a global trend, not any single personality.
Arthur I. Cyr is Clausen Distinguished Professor at Carthage College and author of “After the Cold War.” Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.