A president in service to his country, as was the case on December 11th after the 17th attack of the year in Turkey. Recep Tayyip Erdogan has already made clear he wants to go down in history, and the man they call the Sultan left his indelible mark on all domains in 2016.
On the 15th of July, Turkish tanks rolled out onto the streets of Istanbul and Ankara. Behind the move, a so-called “peace council” – a mysterious armed forces faction – which claimed to have taken over the country. The rebels said they wanted to “restore democracy.”
That led to Erdogan’s unusual appearance on television via an iPhone….
“Let’s gather at the squares, at the airport as people of this country. Let this minority group come there with their tanks and artillery and they can do whatever they want to the people. There is no power greater than the power of the people,” he said.
A call for resistance. Perhaps a call to sacrifice. But certainly a call heard loud and clear by hundreds of Erdogan supporters who took the streets to go toe-to-toe with the rebels.
After hours of turbulence and uncertainty, 290 people were reported dead. The coup d’etat was over and had failed.
But rumours abound over Erdogan’s fate, such as he’d left the country seeking exile in Germany.
The next day, however, he appeared triumphant in Istanbul and promised to severely punish those who tried to seize power. Many had already been beaten by angry mobs. More than 8500 soldiers, or 1.5 percent of Turkey’s armed forces, had allegedly played a role in the coup.
Rough justice was swiftly executed. Thousands were rounded up and arrested. Some 200 generals and admirals were among those detained.
But this was just the start of the purge. The coup marked a spectacular turning point in Erdogan’s running of the country, the consequences would have a dramatic impact on Turkey’s foreign relations.
The hunt for people involved in the coup was so large and widespread it sparked rumours that the whole episode had been devised by the president himself as a means of removing, in one stroke, all his opponents.
The list of those round-up ranged from magistrates, teachers, police officers, politicians and journalists. More than 110,000 people were questioned and some 36,000 locked up.
Such action set off ripples among the international community and allowed Erdogan to make louder claims on the United States to extradite Fetullah Gulen; the influential exiled cleric and former Erdogan ally whom he believed was behind the plot.
“Sooner or later, the United States will make a choice. Either Turkey or FETO (Gullenist terror group. Ed),” said Erdogan.
But President Obama wasn’t about to make that choice. His refusal to give in saw relations freeze between Washington and Ankara and the diplomatic tone become more tough. Threats multiplied and the war in Syria and Iraq added to tension.
On November 11th on his return from Germany, the editor-in-chief of the oldest opposition daily Cumhuriyet, was arrested. His detention was followed by the paper’s editor and 16 journalists. Hundreds protested. For many in the West, the attack marked Erdogan’s crossing of a red line.
Europe reacted by freezing Turkey’s,,already beleaguered, adhesion process to the European Union. In response, Erdogan used Turkey’s pivotal role in the migrant crisis as bargaining power.
“You began asking what would you do if Turkey opens its gates. Look at me, if you go any further, these borders gates will be opened,” Erdogan said.
It appears to some the Sultan is making and breaking alliances at whim. The conflict with Europe and the United States has seen Erdogan renew ties with Russia. A rapprochement which could prove crucial to the war in Syria, if Assad triumphs with Moscow’s aide. A situation which could allow the president to maintain control over Kurdish militant calls for independence.