The tragedy of Turkey’s attempted coup

Updated 10:56 AM EDT, Sat July 16, 2016
ISTANBUL, TURKEY - JULY 16: Soldiers involved in the coup attempt surrender on Bosphorus bridge with their hands raised on July 16, 2016  in Istanbul, Turkey. Istanbul's bridges across the Bosphorus, the strait separating the European and Asian sides of the city, have been closed to traffic. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has denounced an army coup attempt, that has left atleast 90 dead 1154 injured in overnight clashes in Istanbul and Ankara. (Photo by Gokhan Tan/Getty Images)
Gokhan Tan/Getty Images Europe/Getty Images
ISTANBUL, TURKEY - JULY 16: Soldiers involved in the coup attempt surrender on Bosphorus bridge with their hands raised on July 16, 2016 in Istanbul, Turkey. Istanbul's bridges across the Bosphorus, the strait separating the European and Asian sides of the city, have been closed to traffic. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has denounced an army coup attempt, that has left atleast 90 dead 1154 injured in overnight clashes in Istanbul and Ankara. (Photo by Gokhan Tan/Getty Images)
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15th September 1980: Troops seal off a main road in the Turkish capital Ankara after the military coup led by General Kenan Evren. (Photo by Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
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Tanks move into position as Turkish people attempt to stop them, in Ankara, Turkey, early Saturday, July 16, 2016. Turkey's armed forces said it "fully seized control" of the country Friday and its president responded by calling on Turks to take to the streets in a show of support for the government. A loud explosion was heard in the capital, Ankara, fighter jets buzzed overhead, gunfire erupted outside military headquarters and vehicles blocked two major bridges in Istanbul.
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ISTANBUL, TURKEY - JULY 15: Turkish soldiers block Istanbul's Bosphorus Brigde on July 15, 2016 in Istanbul, Turkey. Istanbul's bridges across the Bosphorus, the strait separating the European and Asian sides of the city, have been closed to traffic. Reports have suggested that a group within Turkey's military have attempted to overthrow the government. Security forces have been called in as Turkey's Prime Minister Binali Yildirim denounced an "illegal action" by a military "group", with bridges closed in Istanbul and aircraft flying low over the capital of Ankara. (Photo by Gokhan Tan/Getty Images)
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ISTANBUL, TURKEY - JULY 15: Turkish soldiers block Istanbul's Bosphorus Brigde on July 15, 2016 in Istanbul, Turkey. Istanbul's bridges across the Bosphorus, the strait separating the European and Asian sides of the city, have been closed to traffic. Reports have suggested that a group within Turkey's military have attempted to overthrow the government. Security forces have been called in as Turkey's Prime Minister Binali Yildirim denounced an "illegal action" by a military "group", with bridges closed in Istanbul and aircraft flying low over the capital of Ankara. (Photo by Gokhan Tan/Getty Images)
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Story highlights

An attempted military coup against the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan took place late Friday

Jenny White: Friday's attempted coup 'took Turkey out of Europe and placed it squarely in the Middle East'

Editor’s Note: Jenny White is a professor of Turkish studies at the Stockholm University Institute for Turkish Studies and the author of ’Muslim Nationalism and the New Turks.’ The views expressed are her own.

(CNN) —  

Until Friday afternoon, Turkey remained a competent and stable, if problematic, country that served as a buffer between Europe and the imploding Middle East and a partner for the United States. It suffered from terrorist attacks like European countries, and shared a world where solidarity could be demonstrated by Facebook posts and projecting the Turkish flags on national monuments.

That changed with Friday’s coup attempt.

Jenny White
CNN
Jenny White

The military action, the results of which are still unclear, took Turkey out of Europe and placed it squarely in the Middle East. It tore away the country’s stability, replacing polarization with what could end up being outright civil war, whether the coup succeeds or not.

All this adds yet another conflict to those already blooming like unholy flowers on Turkish ground: ISIS suicide attacks; renewed fighting with the Kurdish separatist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK); wholesale destruction of Kurdish towns by Turkey’s security forces, which have been given immunity; not to mention the ongoing low-level violence that infects Turkey’s society, especially targeting women. Turkey can no longer be a buffer against violence; it has become a sacrifice on its own altar.

People take to the streets during clashes with military forces in Istanbul Friday.
GURCAN OZTURK/AFP/Getty Images
People take to the streets during clashes with military forces in Istanbul Friday.

As a result, the reality is that Turkey’s usefulness as a “safe” haven for Syrian refugees is now in doubt, destabilizing the already morally suspect EU pact that provides money to Turkey in return for keeping hundreds of thousands of refugees.

Meanwhile, Turkey’s descent into what is likely to be a government witch hunt for “putschists” and massive violent reprisals means more anger, more polarization and a destabilized population that is more likely to seek protection from outside.

Helmet and vests lay on the Bosphorous Bridge on Saturday.
Gokhan Tan/Getty Images
Helmet and vests lay on the Bosphorous Bridge on Saturday.

Groups like ISIS will likely capitalize on this disenchantment to seek more recruits inside Turkey. From there, they will be able to pass to Europe, just as jihadis in past years had moved through Turkey on their way to Syria as the Turkish government turned a blind eye. As the saying goes, the enemy of my enemy is my friend, and ISIS and other jihadis were fighting Kurdish militants, Turkey’s biggest bugaboo that blinded it to all other dangers.

The United States and opposition parties within Turkey disapproved of Friday’s attempted coup. But if the ruling AKP (Justice and Development Party), led by President Erdogan, neuters it, as it appears at the time of writing to have done, we can expect President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to use it as an excuse to ruthlessly crush what thin spine of opposition remains, breaking the back of the military once and for all and arresting – or worse – all manner of perceived and real “traitors.”