Haze around Turkey and the Kurds

A Turkish protestor holds up an anti-Gulen sign and a Turkish flag
A Turkish protestor demonstrates against the Gulen movement following the failed July 15 coup, which some suspect was engineered by followers of Fethullah Gulen (source: dpa)

Since the unsuccessful coup attempt in Turkey on July 15, several questions have surfaced – but they had actually already existed beforehand.

Turkey is one of the most important powers in the regions of the Black Sea, the Caucasus, the Middle East, Eastern Mediterranean and the Balkans. The refugee issue showed how dependent Europe is on Turkey. On one hand, the United States is important for Turkey as a counterbalance to its northern neighbor, Russia. On the other hand, Turkey is also an indispensable ally for the U.S. to balance Russia in the Black Sea, Eastern Mediterranean and Caucasus. It is even more important for the U.S. in its fight against Daesh (also known as Islamic State) in the Middle East.

The Kurdish question is a big issue for Turkey. But the Kurds in Syria and Iraq are also Washington’s best allies in the fight against Daesh.

Some years ago, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is now president but then was serving as prime minister, tried to find an arrangement with Turkey’s Kurds, the country’s most important minority, in an effort to relieve tensions. It now appears that, according to some sources, followers of cleric Fethullah Gulen – members of the so-called “Gulen movement” – had big reservations against Mr. Erdogan’s drive to find a peaceful solution.

In the past, the Turkish army’s leadership was also very reluctant to accept any type of autonomy for the Kurds. As a result of the coup, we have learned that the Gulen movement had a strong presence in the military.

For many, it was surprising to find out after the coup how heavily the Gulen movement was represented in the education system and other institutions such as the army – long considered a stronghold of Turkish secularism. Due to this heavy representation, Turkey’s Ministry of Education dismissed 27,000 people. More than 4,000 academics were suspended. Significant changes have also been made in the military.

Now that Ankara is in a position of strength, it is important for it to work with the Kurds


Mr. Gulen currently lives in exile in Pennsylvania, and his role in the coup is still unclear. But it is an interesting prospect that Gulen’s Islamic religious movement could have attempted a military coup against the Erdogan government, using the very institution that was considered the protector of laicism. It also poses questions about Turkey’s educational system.

The coup was unsuccessful and the democratically elected government prevailed. What does that mean for the region? Undoubtedly, Turkey has become a stronger actor, as shown by its direct military intervention in Iraq. That intervention’s aim is to fight Daesh and contain the Syrian Kurds, who are believed to have close ties to radical groups in Turkey. Ankara must move against Islamic State, which is trying to destabilize Turkey – the country has now become a prime target of Daesh’s terror attacks.

Where does that leave the Kurds? The Kurds currently enjoy the support of the U.S., but the concern is that if Daesh is defeated (at least as a “state” with territory), the Kurds will lose support from all sides.

Now that Ankara has dealt with the influence of the Gulen movement and is in a position of strength, it is important for it to work with the Kurds to find a mutually beneficial settlement, both on Turkish territory and in neighboring Kurdish regions. It is also in the vital interest of all Kurds to find a sound arrangement with Turkey.

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