Cui bono?

ErdoganAndPutinSince Cicero thus quoted another Roman consul, this question has figured prominently in forensic investigations. Proceeding from that starting point, many observers have concluded that Erdoğan himself organised the coup, the better to Islamise Turkey.

Erdoğan has certainly profited, having increased his power to dismantle the quasi-secular republic created by Atatürk. It was only quasi-secular because many Turks never doused the Islamic fire in their loins.

I recall finding myself in Istanbul’s business district some 20 years ago. The street was crawling with young men sporting Armani suits and other questionable off-the-peg garments, and carrying attaché cases.

Suddenly a muezzin began singing from the nearby minaret, and all those Armani-clad chaps prostrated themselves where they stood. In a few seconds the street became a sea of heaving backs, something one seldom observes in the City of London.

Secularism may have existed in government for almost a century, but it has never made inroads into many Turks’ hearts. Devout Muslims, which most Turks are, don’t mind an Islamic state, and Erdoğan had no trouble drumming up popular support against the coup.

Did he organise it? Not literally, I don’t think. Staging such a giant spectacle is probably beyond Erdoğan’s directorial talents, especially since he would have had to recruit many suicidal volunteers, some among his close friends.

It’s easier to believe that Erdoğan merely provoked the coup. The army, the only force in the country still predominantly loyal to secularism, had legitimate grievances, and most rebels acted in good faith. But many agents provocateurs must have been quietly working behind the scenes, egging on those anti-Erdoğan officers.

Thus encouraged, they marched but were easily routed by the loyalists, who then started a major purge. So far 60,000 people have been arrested or sacked, with the army beheaded, independent judiciary ditto, and the school system brought to heel. Domestically the question in the title has a single-word answer: Erdoğan.

But it’s the international aftermath that interests me most, and there the answer would be both longer and impossible to provide without historical parallels. Many observers draw those, mainly with the 1933 Reichstag fire in Berlin.

The Nazis used it to consolidate their power. Hitler profited to such an extent that it’s commonly believed he himself had instigated the arson. The evidence for this is scant, but Hitler definitely took maximum opportunistic advantage of the situation.

In that sense, the parallel with the Turkish coup is valid, especially when it comes to the domestic ramifications. But an earlier parallel, involving Germany and Russia, elucidates the strategic impact of the coup much better.

Russia ended the First World War (and, incidentally, started the Second) as Germany’s ally, which turned both into pariah states, treated as such at the 1922 Genoa Conference, especially since Soviet Russia repudiated the Tsar’s debts.

German and Russian diplomats then slipped away to Rapallo, a nearby resort. There they signed a treaty, agreeing to “co-operate in a spirit of mutual goodwill in meeting the economic needs of both countries”.

Just like the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of 17 years later, the Rapallo Treaty had secret clauses. The Germans agreed to provide the technology and the know-how the Bolsheviks needed to create a modern military industry. In their turn, the Russians undertook to help the Germans circumvent those provisions of the Versailles Treaty that limited the country’s military capacity.

As a direct result, German and Russian tank officers and pilots trained together at Russian schools built and financed by the Germans. It was at the Kama School near Kazan that Russian and German officers (including Guderian and Manstein) worked out the tactic of flanking armour thrusts, which both used to devastating effect against each other later.*

Today’s situation is eerily reminiscent of Rapallo, 1922. Both Erdoğan’s Turkey and Putin’s Russia are rapidly turning themselves into pariah states, bereft of Western allies. This is drawing them closer together, and a Russia-Turkey axis, which may or may not also include Iran, is becoming a distinct possibility.

The relations between the two countries soured on 24 November, 2015, when a Turkish F-16 fighter shot down a Russian SU-24M bomber that had violated Turkey’s airspace. Russia demanded, and Turkey offered, an apology, which was rather perfunctory.

Talk of another Russo-Turkish war was in the air, as if the 12 such wars the countries fought between 1568 and 1918 didn’t suffice. However, the coup changed all that.

The mayor of Ankara, a staunch Erdoğan loyalist, declared that the pilot who shot down the Russian jet was among the rebels. Hence his Russophobic action had been inspired by Fethullah Gülen, the anti-Erdoğan dissident. Since Gülen is currently living in Pennsylvania, he’s obviously a US puppet. “Our relations with Russia were spoiled by these bastards!” screamed the Mayor.

The tone of Russian propaganda has also changed noticeably since the coup, with Turkey routinely portrayed as an ally against the US.

Considering the critical importance of Turkey to NATO, her possible alliance with Russia is deeply worrying. Just like the Germany-USSR alliance of yesteryear, it can only be aggressive, with the West its target.

Something needs to be done fast, before things get out of control. As they did in 1939.

*The Russophones among you may be interested in the documentary evidence of this cooperation gathered by Yuri D’yakov and Tatiana Bushyeva in their book Фашисткий меч ковался в СССР (The Fascist Sword Was Forged in the USSR). I don’t think it has been translated.

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