Following the attempted coup in Turkey, tensions between Ankara and Washington are growing. The laughing third is IS.
On a confrontation course with the U.S.: Erdogan on Saturday in Istanbul Photo: dpa
It was a remarkable sentence that the Turkish prime minister uttered in parliament on Saturday afternoon. "Any country," Binali Yıldırım said, "that still supports Fethullah Gulen and his movement now, we will consider to be in a state of war with Turkey."
The 75-year-old preacher and guru of the Islamist Gulen movement had already been accused of masterminding the coup attempt in one of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s first statements on Saturday night. But to Erdogan’s chagrin, his police and prosecutors cannot get close to Gulen because he lives in the United States. Even on the night of the coup, Erdogan again demanded that the Obama administration extradite Gulen to Turkey.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said at noon Saturday in Moscow, where he was in Moscow for a meeting, that the Turkish government would, after all, now likely present evidence of Gulen’s guilt, which could then be examined in a formal trial. But for now, Erdogan and his prime minister increased the pressure. If Gulen was not extradited, they said, it would probably have to be assumed that the United States had been involved in the coup attempt. Back in Washington, Kerry declared: "Public allegations or insinuations about any U.S. involvement in the failed coup attempt are completely false and damaging to our bilateral relations.
Remarkable sentences among NATO friends, especially since Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut cavusoglu then also admitted that he had not formally demanded Fethullah Gulen’s extradition in talks with his colleague Kerry. Ergo, so far, beyond its propagandistic claims, the Turkish government is apparently neither willing nor able to provide the United States with detailed evidence of the Gulen movement’s alleged authorship of the coup attempt.
Electricity turned off at Incirlik
Instead, Erdogan is already showing the U.S. and other NATO allies where he can put the thumbscrews. The large Incirlik air base on the southeastern edge of the Mediterranean near Adana, one of the most important bases in the fight against the so-called "Islamic State" (IS), has been closed. The authorities even cut off the power to the military.
Several Turkish officers at the airbase were arrested as coup plotters. It is not known whether they were in contact with the US military there. On Sunday, rumors circulated that Incirlik could remain closed until the end of August.
However, that would be a major setback in the fight against IS, because not only some of the U.S. bombers take off from Incirlik for Syria and Iraq. The Bundeswehr’s reconnaissance Tornados are also stationed in Incirlik. In the weeks before the attempted coup, there had been conflicts over the visit of German soldiers by German MPs, because Turkey, referring to the Armenia resolution of the Bundestag, denied parliamentarians access.
Gulen’s responsibility is very unlikely
Whether Erdogan and his government’s dispute with the United States is really only about the extradition of Fethullah Gulen, who has lived in Pennsylvania since the late 1990s and leads his globally active Islamic movement from there, is highly questionable. Since the breakup of the Gulen community, which was formerly closely linked to the AKP, in 2013, the sect has had to take the rap for everything that runs counter to Erdogan. The so-called "parallel structure," as the government now calls it to imply that it has tried to build its own power structures alongside the state, is now even being prosecuted as a terrorist organization.
In fact, by the time Erdogan came to power in 2002, the Gulen sect already had considerable influence in the judiciary, police and other authorities – from which Erdogan benefited for years. But it was precisely in the army that Islamists could not get a foothold. It is highly improbable that secular coup plotters, who according to their own communique wanted to prevent the further Islamization of Turkey, should now have been on the move on behalf of Gulen.
It is much more likely that Erdogan is now using the favor of the hour vis-à-vis the U.S. to push through another demand: In the fight against IS, the U.S. military is working closely with the Syrian Kurds in Syria. Erdogan sees this as an affront because the Syrian Kurds are also supported by the Turkish-Kurdish PKK guerrillas. This must stop, the Turkish president has repeatedly demanded of U.S. President Barack Obama. The U.S. would have to choose between Turkey and the PKK.
The IS will benefit from the conflict for the time being. Some of Erdogan’s most fanatical supporters see the IS as more of a friend than the USA anyway.