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The New Turkey: How It Transformed after July 16, 2016
Military coups in Turkey are common for the Turkish citizen. But the one on July 16, 2016 was the first time that the Turkish people decided to play a role in determining the fate of this coup.

Eva J. KOULOURIOTIS

30/07/2020 Region: Middle East Topic: Geopolitics

July 16, 2016 was not the first time that Turkish tanks surrounded a Bosphorus bridge between the European and Asian sides of Istanbul. Military coups in Turkey are common for the Turkish citizen. But this was the first time that the Turkish people decided to play a role in determining the fate of this coup. Do not listen to those who seek to credit the failure of this movement to others than the Turkish people, the men and women who flooded the streets and squares, declaring their resolve to uphold the legitimacy of the country against the ambitions of a group of officers and soldiers belonging to the so-called deep state. This event, which was at the top of the interest of the international media, deserves to be characterized as one of the most important landmarks of the modern Turkish state, because Turkey before is not the same as Turkey after it.

Over the centuries, internal stability marked the beginning of the rise of empires and strength of countries. Far from going deep in the details of that night's events, the most important fact is the result of the ideal management of it by the Turkish government and the ruling AK party, which made Turkey be listened by everyone when it speaks.

The Turkish state has gone through various stages until it reached its current reality of regional and international influence. This change began with an internal liquidation and the campaign of arrests of Turkish personalities with great weight in the deep state, who were the long arm of Fethullah Gülen's organization. The process of purification through the intelligence service, the most credible arm of the Turkish government, has made Turkey stable internally, militarily, and security-wise. This was reflected in the Turkish government's policies regionally and internationally. Reading the Turkish political scene after the hot summer of 2016 and the change it brought, I will focus on three files. The first is the Syrian file and the new Turkish role in it, the second is the Libyan file, the most important step for modern Turkey outside its borders and the third is the file of Turkish relations with Europe and America and how they are affected after the failed coup.

Syria

The Syrian file is the most important issue in the region and the most complex in terms of multiple players, visible and invisible. Turkey has played a role in this scene since day one, when it chose to stand with the Syrian people against the Assad regime and its bloody militias. This Turkish role has always been under the watchful eye of both the Americans and the Europeans. In addition, external pressures have prevented Turkey from taking military action to establish a safe zone for the protection of civilians in northern Syria. This was confirmed by former German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel, who publicly acknowledged that Germany and Europe had wrongly rejected the Turkish request. But Turkey's Western blockade of the Syrian file did not end there. It has expanded to set up a Washington-controlled operation room on its territory to monitor Turkish support to the Syrian armed opposition. At the same time, the United States itself has supported and managed Kurdish terrorist organizations in north-eastern Syria under the guise of fighting ISIS. This situation has changed significantly since the summer of 2016.

The new Turkey is independent enough to protect its borders and national security, as confirmed by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan following the announcement of the launch of Operation 'Euphrates Shield' against ISIS in the north countryside of Aleppo. This military operation was followed by a second one called 'Olive Branch' against the PYD militias, the PKK's Syrian military arm and, more recently, a third operation 'Peace Spring' in north-eastern Syria. These Turkish military moves were carried out in parallel with political ones at a series of Astana conferences, through which Turkey reaffirmed its strong role on the Syrian scene and that it could not be overtaken by any international player, whether America or Russia. After all, a strong Turkey after the failed coup is the only umbrella for the Syrian armed opposition, which was sold by the Arabs in Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and others, as well as Europeans. What is most certain at this and the next stage is that Turkey appears to be the line of hope for the Syrian opposition, for the revolution and freedom.

The new equation in Turkey's international relations

With the stabilization of the Turkish government, Ankara began to re-read its network of international relations from a different perspective, based on self-confidence and a lack of trust in other parties. On this basis, the Turkish government launched a series of international moves, first with Russia. Thus, Ankara opened a new page in its relations with Moscow. The two governments have entered a new level of cooperation and communication on various issues, such as Syria, Ukraine, the defence industry, with the most important of all the agreement on the supply of S400, in the light of the exchange of interests. The latest move came amid threats and warnings from the then-Obama administration. But the new Turkey put its interests above the interests of others. This discipline and confidence forced the next US administration, led by Trump, to restructure its relations with Ankara in a way that would build Washington's policies in northeast Syria respecting Turkish security and peace. This was translated on the ground with the withdrawal of US troops in front of Turkish troops in operation 'Peace Spring' in north-eastern Syria. As for Europe, European leaders are torn between fears about the new Turkey and media attacks on it, but all have finally begun to adjust their policies towards Turkey from a country seeking to join the European Union to a country that sees its independence as more important than joining a divided and tired Union, a country that looks not only to the west but also to the east, north and south. This change in Turkey's international policy reached the level of maturity that can be perceived from its role in the Libyan file.

Libya

Ankara has taken a clear political stance on the Libyan crisis before the failed coup, reaffirming its support for the legitimate government in Tripoli. This attitude could not then be beyond diplomatic or political. After the coup, with its strengthened international and regional weight, it matured enough to translate this change into practice, by announcing the signing of a memorandum of cooperation in security and defence with the Government of National Accord at the end of 2019. This document was the green light for Turkey to intervene militarily in Libya and upset the balance of power on the ground with its drones, special forces and air force, capable of confronting Haftar militias backed by Russian Wagner mercenaries, Libyan militias trained by the French and armed by the Emiratis and some Sudanese militias and mercenaries of the Assad regime. After a few months of Turkish intervention, where the Tripoli government was struggling to defend its capital, it is now on the threshold of Sirte, facing Benghazi, the city of the revolution.

The blow that does not kill you makes you stronger. This reflects the transformation that Turkey went through after 16 July 2016. Today, Turkey is in Somalia to train its army and security in confronting extremist groups. Turkey is in Qatar to support its strategic ally. Turkey is in northern Iraq striking terrorists in their own homes. Today, Turkey is financially stable, tourist safe, medically advanced, and administratively clean. This scene does not appeal to many international players, who nevertheless should recognize that Turkey today is Turkey of the Turkish people who will protect it tomorrow as did yesterday.