Attempted Coup in Turkey: Implications from a European perspective – by Maria Alvanou

There is strong international interest about the attempted coup that took place in Turkey on July 15th, Friday night. While many analysts examine the operational reasons that led to failure, the coup attempt itself is also of interest. There are implications for European policy that should be under consideration. They have to do not only with the possible future of Turkey inside the EU family, but also with how European countries will deal with matters of legal aftermath.

The following are some first points of consideration:

  1. Turkey wishes for years now to become member of the EU. One of the obstacles in this pathway is the “islamization” of the country that has been taking place during the last years in several levels. The military is perceived traditionally as a secular parameter of the Turkish state, plus the guardian of the secular state character and the principals of Kemal Ataturk. Nevertheless, there is no doubt that institutionally there could not be an EU member under military coup political power, even if the later supports the secular character of the state. The two countries of the European Union family that have had coup precedence in modern history (Spain and Greece) finished with such a threat in the middle 70s. Despite fluidity and political problems in some European countries there is no deviation from the democratic principle that citizens are governed by their elected governments and parliament. The army in EU countries serves for the defense against enemies and does not interfere with politics. After this coup attempt, regardless its failure, the EU should have strong doubts whether Turkey can with the political reality of modern European states
  2. Turkish people on the streets were a decisive factor against the success of the attempted coup operation. Without doubt the crowds (organized or by spontaneous initiative, supporters of Erdogan or just people fed up with the military intervention in politics during the 60s, 70s, 80s,even the 90s) were safeguarding the result of elections as the basis of political legitimization of a government. This was something that had not happened in the past, when during the stage of the coup no similar reaction took place. Yet this active stance of people resulted unfortunately also into a kind of violence unacceptable for the standard of civilized behavior. Mob lynching and the slitting of a soldier’s throat are violent outbursts that have been shocking. Also threats that have been expressed regarding the return of the abolished death penalty for those who organized the coup operation are legally problematic. The luck of the participants in a dictatorship should be a matter for the justice system under the guarantee of the “fair trial” principle and the rule of law. It should not be forgotten that Turkey is a signatory part of the European Convention of Human Rights and it should abide by its articles.
  3. 8 Turkish soldiers flying a Black Hawk landed in Alexandroupolis, Greece. They claimed mechanical failure, denied knowledge of the coup and they ask for political asylum, on grounds of fear that they will not undergo a fair trial in Turkey[1]. They have been accused for entering the country illegally and offences regarding illegal flying in Greece by the prosecutor and they will be examined by the investigative judge according to the Greek Penal procedure Code. The quest for asylum is being handled by the Greek Justice according to the prescribed procedure that could last for a long period of time. Taking into account the convictions of Turkey by the European Court of Human Rights on grounds of breaching the principles of fair trial (Article 6 of the ECHR) as well as the current political atmosphere against the accused, the argument of the soldiers that if they are sent back to Turkey there wont be a fair trial or they could even be subjected to torture cannot be overlooked. Nevertheless, for the Greek Government the whole issue could be described as a diplomatic nightmare[2]. On one hand there was a coup, so there should be an apparent support of the Greek state to the legitimate and elected government of Turkey. On the other hand, as it was stated above, the accused persons (even those charged for treason) are entitled to human rights respect. Greece is trying to have harmonic relationships with its neighboring country, to escape from their turbulent past and avoid one more reason for friction. There are after all already enough: the issue of Cyprus, claims by Turkey on grey zones in the Aegean Sea, breaches of the Greek airspace by Turkish military planes, plus the crisis of Imia has not been forgotten. On the other hand, Greece is a member of the EU, a country aspiring to protect human rights and already a destination where political refugees from Turkey traditionally find asylum. In a nutshell, this is an extradition case where apart from legal considerations there is also a strong diplomatic aspect.

Turkish modern state history is not a stranger to military dictatorships and the threat of a military intervention has always played a role in the politics of the country. Even the characterized as “post modern” intervention of February 28th 1997 (since there was no violence) led to governmental changes, showing the power of the Turkish military. Some argue that the failure of the recent coup could have the meaning that things have changed and the interference of the army cannot carry anymore the weight it did in the past.  Only the future of Turkish politics will show if the above argument is true.

[1] About the charges the 8 soldiers face in Greece, see the online article of Real News, (in Greek).

[2] On the diplomatic level and political implications, indicatively from the Greek new the article of Newspaper “Kathimerini”, (in Greek).