HARI SREENIVASAN, PBS NEWSHOUR WEEKEND ANCHOR: One year ago today, our top story was the failed coup attempt in Turkey by renegade soldiers trying to topple President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Since his security forces stopped the coup, Erdogan has cracked down on perceived opponents with tens of thousands of civil servants losing their jobs or going to jail.
Today, his government fired 7,000 more, as Erdogan attended a national unity march in the capital of Ankara and unveiled a memorial to 250 Turks who died in the coup. In the past year, Erdogan officially expanded his executive powers in a referendum approved by a majority of voters.
Soner Cagaptay, from the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, has written a new book called “The New Sultan: Erdogan and the Crisis of Modern Turkey.” He joins me now from Washington.
So, in this one year period, what’s happened to Turkey?
SONER CAGAPTAY, WASHINGTON INSTITUTE FOR NEAR EAST POLICY: Turkey has actually not become more democratic unfortunately, although the coup was presented. It has become more authoritarian and less democratic, and that is primarily because initially going after coup plotters, President Erdogan has then used the post-coup powers, state of emergency given to him to go after his other opponents. Turkey’s an extremely polarized place with half of the country adoring Erdogan and the other of the country that basically loathes him and Erdogan has targeted anyone in that drew group that loathes him that not only includes members of the Gulen movement where Erdogan believes is aligned with the coup effort but also liberals, leftists and Kurdish nationalists.
SREENIVASAN: Erdogan will say, listen, I’m in a rough neighborhood, there are people in parts of my country that want to split off and break off. I’ve had terrorist attack happening on my own soil. I need this power. I need to consolidate it. And his — that message has sunk in with his supporters.
CAGAPTAY: It has. And, of course, Erdogan has a bright side as well, that he has delivered economic growth, which is why the conservatives have been around him. But he also has a dark side which is that he has cracked down on opposition and eroded democratic checks and balances.
The problem is while half of the country loves him, the other half of the country that despises him will never fold under him. And the risk for Erdogan is that he knows as I explained in “The New Sultan”, he knows that he cannot continue governing Turkey the way he likes so long as it’s democratic, and that’s why it looks to me and other analysts that he’s taking steps to end democracy in Turkey. For example, he just said that state of emergency put in place after the coup will be extended indefinitely until there’s peace and welfare in Turkey. How do you measure peace and welfare? So, that means it’s basically permanent. And for the 40 million Turks who oppose him, that’s not acceptable.
So, I fear that if he ends democracy, there’s even a risk for that half that opposes him who will now think they cannot vote him out. That some elements of them, maybe youth elements of them might even radicalized. So, Turkey’s polarization could get even worse as a result of these policies.
SREENIVASAN: How much of Erdogan’s position is bolstered by the crucial nature of Turkey in the fighting in Syria or in the Middle East? I mean, it seems that there’s some pretty huge allies that are counting on Turkey’s support.
CAGAPTAY: I think Erdogan basically knows that the United States and NATO allies need Turkey to continue to fight ISIS, and he basically gets a hall pass in that regard. Despite his democratic transgressions, he’s still invited to summits and meetings. But there’s only so much Turkey can continue when this polarized environment, even though Erdogan might receive open arms from outside dignitaries because of the fact some of the opposition groups are violent and radical and in fact terrorists such as the Kurdish groups, PKK, and therefore going forward, he’s going to have a violent challenge coming from the right. And he has adversaries in the region, including Russia, whom he opposes in Syria, which has historic links to Kurdish group which could easily undermine moving forward.
SREENIVASAN: All right. Soner Cagaptay from the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and the author of the new book, “The New Sultan: Erdogan and the Crises of Modern Turkey” — thanks so much for joining us.
CAGAPTAY: Thank you. It’s a pleasure.