ISTANBUL – A military coup against an elected government typically unleashes a flood of analysis about the country’s future direction following the break in democratic rule. But failed coups can be just as consequential. The botched attempt by elements of the Turkish military to overthrow President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan will have far-ranging implications for Turkey’s foreign relations and regional role. Turkey’s relationship with the United States, in particular, is headed for considerable turbulence.
The coup attempt heralds a new and uneasy phase in the Turkey-US relationship, because Turkish authorities have linked it to Fethullah Gülen, an Islamic preacher based near Philadelphia since 1999 but with a core group of followers in Turkey.
Gülen was previously charged with establishing a parallel state structure primarily within the police, the judiciary, and the military. More recently, the Turkish authorities classified the Gülen movement as a terrorist organization – a label given new meaning by the failed coup. But, despite the growing evidence concerning Gülen and his followers, the impression in Ankara is that the US has so far refused to constrain the activities of his network, which includes a range of schools and many civil-society organizations.
This network allows the Gülen movement to engage in substantial fundraising, which the authorities claim sustains the nefarious operations of its affiliates in Turkey. As a result, Gülen’s continued residence in Pennsylvania has become not only a contentious issue in the bilateral relationship, but also an important source of rising anti-Americanism in Turkey.