Turkey’s Islamist-leaning president, Tayyip Erdogan, survived a July 15 coup by narrowly escaping a band of soldiers at a coastal resort and then launching “a counteroffensive that marshaled military might, technology and religion,” as described by Wall Street Journal reporters.
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The coup attempt failed, leaving more than 250 people dead and 2,800 military personnel detained for questioning, as estimated by The Journal on July 17, while the BBC placed the number of overall detainees as climbing past 6,000.
The coup attempt likely will strengthen Erdogan’s grip on power in the nation of 75 million people. Though democratically elected as president in 2014, international religious liberty advocates have been wary of Erdogan since.
As noted in the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom’s 2016 report: “The overall landscape for democracy and human rights in Turkey has deteriorated over the last several years. The government has increased restrictions on social media and cracked down on journalists and individuals or groups that criticize the government, especially President Erdogan.”
As stated by The Journal: “Instead of weakening Mr. Erdogan, the coup provided a rational for him to crack down on the military and judiciary, the two strongest bastions of Turkish society with the power to check the president’s political ambitions.”
President Obama affirmed Erdogan’s leadership soon after the coup began.
Turkey already had a distinct form of Islam prior to Erdogan, Joe Carter, a writer with the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), wrote at the ERLC website.
“Although the majority of the population is comprised of Sunni Muslims, Turkey has been a secular, democratic constitutional republic since 1923,” Carter wrote at the ERLC’s website June 16. “Although Turkey’s constitution provides for strict secularism, this secularism is maintained through state control of religious expression in a variety of ways. For instance, all imams, or Muslim religious leaders, are employed by Turkey’s Ministry of Religious Affairs, which reports directly to the Prime Minister’s office. Further, Turkish public education curriculum includes compulsory Islamic education.”
The U.S. religious freedom commission lists Turkey as a “Tier 2” country in which “religious freedom conditions do not rise to the statutory level that would mandate a [country of particular concern] designation but require close monitoring due to the nature and extent of violations of religious freedom engaged in or tolerated by governments.”
Apart from the coup attempt, Turkey’s tensions include the flow of refugees from Islamic State terror into Turkey and into other countries neighboring Syria and Iraq. An estimated 2.7 million Syrian refugees currently are living in Turkey, according to The Journal.
“Turkey is a member of NATO and has the second largest standing army in that treaty organization (the U.S. has the first),” Carter additionally noted. “The U.S. has an airbase in Incirlik, Turkey, with approximately 5,000 service members. This base has been a primary point of operations for the U.S. airstrikes against Islamic State (ISIS).”
The coup attempt, launched by a segment of the Turkish military, included a gun battle with Erdogan’s security forces at the resort where the president was staying, F-16s attacking Turkey’s parliament building and helicopters attacking the nation’s intelligence headquarters, The Journal reported.
After his escape, Erdogan was able to utilize text messaging nationwide to rally thousands into the streets while loudspeakers at mosques voiced late-night calls to action. “It was the first time in Turkey’s history,” according to The Journal, “that its citizens rose up to prevent a military coup.”
Turkey has weathered several military coups since the modern state was founded in 1923 which subsequently segued back to civilian governance.
Carter described Turkey as situated on a peninsula in western Asia that “serves as crossroads between the continents of Europe and Asia.” It is bordered by Syria and Iraq as well as Greece, Bulgaria and Georgia and the Mediterranean Sea to the south, the Black Sea to the north and the Aegean Sea to the west.
From a biblical standpoint, Carter wrote, “Numerous areas now located in modern Turkey are mentioned in the Bible, including: Mt. Ararat (Genesis 8:1-5); Haran (Genesis 11:31); the lands of the Hittites (Genesis 15:19-21); Tarsus [the original home of Paul] (Acts 9:11); Iconium (Acts 13-16 and 2 Timothy 3:11); Galatia (Galatians); Antioch in Pisidia (Acts 13:14); and Ephesus (Ephesians).”