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Turkish Military Claims To Have Taken Control Of Country


Tomorrow morning we could wake up to Turkey that is stable or to a Turkey in chaos approaching civil war. That is the assessment of Soner Cagaptay. He's the director of the Turkish Research Program at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. He joins us now on the line. Welcome.

SONER CAGAPTAY: It's a pleasure to be with you.

SHAPIRO: So this is an unfolding situation, and it is not at all clear who is in control of Turkey. You have been talking this evening about two very different possible outcomes. Explain the thinking behind them.

CAGAPTAY: So either the coup plot will fail, and tomorrow we'll wake up to a more repressive Erdogan government who will not only crack down on the coup plotters rightfully so but also any potential opposition that remains outside of his power.

So Turkey will become an even more oppressive country, even more oppressive under the current government and president. Or the coup plotters will succeed, and it will still become more oppressive then on their military regime - so two bad outcomes unfortunately at this stage, none of which looks to be promising stability.

SHAPIRO: We have heard tonight about the military firing on people in Istanbul who were out in the streets. What do you make of those reports, and has anything like that happened in past coups in Turkey?

CAGAPTAY: If that's indeed true, that would be very unfortunate. There is no history of the Turkish military firing at its own people even during coup times in the past. Decades ago, that is, when the military carried out coups, it never fired on people. These were carried out very swiftly without any bloodshed, so that would be very dramatic. And I think the call of President Erdogan for his supporters to take on the streets has not only built up public support but has also precipitated some of this violence but as well as the military firing its own people.

So it's a very unusual development for people in a country where if this is indeed, as people say, a coup within the military both against the military, against the government, it's unusual because the military is a very hierarchical institution, and it does everything top to bottom. So if this is indeed a military bottom-up process, it goes against everything we know about the military in Turkey.

And secondly the fact that the military is firing at its own people and the fact that the people are firing at the military is very unusual because this is a conscript-based military, meaning everybody participate in it. So it's as if people are firing at people in the country. It's almost like an unspoken highly polarized country going through an unspoken, uncalled civil war, unfortunately.

SHAPIRO: This is not entirely a surprise. You wrote a piece back in October for the Washington Institute called "Turkey Is In Serious Trouble," and you laid out what you describe as a toxic combination of political polarization, government instability, economic trouble and threats of violence from inside and outside of Turkey. And so what do you make of this moment? Was it inevitable?

CAGAPTAY: Unfortunately this had been brewing, this kind of political tensions which have of course produced a result that nobody wanted to see - an attempt by the military to oust the democratically elected government. But it doesn't mean Turkey's tensions will be over tomorrow. This is a highly polarized country, and I think today's events of the people's army firing at the people and people firing back at the army only shows to you that the country's so polarized that these tensions won't go away for a while.

That polarization is at least in part due to President Erdogan's electoral strategy. Yes, he does win elections on a platform of economic good governance and conservative social policies, but he's also oppressive of dissent, cracks down on opposition, demonizes groups that won't vote for him and even encourages violence against them. So it has produced a violence-prone political environment.

And if you add to this mix attacks by both the PKK and ISIS, two terror groups that are active in Turkey and its neighborhood, of course it does create a very combustive and dangerous environment.

My wish is for Turkey to wake up to a stability tomorrow, but unfortunately, analytically speaking, it looks like either way this unfolds it will become a less-free, less-democratic and less-peaceful place at least in the short-term.

SHAPIRO: That's Soner Cagaptay, director of the Turkish Research Program at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Of course we will continue to update this story as it unfolds throughout the night and beyond. Soner Cagaptay, thank you very much.

CAGAPTAY: My pleasure. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.