How Turkey Overcame Terrorism to Retain Economic Power
By M. Rishar M. Saleem
On 15 July 2016, a coup d’état was attempted in Turkey against State institutions, including the Government and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. They attempted to seize control of several key places in Ankara, Istanbul, and elsewhere, but failed to do so after forces loyal to the State defeated them.
This caused some major setbacks to President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his Government. An incident of this nature would take any country off balance and recovery could be a herculean task; however, as a country, the Republic of Turkey very successfully began to rise like a phoenix.
Reaching the fourth year of that unpleasant coup attempt, the incumbent Ambassador for the Republic of Turkey to Sri Lanka, R. Demet Şekercioğlu in an exclusive discussion with Ceylon Today highlighted the story of recovery from the setbacks the Republic faced in overcoming the economic, political, social, setbacks it faced as a result of the unfortunate incident.
Turkey and Sri Lanka have maintained trade and political relationships spanning over 70 years. As friendly nations, both Republics have a very cordial political and economic relationship.
Below are excerpts from the discussion.
Recalling the thwarted coup attempt in July 2016 against the democratically-elected Government of the Republic of Turkey, what were the immediate economic and political setbacks faced by the Republic?
A: I do not think the term ‘setback’ correctly qualifies the situation after the thwarted coup attempt. I would rather talk about challenges. Indeed, the coup attempt on 15 July 2016, which took the lives of 251 innocent civilians and wounded thousands overnight, was one of the bloodiest terror attacks that Turkey has experienced in her recent history. Compared to the gravity of this incident, Turkey has maintained a well-managed political and economic recovery.
One should recall that the thwarted coup was the last phase of an attempt to capture the Turkish State, destroy democratic foundations of the Republic and establish a new State under the absolute rule of Fetullah Gülen, the ringleader of the clandestine, criminal and terrorist organisation called FETO. This criminal network started under the guise of a charitable education effort back in the 1970s, and soon turned into a secretive operational structure aiming to transform the society by taking control of the State from within.
On that fateful day, FETO members had already infiltrated not only every critical state posts, but also media houses and businesses. They had abused their power to eliminate whoever opposed or tried to expose the organisation’s subversive goals.
However,the Turkish nation under the leadership of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has countered this plan. The success of this action lies in the strong belief of our people in democracy, as well as the nation’s unity against those targeting the Republic founded with sacrifices of our martyrs during the War of Liberation. Thousands took the streets to oppose the coup that night. The resilience of Turkish people and swift actions of the Government helped mitigate potential negative effects of the coup attempt.
Turkey maintains an influx of refugees from war-torn neighbour Syria, and also actively take part in the ‘Syrian war’, involved in eradicating the terrorist organisation led by Fethullah Gülen and Kurdish rebels. How does this affect the progress of the country?
A: For decades, we have been fighting a number of terrorist organisations simultaneously. The coup attempt of July 2016 added FETO into this list. Despite facing extraordinary security challenges, we have been able to successfully conduct our fight at home. But FETO, which lost its backbone in Turkey, has undergone a significant transformation and is now trying to survive by making use of its structure abroad.
As it aims to infiltrate and enlarge its global economic and political influence, it constitutes a direct security threat for any country where it operates. Thus, fighting against the structures of FETO abroad has become one of our top priorities. We are pleased to see that some of our partners have understood the threat and have taken concrete steps against FETO.
The terrorism originating from Syria is also a serious threat to our country. While we are the only country to put a chest-to-chest combat against DAESH in Syria, the terrorist attacks targeting our borders is not limited to DAESH. We have also been exposed to many attacks of PYD/YPG, the Syrian offshoot of PKK, which is designated as a terrorist organisation by the EU and NATO.
To eliminate the existing threats along our borders with Syria, we conducted three successful counter-terrorism operations in the recent past. Our anti-terror efforts in Syria aim to ensure Turkey’s security, neutralise terrorists in the region, and save Syrians from the oppression and cruelty of these terrorist groups, as well as to contribute to the territorial integrity and unity of Syria by disrupting separatist agendas.
Turkey pursues a foreign policy guided by its founding principle ‘Peace at Home, Peace in the World’ with an “Enterprising and Humanitarian” approach to achieve security, stability and prosperity in its neighbourhood and beyond. Within the scope of this approach, Turkey addresses all the items on its foreign policy agenda through a responsible, human-oriented, conscientious and principled frame.
The concrete translation of this foreign policy approach to the refugee issue is that Turkey is hosting almost 4 million refugees, among whom the majority is Syrians. This is the highest number of refugees in a country in the world. According to the Development Initiative’s (DI) Global Humanitarian Assistance Report, Turkey became the most-spending country in terms of global humanitarian assistance for two years in a row with a total of US$ 8.1 billion in aid in 2017 and US$ 8.4 billion in aid in 2018.
How do you rate Republic’s recovery economically after the thwarted coup attempt?
A: Turkey is one of the major economies of the world. We are the sixth-largest GDP by PPP (Purchasing Parity Power) in Europe and the 13th-largest in the world.
Since 2000, Turkey’s economy has grown immensely through maintaining long-term reforms in many areas, urbanising dramatically and expanding access to public services. Since then, our Government’s programmes have always prioritised the vulnerable and disadvantaged groups of the country, resulting in a considerable decrease in the poverty over the years.
FETO’s coup attempt on 15 July 2016 was not the only terror incident that we experienced in the country. Due to her geostrategic location, Turkey has become the target of many inside and outside terrorist groups, manipulators trying to destabilise our country over years. As we have been fighting them for many decades, we developed a kind of social, political and economic
Despite all these challenges and the slowdown in our economic growth in 2016, which stood at 3.2 per cent, Turkey’s GDP grew by 7.4 per cent in 2017. Our progress and development are ongoing in many important areas. You might have heard that Turkey has recently begun to use its first nationally produced high-altitude long-endurance unmanned armed air vehicle this year. I think this is well summarising Turkey’s achievements of those last years despite all the challenges we are facing.
How did Turkey cooperate with Sri Lanka in the process of fighting Fetullahist terrorists? What is the outcome of your engagement with Sri Lanka?
A: Both Turkey and Sri Lanka have been the target of terrorist organisations for many decades. Thousands of innocent civilians have lost their lives, many other have been wounded and still bear the physical and psychological marks of the tragedy they lived. Lives and families have been destroyed. Having been experiencing the same challenges Turkey and Sri Lanka understand each other very well and have developed a good cooperation, especially at international level.
It would have been naive to think that a criminal network like FETO with a global economic and political aim, would not sick to establish itself in Sri Lanka, which is such a strategically located country. Thus, FETO was also present in Sri Lanka. They were running a school, a chamber of commerce, a cultural foundation and various businesses. As their aim and modus operandi is the same all around the world, it was our duty to awake our Sri Lankan friends regarding the threat that FETO represented for the island.
For the last four years, we have been cooperating with all relevant Sri Lankan authorities to eliminate FETO’s presence in Sri Lanka. We have provided them with all necessary information regarding FETO-affiliated individuals and entities in Sri Lanka. In coordination with the local authorities, we were able to establish a mechanism to limit their mobility in the country.
I am very pleased that our collective efforts have resulted successfully. We have been informed that FETO- affiliated school was sold out to a Sri Lankan businessman and FETO members residing in Sri Lanka have left the country. While extending our sincere thanks to all relevant Sri Lankan authorities for the positive outcome of our efforts, I would like to underline the fact that FETO members could try to come back to Sri Lanka as soon as they would see an opportunity.
Sri Lanka has very tragically experienced last year during the Easter Sunday terrorist attacks, where two Turkish young engineers lost also their lives, the dangers that may occur when the activities of terrorist organisations are not properly traced. We believe that after almost 30 years of civil war, the people of this pearl island deserve finally to live in peace. Therefore, considering Turkey’s last 50 years’ experience, we call upon Sri Lankan authorities to be always cautious about FETO affiliated individuals and entities.
Turkey and Sri Lanka have been cooperating on counter terrorism, sharing their experience and supporting each other’s initiatives for already many years in the international fora. Turkey, as a reliable partner, will continue to support Sri Lanka’s struggle against terrorism in the future.
(Pic by Anuruddamada Madawaththegedera.)