State Department Worried About “Backsliding” in Turkey Following Failed Coup, Mass Arrests

Secretary of State John Kerry said that he and his European counterparts will be paying close attention to developments in Turkey, after thousands of Turkish officials were punished in the wake of a failed coup attempt.

“Obviously a lot of people have been arrested and arrested very quickly,” Kerry said Monday, in Brussels. “The level of vigilance and scrutiny is obviously going to be significant in the days ahead. Hopefully we can work in a constructive way that prevents a backsliding.”

Kerry made the statements from a previously scheduled meeting held by the European Council, an EU executive branch organ. The Washington Post described the gathering as having morphed into “crisis management,” in response to developments in Turkey.

“NATO also has a requirement with respect to democracy,” Kerry also said. Department Spokesperson John Kirby noted, however, that “it’s too soon to say that their membership is at risk.”

Despite the warnings, Turkey has never seen its NATO membership suspended for past transgressions against democracy and due process. The Turkish military has intervened in the country’s political system four times, between 1960-1997. In 1980, a junta last led to fatal violence and the detention of hundreds of thousands of people.

In the aftermath of Friday’s failed seizure, US and NATO interests were directly threatened when Incirlik Airbase was temporarily shut down by Turkish officials. The facility is being used by Washington to carry out airstrikes against the Islamic State. By Sunday, however, sorties were allowed to fly out of Incirlik, the Pentagon reported.

The attempted coup was launched Friday in Ankara, the capital, and Istanbul, Turkey’s largest city and one of the largest cities in the world. Soldiers who partook seized positions throughout the cities and attempted to shutdown Turkish airspace.

Statements read under coercion Friday night by broadcasters on Turkish state television said the coup was being launched in response to the rule of Turkey’s controversial president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. “Turkey’s democratic and secular rule of law has been eroded by the current government” is how the BBC reported the message.

The seizure, however, appear to have no broad support, and was stopped by demonstrators, police and members of the military who remained loyal to the government. Every major political party swiftly condemned the attempt.

Confrontations that took place during the failed seizure led to more than 200 deaths and 1,000 injuries. Structural damage was inflicted on the parliament building in Ankara, after it was bombed by rebellious aircraft.

Over the weekend, in reaction to the attempt, the Erdogan government responded with what has been widely described as a “purge.” Thousands of soldiers, judges and prosecutors have been detained, Reuters noted. On Monday, the wire service said thousands of police officers were fired, on suspicion of involvement.

Erdogan has alleged that a cleric living in Pennsylvania named Fethullah Gulen orchestrated the coup attempt. On Saturday, he called on the US to extradite Gulen, who has himself strenuously denied involvement.

On Monday, Kerry said that American officials would consider any extradition request, but said Turkey must formally lodge one based on “genuine evidence that withstands the standard of scrutiny that exists in many countries.”

“And if it meets that standard, there’s no interest we have of standing in the way of appropriately honoring the treaty we have with Turkey with respect to extradition,” Kerry said.

Although Erdogan’s Labor Minister, Suleyman Soylu, accused the US of being “behind this coup,” it was condemned by President Obama within hours. On Friday evening, the White House “reiterated the United States’ unwavering support for the democratically-elected, civilian Government of Turkey.”