Munich Security Report 2017

Turkey: Scoring a Coup

As the centenary of the Turkish Republic approaches in 2023, Turkey is shaken by developments that are changing the face of the country significantly: a failed coup and an ensuing crackdown, a resurging domestic conflict, and a war at its borders. This all comes at a time when Turkey’s relations with the West are more strained than they have been in many years. 

The July 15 coup attempt, during which 265 people were killed,1 demonstrated the vulnerability of Turkey and its institutions. The legitimate desire to punish those involved in the coup – supported by almost the entire opposition – has turned into a broad crackdown against those opposing the Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) vision for Turkey.2 Over 100,000 people in the police, the judiciary, the military, the education system and others were investigated.3 More than 30,000 were arrested.4 All university deans were asked to resign.5 The crackdown also led to the arrest of at least 81 journalists who are currently jailed – the highest number in any country around the globe.6 

“Unfortunately the EU is making some serious mistakes. They have failed the test following the coup attempt […]. Their issue is anti-Turkey and anti-Erdogan sentiment.”9

AUGUST 2016 

President Erdogan’s government is also fighting another battle: against various Kurdish groups, most notably the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Following unrest at the Turkish-Syrian border in the summer of 2015, the conflict escalated and ended a relatively stable peace process, leaving more than 2,400 dead until now.7 This domestic struggle also shapes Turkey’s Syria policy, especially its military intervention, which began in August 2016. “Operation Euphrates Shield” has aimed at preventing a strong Kurdish presence at Turkey’s southern borders. Relations with Russia have also played a major part in defining the government’s Syria policy. At the beginning of the year, Turkish-Russian relations were at a low after the Turkish military had shot down a Russian fighter jet and Moscow had introduced sanctions against Turkey. The two countries’ Syria policies were greatly at odds – particularly on the question whether the Assad regime should have a future. But, recently, relations have improved and areas of cooperation have been found, e.g., on negotiating a ceasefire at the end of 2016 and conducting joint airstrikes. 

At the same time, Turkey’s traditional links with the West have suffered: “I don't care if they call me a dictator or whatever else. It goes in one ear, out the other,” President Erdogan stressed in November 2016.8 Disappointment over a paralyzed EU accession process, lacking Western sympathy after the coup, and the Turkish government’s moves to give more powers to the president and to curtail press freedom are some reasons for the deteriorating relationship. However, both Turkey and the West still very much depend on each other. Significant trade volumes, the NATO partnership as well as the 2016 EU-Turkey deal on refugees are just some major examples for this significant interdependence. 


  1. “Turkey PM: Attempted Coup Leaves 265 People Dead,” Al Jazeera, 16 July 2016,
  2. “After the Coup, the Counter-coup”, The Economist, 23 July 2016,
  3. Rod Nordland and Safak Timur, “15,000 More Public Workers Are Fired in Turkey Crackdown,” The New York Times, 22 November 2016,
  4. “Turkey suspends 291 navy personnel over links to failed coup,” Reuters, 13 November 2016,
  5. Josh Keller, Iaryna Mykhyalyshyn and Safak Timur, “The Scale of Turkey’s Purge is Nearly Unprecedented,” The New York Times, 2 August 2016,
  6. Committee to Protect Journalists, “2016 Prison Census: 259 Journalists Jailed Worldwide,” 1 December 2016,
  7. International Crisis Group, “Turkey’s PKK Conflict,” open source casualty database, as of 15 December 2016,
  8. Samuel Osborne, “Turkey’s President Erdogan: I Don't Care If They Call Me a Dictator,“ The Independent, 7 November 2016,
  9. Ece Toksabay and Tuvan Gumrukcu, “Turkey Warns EU It Is Making ‘Serious Mistakes’ Over Failed Coup,” Reuters, 10 August 2016,
  10. See endnote 7. Based on named casualty claims of each side for their own members. “Youth of unknown affiliation” refers to casualties, aged 16-35, who were mostly killed in urban areas between January to March 2016 and cannot be positively identified as civilians or members of the PKK’s urban youth wing. Data excludes around 60 mostly militant casualties in Northern Iraq resulting from Turkish cross-border airstrikes. For more information on methodology and terminology, see link endnote 6. 
  11. Metropoll, “Turkey’s Pulse – Presidential System and The Mosul Question,” October 2016, p. 42. For information on the publication, see The abbreviations stand for: AKP (Justice and Development Party), CHP (Republican People's Party), MHP (Nationalist Movement Party), HDP (Peoples’ Democratic Party).