Yesterday, around 10 p.m., Turkish television channels and news agencies began to spread last minute news about few hundred Turkish soldiers trying to take the control of Bosphorus Bridge in Istanbul. The first reaction of the anchors and commentators on tv was that there might be a terrorist attack threat from ISIS and soldiers were taking necessary measures. This was followed by the news about Turkish F-16 jets that were accompanied by Sikorsky helicopters flying over important governmental buildings in Ankara. Explosions and gun fire were reported in Ankara around the Turkish Armed Forces (TAF) Headquarters, Turkish Grand National Assembly (TBMM) and Turkish National Intelligence Agency (MIT) buildings. Soon, it was found out that a small faction within the Turkish Armed Forces’ Gendarmerie branch and Air Forces seized the control in Ankara and tried to make a military coup against the democratically elected civilian government that was often blamed by the international media and Turkish liberals for leaning towards Islamist and authoritarian rule. Few minutes later, Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım announced that there is in fact a real coup attempt in the country. Later on, a short declaration reminding the e-memorandum on April 27, 2007 was published from the website of TAF about the reasons of the military coup. A longer coup declaration was forcefully read from the official state television channel TRT.
Coup declaration from state television TRT by Tijen Karaş
Few hours later, President of the Republic Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, by using social media tools from a cell phone, announced that he is safe and Turkish citizens should go out into the streets in order to prevent the coup. The control of CNN Turk tv channel was taken by some soldiers in live coverage and the channel stopped broadcasting for a few hours. Upon the invitation of Erdoğan, thousands of people went out into the streets and began to clash with soldiers. There were some skirmishes taking place between soldiers and citizens and a total of 161 people, mostly soldiers and policemen, were killed. There were also armed clashes between policemen and soldiers in Ankara. Approximately 1.400 people were wounded due to yesterday’s clashes that continued until the early morning in Istanbul and Ankara. Other cities of Turkey on the other hand mostly stayed calm. In some conservative Anatolian cities, few thousands of people gathered around large squares in order to protest the coup. In the early morning, soldiers in Istanbul began to capitulate by realizing that the coup attempt eventually failed. However, as a reaction to soldiers’ attacks on civilians, Erdoğan supporters began to attack soldiers and killed some of them. A few radical Islamists even beheaded a Turkish soldier.
Erdoğan defends himself and denounces the coup from social media which he tried to ban few months ago
Although the event is largely seen as hoax by the opponents, what we know so far can be summarized as follows;
- There was a real coup attempt in Turkey.
- The attempt failed.
- The coup attempt was made by few hundred soldiers often from junior or medium ranks and mostly concentrated in the Gendarmerie branch and Air Forces within the TAF.
- The coup attempt was made by a few planes, helicopters and tanks. The number of soldiers that engaged in the coup attempt did not exceed few thousands. Considering the fact that TAF has around 300.000 regular personnel, the coup attempt was made by a small faction.
- Pro-government newspapers and tv channels denounce Fethullah Gülen movement for the attempt, an Islamic group whose leader (Fethullah Gülen) resides in the U.S. for long years. But the idea seems rather absurd, considering the strong Kemalist and secular nationalist legacy of the TAF. However, there are claims that this movement has been gaining power within the military for several years and changed the nature of the military personnel over the years.
- Coupists (putschists) attacked to TGNA (Turkish Parliament), an institution that is seen as the sanctuary of Turkish democracy. No one was killed, but this was not approved by political parties and decreased the legitimacy of the coup in the eyes of Turkish people.
- None of the ruling elite (President, PM, Ministers, top AKP officials etc.) was detained during the coup, a fact that strengthens conspiracy theories about a fake coup scenario.
- Turkey had 4 military coups (1960, 1971, 1980 and 1997) before and it is very difficult to understand, why, unlike the previous military coups and coup attempts, the so-called junta did not seize the control of the Parliament and never detained someone from the government. This shows that either it was a very amateur and unplanned coup attempt or a fake one.
- The coup attempt made Erdoğan a hero once again. The event will be used by the ruling AKP and President Erdoğan to impose a more authoritarian regime by forcing a referendum on Presidential system and by organizing a snap election. President Erdoğan might also use this event in order to eliminate the secular opposition completely and to impose an Islamist rule. Gulenists will also be removed from all state positions and pro-AKP people will completely control the bureaucratic posts from now on.
- Reactions from ordinary people in the social media showed that many of the pro-secular people supported the coup attempt, which shows the dangerous polarized situation of Turkish society. However, all political parties within the Parliament (AKP, CHP, MHP, HDP) defended democracy and never supported the coup attempt.
- Military coups are bad, but authoritarian Islamists regimes are not good as well. Unfortunately, in Turkish case, the genius tactics of the ruling AKP and Erdoğan overshadow their anti-democratic characteristics. Thus, we can claim that Erdoğan will be much stronger and will dominate Turkish politics in the near future.
- Turkish military (TAF) is once again discredited although none of commanders and Chief of the General Staff were part of the junta. With a discredited military, Turkey’s fight against ISIS and PKK will be even more difficult. A discredited TAF might also facilitate the establishment of an independent Kurdistan.
- My personal opinion is that, Turkish government and intelligence agency were aware of this small radical group within the military and did not prevent the coup attempt in order to prevent it later and market it as a success story.
- It will be very difficult in Turkey to organize a military coup once again. As Fareed Zakaria claims, Turkey is now a middle-income country and has a more vibrant civil society compared to its recent past and its neighbors. Thus, military coups will always fail in Turkey unless there is an emergency situation and the coup is made within the hierarchy of the TAF. Coup planners will probably have harsh punishments.
- Turkey needs neither coup, nor Islamist authoritarianism. This duality, unfortunately, reduces the quality of Turkish democracy.
- Turkey will continue to be an unstable democracy due to polarization in the country.
Pictures from Turkey;
Dr. Ozan ÖRMECİ