Turkey’s ‘Coup’…?


No sooner had news of the terrible attack in Nice broken than the Military-led coup in Turkey began and ended in remarkably quick fashion. The attempted deposition itself did not attract my attention too much; it failed very quickly and was obviously poorly organised. What has provoked my interest, however, is the aftermath of this failed putsch. I have come to consider a few questions in particular: Why has Erdogan responded so swiftly? Was the coup even genuine or not? If not, why was it staged?  These questions pertain to a number of theories flying around vis-a-vis why the coup happened.

Erdogan’s Response

Turkish President Erdogan Recep Tayyip immediately aimed to ‘purge state bodies of the “virus” that caused the revolt’, including thus far the arrest of – as I write – 6,000 people. Surely a political coup involving so many people should have worked? If so many high-ranking officials were involved than we would surely not be talking about a failed coup? The detention of such a large number of important figures – from judges to senior soldiers, including one of Erdogan’s top military aides, Colonel Ali Yazici – strongly suggests that Erdogan has nefarious motives behind this unambiguously-termed “purge”. Perhaps then, it was staged. Others ostensibly arrested include General Erdal Ozturk, commander of the Third Army; General Adem Huduti, commander of the Second Army; and Akin Ozturk, the former Chief of Air Staff; and one of Turkey’s most senior judges, Alparslan Altan.

Additionally, the quick apportion of blame to US-based Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen is really quite convenient. Although, Erdogan has targeted Gulen as an opponent of his regime for some time now. It is also believed that Gulen has had the support of various Turkish military chiefs and ‘mid-level bureaucrats’ over the years since his self-imposed exile to America in 1999. The big picture is as yet unclear, despite all the attempts by myriad News channels and websites to fully summarise this debacle.

Regardless of what the situation really is, the brutal murder by members of the public of Turkish troops, the ghastly evidence for which is already circulating online,  highlights how bloody this fiasco has been. There are photos of men being beaten to death, beheaded and hanged. Therefore, saying that the situation has gone awry would be a pretty obnoxious understatement. We know that 290 people have so far been officially confirmed dead, 100 of which as a result of the coup. But how many soldiers, amongst others, have died since. Again, is it too early to tell? Almost certainly. Despite the rapid speed at which news can now travel over the internet, what happened in Istanbul and elsewhere is still extremely obscure. But the political machinations behind this series of events seems to me to be quite apparent.

President Erdogan and Fethullah Gulen

The Turkish President is a very shrewd politician, who clearly has little regard for transparency and nomocracy. Indeed President Obama, amongst other world leaders, has recently called for ‘all parties in Turkey to “act within the rule of law”‘ over the failed coup and response thereto. By the same token, Erdogan recently suggested that Turkey’s parliament would ‘consider a proposal to restore the death penalty.’ But what is even more damning, in my view, is a particular quote from a speech Erdogan made to mourners at the Fatih mosque in Istanbul:

“We will continue to cleanse the virus from all state institutions, because this virus has spread. Unfortunately like a cancer, this virus has enveloped the state…”

Such rhetoric is not accidental. If Erdogan’s motives for greater personal power are to be believed, this failed regime change seems like the perfect excuse for him to attain greater control of the affairs of the Turkish state. A BBC News article published on Saturday (16th) noted that Erdogan is “a political Islamist who has rejected modern Turkey’s secular heritage” and who “has become increasingly authoritarian and is trying to turn himself into a strong executive president.” Whatever the true cause of the coup, Erdogan has been quick to act upon it.

Fethullah Gulen was, as mentioned earlier, blamed for the attempted coup. Aged 75, Gulen heads the popular Hizmet movement, whose imam* promotes a tolerant Islam which emphasises altruism, hard work and education. Its immense popularity in Turkey – there are believed to be millions of followers, including some in the Armed Forces and high-end politics – appears to be a point of concern for Erdogan. A rival ideology, it seems. Indeed, Gulen’s ostensible followers were involved in 2010 in the trials of 300 army officers who, seven years earlier, were accused of plotting to overthrow the AKP government. The evidence put forth to condemn them was later found to have been fabricated. Interestingly, as Turkish journalist and academic visitor at Oxford University Ezgi Basaran has recently remarked, the Gulen movement’s presence in the state structure is “deep-rooted and hard to trace”.

It could thus be argued with some conviction that Erdogan is using the coup as an excuse to cement his near-absolute power and remove endemic Hizmet opposition from the government and the military. Hence his quick and aggressive response. But it is still way too early to tell, which is somewhat irritating. Whether or not Erdogan has used the coup for his own ends, was the coup itself genuine?

Was The Coup A Genuine Attempt?

The failed overthrow certainly seemed to have the backing of a large range of people, many of whom held high civic and/ or military office. Furthermore, the seizure of various broadcasting headquarters, as a well as the bridge over the Bosphorus, indicates that this was carried out with genuine purpose. But the speed at which this coup collapsed suggests otherwise.

The soldiers occupying the Bosphorus Bridge were easily dispersed by the crowds and the Police, the latter of which was armed with a water cannon; this despite the troops having trucks and tanks with them. They also panicked and shot at civilians. But this incident is understandable; they were facing an unruly, aggressive mob that Erdogan himself had urged onto the streets. Yet when one sees the images of confused and scared soldiers being beaten up by locals – and in too many cases being horrifically executed by the people whom they are meant to be serving – it leads him to believe that these poor servicemen had little clue as to what they were really meant to be doing. On the other hand, one could remark that they just didn’t expect such violent civilian opposition. It is still too early to tell. Concurrent with both possibilities is that the whole coup smacks of complacency.

Additional to this is that it certainly lacked key supporters. The plotters clearly failed a basic requirement for a successful coup – to obtain strong backing. Currently, it is believed that only the gendarmerie and air force personnel were behind the putsch. The chief of the armed forces and two generals from the naval forces were reportedly taken hostage by the “junta” behind the operation. Was the lack of support down to incompetence? Turkey has had four previous military coups – in 1960, 1971, 1980 and 1997 – so surely they have learned how to conduct one successfully? But this could also imply that little thought was invested as the coup was meant to fail. Damn ambiguity.

The lack of support, in part with the poor quality of the planning, suggests that it was not a sincere attempt to seize power, but instead part of Erdogan’s ruse to carry out a “purge” of opposition. I must admit that this is quite a leap to make. Plus it is still possible to say that the coup was just shit. I am not helping you at all here. Indeed, I am in danger of confusing myself. I am not fully convinced that it was fake. Perhaps I am just too unimpressed with the whole thing to accept that it’s handling really was just down to utterly incompetent planning. Perhaps History can help… *dramatic music*

Examples From History  

Aside from whether Erdogan used the failed coup for his own ends or not, there are essentially two opposing theories here: Erdogan was behind a “fake failure”, or it was genuine but poorly organised. Perhaps one theory holds more weight when put under further scrutiny. The recent events remind me of two situations from Nazi Germany (of all places): the Night of the Long Knives, and Operation Valkyrie, which might shed some light on the two theories.

I know it is imprudent to draw links with the past, but I very much agree with Mark Twain when he said that “History never repeats itself, but it does rhyme.” It is, therefore, worth looking back to recent history (in this case, German) for lessons to learn about the events in Turkey. These parallels, bear in mind, are merely examples from history that might help to explain the theories I have underlined. Please don’t have a go at me for being a cheeky git and trying to solve the World’s woes by bringing History into this.

Theory A, a “fake failure” – a fake plot masquerading as a real one: The Night of the Long Knives was carried out in June 1934. It was, essentially, a ruse by Hitler to dispose of various members of the militaristic SA in order to cement his power and win the Wehrmacht’s favour. The facade put forward was that the victims were actually attempting to overthrow him, which was untrue. There are parallels here with Erdogan, no doubt about it. Various themes and machinations can manifest themselves again and again in the political arena. Perhaps, therefore, the coup was artificial. However, Basaran says that this whole “false flag” theory – where Erdogan created a fake plot to use as an excuse for a political and military ‘cleanse’ – goes beyond common sense because of the blood that has already been shed. His point is prudent, and his superior knowledge on the subject is worthy of note.

Theory B, a poorly-organised but genuine coup: Operation Valkyrie was a botched attempt by Tom Cruise (Von Stauffenberg) and various other army officers to assassinate Hitler and put Nazi Germany under military control. Conducted on 20th July 1944, it was a last-gasp attempt to save Germany from a military situation that was rapidly deteriorating. Turkey’s engagements with the Kurds and ISIS have both not been extremely successful, it is worth noting. Perhaps military dissatisfaction vis-a-vis the aforesaid conflicts was a causal factor? This is highly unlikely; the comparison is I admit extremely tenuous. Indeed, the fact that the coup failed to obtain support from a number of generals strongly suggests that the military situation had no pertinence. As Basaran says, political instability is the last thing Turkey needs given the situation with regards the Kurds and ISIS. But the general theory still stands  – that, like Operation Valkyrie, this was a poorly organised military putsch.

If it was genuine, Basaran has highlighted two further theories:

  1. “…a theory embraced by the Kurdish movement is that Kemalists – secular followers of the founder of modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk – in the army tricked the Gulenists into staging a coup. They knew it would fail and that it would lead to a long-awaited cleansing of Gulenists from the military…”
  2. “…another theory stems from a police source, who said that the AKP government had been planning to arrest Gulen-supporting army officials on 16 July. The source claims that when the coup-plotters learned about this, they went ahead and initiated the coup earlier than planned – hence the sloppiness.”

Make of those what you will.

Concluding Thoughts…if any

Basaran has said that “there is a lot that does not add up”, to which I say ‘no shit’. Overall what has happened in the last day or two does not yet make much sense. It is simply too early to tell what has happened. But what I hoped to have achieved is to have made the picture a tad clearer. The News bombards us viewers with information, true or otherwise, and leaves us to make heads or tails of it all by ourselves. I hope I have managed to burrow through this morass and highlight circulating theories for you.

* The person who leads prayers in a mosque; a title of various Muslim leaders, especially of one succeeding Muhammad as leader of Shiite Islam. 


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