Friday night’s coup attempt by a faction within the Turkish Armed Forces has been crushed. Official figures hold the death toll at 265 including 104 alleged coup participants, while 2,800 have been arrested and around 1,400 injured. Judges and prosecutors have also been suspended, in what many suspect will evolve into a full purge.
In a move that shocked the nation and the world, elements within the Turkish Armed Forces closed down Istanbul’s two main bridges and seized control of the airport early last night, in an apparent coup attempt. Flights were cancelled and media coverage was initially blocked in the country. A dissident group within the military announced the coup, declaring Martial law and a nationwide curfew.
The general chief of staff was taken hostage and troops stormed some of Turkey’s main security and political headquarters, including Ankara Police Department, the parliament, the presidential palace and the headquarters of Turkey’s state broadcaster, TRT. Exchanges of fire were also heard from the premises of the National Intelligence Agency (MIT) between intelligence officers loyal to government and helicopters used by the military.
At least twelve people were injured by bombs dropped on the Turkish Parliament in Ankara. After widespread protests and police intervention, the attacks subsided early this morning, followed by mass arrests.
A Turkish military helicopter landed in Alexandroupolis, Greece, this morning, its eight occupants allegedly seeking asylum. There has been speculation that Turkey will re-instate the death penalty for coup plotters; if this transpires, Greece will be bound by EU law not to extradite the asylum seekers. Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım has so far refused to comment on requests to reinstate the death penalty, however #idamistiyoruz (we want the death penalty) is now trending on Twitter.
Late Friday night, crowds took to the streets following President Erdoğan’s call to supporters to defend against the coup, with footage quickly emerging of people climbing on tanks and police arresting soldiers. By Saturday afternoon, similar calls to “go to the squares and protest the coup” were sounded from minarets in Istanbul’s mosques.
Calls from the government to take the streets were further energised by an SMS message apparently sent by the Turkish President Erdoğan himself, to all Turkish numbers.
The message sent by a contact titled RTERDOGAN, read “To the precious children of the Turkish Nation. This action was taken by a small unit within the military in Ankara and İstanbul, who seized the states armored vehicles and weapons and, just like in the 70s, they represent a revolt against the will of the people. Honorable Turkish Nation, lay claim to your democracy. I call you out into the streets and call on you to stand up against this small group that wants to suppress the will of the Turkish Nation. Take possession of your government, of your democracy. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan”
Fethullah Gülen, exiled leader of the Hizmet movement, has been accused of being responsible for the coup. He has condemned the coup and denied any involvement. It is not immediately evident that such a move would have served his movement, especially given its long history of conflict with the military.
In a statement made on a Gülenist website, Alliance for Shared Values, he stated that: “As someone who suffered under multiple military coups during the past five decades, it is especially insulting to be accused of having any link to such an attempt. I categorically deny such accusations.”
That said, the Gülen movement is widely networked and there are substantial, although unconfirmed, speculations that the coup leaders were accused of harbouring Gülenist sympathies, and thus would be eventually removed from their posts. In that light, last night’s events are being interpreted as a preemptive strike.
Prominent journalist Ahmet Şık has claimed that, according to his sources in intelligence offices, President Erdoğan had previously ordered the detention of military members close to Fehtullah Gülen to take place in the early morning of July 16 and thus, the clique had implemented a “plan B of a coup attempt planned for a later date”.
Unlike previous coups, which have had strong public support, the crowds that rallied behind Erdoğan and took to the streets show that last night’s coup did not. All major political parties, including the main opposition CHP and pro-Kurdish HDP, issued statements condemning the coup. Notably, the AKP leadership have called for unification in the face of the Gülenist threat, arguing that it is now worse than the PKK and that Turkish and Kurdish nationals should unite against it.
Whether such unity is a possibility, resistance to the coup can be read as both a commitment to Turkey’s democracy and as a commitment to Erdoğan himself. How strong that second commitment is will become clearer in the days to come.
Whether the President honours that fight for democracy and takes last night’s events as a cue to diffuse power and reinforce Turkey’s weakened democracy, or whether he uses last night to consolidate his own power further, will determine Turkey’s course in the years to come.
All the main opposition parties – the MHP, the CHP, and the HDP – have condemned the coup attempt. Members of Parliament from all parties remained in the Turkish Grand Assembly in protest, and were subject to aerial bombardment in the early hours of the morning.
CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu stated that: “As a people we suffered the dire consequences of coups in the past. We do not want to live through the same distress.”
Pro-Kurdish party HDP, who have been under significant pressure from Erdoğan and the ruling AK Party since the beginning of military operations in the predominantly Kurdish south east in 2015, have also condemned it.
A majority of major military units were also reportedly against the coup, with the police department calling on citizens to go to the squares in protest.
Turkish F-16s shot down a helicopter used by the coup organisers over Ankara late on Friday. Low flying aircraft and helicopters were heard throughout the night by witnesses speaking to Independent Turkey.
The parliament building was bombed several times. These shots were seen and heard via live media footage, and witnesses heard the attacks from across the city.
Ankara has once more asserted that it is in full control of Turkey’s capital. This was followed by a mass wave of arrests and suspensions in the military and judicial bureaucracy. Alongside over 1,500 arrests in military, as reported by state-run Anadolu Agency (AA), The Higher Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK) suspended over 2,700 judges and discharged 5 of its members.
These suspensions appear to be a targeting of Gülen-affiliated members of judiciary, however since the coup attempt did not involve the judiciary, there are speculations that President Erdoğan and the government are tightening their control in preparation for the forthcoming prosecutions.
Social and mainstream media emerged as one of the main sites of conflict, particularly state news channel TRT which was attacked and seized early last night. TRT has since come back on air, after being taken back out of the control of the military.
The dissident officers also managed to storm CNN Türk, which went off-air early this morning. Following the military takeover however, police entered the building and, alongside journalists who remained in protest, arrested the soldiers. CNN Türk subsequently resumed broadcasting.
There have been images circulating on social media of civilians apparently injured in shooting in Ankara. Mob violence and even an alleged beheading of a Turkish soldier are also being reported although these reports remain unconfirmed. Many citizens are advising staying in doors as these events continue to unfold and the US had banned all flights coming in from Turkey, presumably until the situation stabilises.
The motivations for the coup still remain unclear in terms of timing, as ties between the military and ruling elite have been strengthened in recent years. Prior to the controversial Ergenekon trial of 2014, in which dozens of military officers accused of planning a coup were released on a Supreme Court of Appeals ruling, the AKP had consolidated its power over the military. During its time in power, the AKP had seemingly confined the military to their barracks once and for all in a country that has suffered decades of interventions in the political sphere.
Whatever forces lie behind the coup, which the President has declared ‘treason’, its failure appears likely to push Turkey further into AKP control, cementing President Erdoğan’s existing grip on power and fracturing the military. Discussions on social media indicate enduring fear from last night that whatever happens, this will be bad for democracy.
HDP’s co-Chair Selahattin Demirtaş in a live address stated that the coup attempt showed that Turkey “is not a democracy yet and needs democracy more than ever”.
Conflict with the secular military elite has been somewhat of a staple in Turkey, as multiple parties linked to political Islam have been closed or overthrown over the years in anti-democratic coups. This may become a key turning point in the AKPs rule, justifying what many had previously deemed paranoid or conspiratorial views regarding the ‘parallel state’ and ‘dark forces’ seeking to undermine democracy in the country.
This failed coup has served as a reminder, and possibly a further catalyst, of Turkey’s dangerously polarised and stratified society. The legacy of this will be extensive, as social divisions throughout the country crystalise and the government seeks to consolidate its own power further.