Three major factors in Turkey’s failed coup

Three major factors in Turkey’s failed coup

As the heat of the trauma has slowly started to cool down, an analysis of the bigger picture concerning the failed coup attempt of July 15 in Turkey is becoming possible. 

It is possible to analyze the situation, seemingly unprecedented in the history of coups d’état both on a global and national scale, with reference to three key factors. They are the following: 

1- The depth of the infiltration of the covert network to commit this action; 

2- The severity of the blow hit by the coup plotters;

3- The prevalence of resistance to the coup attempt.

We can elaborate on those factors as follows:

1- The depth of the infiltration: Not only the government, but all the opposition parties united in the strong belief that the junta that committed the coup attempt was manipulated by Fethullah Gülen, the Islamist scholar living in the U.S. It is not evidence in itself, but 88 percent of the Turkish people directly accuse Gülen and the Gülenists of being behind the bloody attempt. Chief of General Staff Gen. Hulusi Akar himself has said his kidnappers on the night offered to put him in touch with their “opinion leader,” Gülen. Among the kidnappers was Akar’s private secretary, a lieutenant colonel, who said in his statement that he had been a follower of Gülen for nearly 30 years, since his years in the military high school. All indications show that Gülen and his recruiters started to work in military high schools in the mid-1980s. 

Over years, as more Gülenist alumni rose in the ranks of the military, they started to use a number of tactics including stealing the entrance exams to military high schools and colleges. (Later, they repeated that in the public servant exams as well.) It is now assumed in retrospect that there could be Gülenists in the ranks of the traditionally secularist and Kemalist Turkish Armed Forces - from lieutenants to lieutenant-generals, even generals and admirals - who kept their presence under cover and, in the meantime, were protected by the members of the network in the inspection and human resources departments, as well as by military prosecutors and judges. The judiciary has been a major area of infiltration for Gülenists. Even before President Tayyip Erdoğan and his Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) parted ways with them in 2012-2013, the opposition parties and the media had been criticizing the government for letting them seize the echelons of the state apparatus. 

The education sector and police forces have been other areas of infiltration for Gülenists, while media outlets have been their propaganda voice. Some objectors to Gülen and his “Hizmet” (Service) Movement have long warned the government and the public about Gülenists in the state, but the depth of the infiltration only started to become apparent after July 15.

2- The severity of the blow: Turkey experienced three military coups before, in 1960, 1971 and 1980. After the 1960 coup, there were traumatic developments like the execution of Prime Minister Adnan Menderes, Foreign Minister Fatin Rüştü Zorlu and parliamentary speaker Hasan Polatkan. After the 1971 coup, there were the executions of three left-wing militant leaders, Deniz Gezmiş, Yusuf Aslan and Hüseyin İnan. After the 1980 coup hundreds of thousands were imprisoned, 50 of them executed, and many died in prison because of torture. But in none of those coups did the soldiers open fire on civilians; rather Turkish soldiers and police officers killed each other. 

On the night of July 15, a total of 240 people were killed by the coup plotters. The pro-coup officers did not hesitate to give order to soldiers under their command to open fire on unarmed civilians; they did the same and they even killed the soldiers under their own command when they refused to open fire on civilians. The parliament, while in session with MPs inside, was bombed with F-16 jets seized by the plotters, just like the presidential compound. There were attempts to kidnap President Erdoğan, Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım and Intelligence Chief Hakan Fidan, and most of the top brass were actually kidnapped by their closest aides. Media houses were raided by pro-coup soldiers and their broadcasts curtailed. The people were shocked by the ruthlessness and the determination of the pro-coup soldiers and the trauma is still there.

3- The prevalence of the resistance: The people demonstrated an unprecedented and spontaneous reaction to stop the coup from reaching its targets. Especially after President Erdoğan was able to get his voice heard by the people through private broadcaster CNN Türk, asking them to resist the plotters, and after people started to realize that the plotters could be Gülenists, hundreds and thousands of people started to take to the streets in many cities of Turkey in protest. 

All political parties also made separate and prompt statements unequivocally condemning the coup. MPs from all four parties in parliament continued their work while being bombed by fighter jets and issued a joint declaration against the coup attempt, which further encouraged the people on the streets. The majority of the military and the police forces who remained loyal to the elected government also fought back against the pro-coup forces and regained control. 

Overall, the reaction to the coup attempt was so strong and widespread that the political polarization in Turkey suddenly started to deescalate in the first days after the coup attempt. The three most-supported parties have agreed to work on a new constitution in parliament through dialogue, and three weeks after the coup attempt, around 3 million people from all parties, carrying only Turkish flags, rallied in Istanbul to protest the coup attempt and in defense of the democratic regime.

It may be too early to comment on whether the self-confidence that this atmosphere has brought to the people and the parties will result in a rise in the quality of Turkey’s democracy. But without considering those three key factors, it might not be possible to draw the correct lessons from what happened in Turkey on and after the night of July 15.