What if the coup plot had overthrown Turkey’s government?
I know this is a hypothetical question to answer – perhaps strategists like the analysts at the Office of Net Assessments of the U.S. Department of Defense at the Pentagon could answer.
But let us assume that the coup plot had kicked off six hours later as was presumably planned, at 3 a.m. on July 16, instead of 9 p.m. on July 15 in Turkey.
What kind of possible futures would there have been for Turkey it that had been the case? What might have been the strategic futures for the Middle East, the Caucasus, the Balkans, the eastern Mediterranean, the Suez, the Black Sea, the European Union and NATO?
Let’s assume that the plotters had actually kidnapped President Tayyip Erdoğan during his family holiday in a hotel in the Aegean resort of Marmaris. Let’s say, too, that they had managed to kidnap Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım, who had already arrived in Ankara from Istanbul, as well as İsmail Kahraman, the speaker of the parliament; Hakan Fidan, the head of the National Intelligence Organization (MİT); and the opposition leaders in parliament. The parliament would not be in session at that hour so the building could have easily been seized and shut down by the junta soldiers. The top brass who were kidnapped by their closest aides would either have been killed if they had refused to change sides, or would have been put in jail.
We would be in a totally different Turkey today.
At first, all of the 76,000 public servants who are suspended, nearly half of them teachers, a third from the judiciary, the police and the military, would be in their places; probably more would be suspended. All 17,000 people arrested and 5,000 still in detention would be free in their places and probably more, many more people would be in jail. Martial law would have been imposed as claimed in the statement forcibly read to the nation on public broadcaster TRT after being captured by pro-coup soldiers but before they were ultimately thwarted by the people, politicians, soldiers and police officers loyal to the parliamentary regime.
All those generals and colonels and majors in jail now, all those military attaches and diplomats of Turkey who are now on the run and asking for asylum would either be in their places or most possibly promoted to higher positions, in military or civilian offices, since all civilian offices would also be under the control of this group from within the military. The so-called “Air Force Imam,” the theology teacher detained on the night of the coup attempt at Akıncı air base near Ankara who was immediately released by the judge of the court he was taken to the next day (the judge in question is now among the arrested public servants) would probably have assumed a high-ranking position in the state apparatus.
Turkey’s membership application in the EU would have been suspended and probably membership in the Council of Europe as well. NATO? It’s hard to say anything; if the plotters had given whatever was asked by NATO and the U.S. militarily that the current government had not fully provided, it might not have been a problem.
Or, let’s set an alternative scenario. The plotters indeed kidnapped the president and the rest, but it was not easy to take full control of the military, the police and the intelligence. Let’s assume that, taking the opportunity, the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) militants poured into Turkey from Iraq and particularly from the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM)-controlled region of Syria, since the 2nd Army, which is supposed to protect the borders with Syria, Iraq and Iran, and the strategic base of İncirlik used in fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL), was too busy making a coup and launching an operation to seize control of towns and cities in Southeast Turkey, which border the Kurdish-populated regions of those three countries.
There is no need to give any further details of such a hypothetical scenario.
If the coup plot had overthrown the Turkish government and the parliament, it’s more likely that there would have been a civil war in Turkey by now, which would not be to the benefit of the people living in Turkey, the neighborhood, or the long-term interests of either the U.S. or the EU.
Turkey’s leadership, government, opposition, forces loyal to parliamentary democracy and the people did not let it happen. The Turkish government has been persistent – perhaps it has overdone it a bit overdone but it is understandable – in asking for the extradition and trial of Fethullah Gülen, the Islamist preacher living in the U.S. who has been accused by the government and the opposition to be the mastermind of the plot.
This is one of the answers to the question of “what if?” but perhaps the Pentagon’s Net Assessment people and intelligence experts of the Strategic Futures Group or the old-school operatives of the CIA could come up with better answers.