Turkey’s longest night

Turkey’s longest night

On the night of July 15, I was out with my wife for a reception and returned home at around 10 p.m. A little later, I saw on Twitter that a group of Turkish soldiers had stopped the flow of traffic on Istanbul’s Bosporus Bridge. I had no idea what was going on, but was at first convinced by rumors that there must have been a major terror alarm. 

It quickly turned out that this was something bigger. Soldiers also began to take control of the airport and other major facilities. Soon Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım declared that an “uprising” was taking place within the military. So, this was a coup attempt! “Let me make clear,” I wrote on Twitter. “I’ve not lately been a big fan of Erdoğan, but any coup attempt to take him down would be totally illegitimate.” 

As the hours passed, it turned out that the illegitimate attempt was also incredibly cruel. The plotters fired on civilians who protested them and shot some people directly on the chest or back. They also bombed the Turkish Parliament — a major attack on the nation that no other coup plotter has ever conducted. 

Their main target, however, was apparently President Tayyip Erdoğan. On that night, he was at a hotel in the coastal town of Marmaris for vacation, making him an easier target than the well-protected presidential compounds in Ankara or Istanbul. The hotel was raided by 28 soldiers who came in two helicopters and who killed several people on their way. But by the time they arrived Erdoğan had just left, thanks to a warning and a promise to protect him from the top general of the first army in Istanbul. 

In other words, it was not the entire military that attempted the bloody takeover; it was a clique within it. Moreover, the police department, the intelligence services, and other key institutions were also on the side of the government. Furthermore, the people were against the coup, as millions went out into the streets to protest the rebels, and even captured them in some cases - unfortunately sometimes violently. 

By the morning, it was clear that the coup had failed. Had it succeeded, it would not have saved Turkey from “Erdoğan’s Islamist dictatorship” as some in the West seem to think. No, it would have initiated a very bloody era in which the military regime’s brutally would be matched by fierce resistance, leading Turkey mostly probably to civil war. Thank God the coup failed. 

Was the plot badly planned? Why did it start at 10 p.m., rather than 3 or 4 a.m. when everybody would be sleeping? The answer given by the authorities is that the intelligence learned about the coup at 4 p.m. and began to take measures. The plotters, having realized that their cover was blown, rushed into action.

Who was behind this violent madness? I agree with the government: All the evidence, all the signs, all the context points to the movement sympathetic to U.S.-based Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen and its clandestine network. Of course, this must be proved in a court case. But since there is already very strong suspicion on Gülen (not just by the government, but by virtually every political party in Turkey, not to mention the Chief of General Staff), the U.S. government must extradite him to Turkey on condition of a fair trial. 

Where will Turkey go from here? Well, this is a major watershed event that will change everything. The government certainly has the right to purge and prosecute everybody involved in the plot. But there is also a major risk of a huge witch-hunt. To prevent that, Western governments should establish better dialogue with Ankara, rather than making it feel as if it is all alone defending itself.