By Shashi P.B.B. Malla & Chandra Bahadur Parbate
The failed military coup d’etat ended in triumph for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The violent attempt to overthrow the legitimate government was crushed at its very inception, and order restored. Many instigators and their presumed collaborators and sympathizers have been arrested. It is believed that sections of the military police and air force were involved in the putsch, but that the police and army were largely not involved. Thus, the lack of widespread coordination and support in the armed forces as a whole was the primary reason for the failure of the armed revolt. Even as the president’s supporters were filling the streets and major squares celebrating the “victory of democracy”, Erdogan’s administration was cracking down heavily on the perpetrators and their supposed backers and proponents. The net was laid as wide as possible. The deep divisions within the nation resulted in the death of hundreds and the incarceration of thousands.
In 1982, the military junta incorporated an article in the constitution that enabled the army to take power into its own hands if it suspected the government of tampering with the secular order. In 2002, Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) were elected to office. They had made no secret of their policy to augment the role of religion, i.e. Islam in the country as large. Erdogan was successful in pushing through economic and political reforms and had the full support of the United States. In 2007, he took stern action against people suspected of preparing another coup and several hundred were imprisoned. Against this background, Erdogan moved forward to amend the constitution curtailing the army’s prerogative. A successful referendum in 2010 did just that and the army lost its constitutional right to interfere in the political life of the country.
Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party gained the upper hand by confining the army to the barracks. The high rise in living standards strengthened Erdogan’s broad support in the population at large. His administration enjoyed a level of support that no other previous government had since the time of the legendary Kemal Ataturk. This father of the modern Turkish nation had abolished the Ottoman monarchy/caliphate and enunciated Turkish nationalism and secularism. This deterred the army from taking any action even when politically active Kemalists and retired army officers were imprisoned after the controversial referendum of 2010, or even after the disputed elections of 2015.
The downturn in domestic and external affairs started with Erdogan’s precarious policy of supporting Islamist revolutions in the Middle East, the escalation of bloody terrorist attacks on home soil, the deterioration of relations with the major ally and partner in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the United States, and the declining prospects of membership in the European Union (EU) all contributed to an unfavorable situation in the country. This was exacerbated by the rekindling of armed conflict with the Kurdish nationalists in the south-east. This may have prompted the ringleaders of the attempted coup to take the initiative. However, the planning was amateurish, and the execution hopeless from the start. The band of coup leaders failed to neutralize the political executive right at the start. Both Erdogan and the newly appointed Prime Minister Binali Yildirim were not taken into custody and were free to mobilize their supporters immediately. This proved catastrophic to the outcome of the coup. However, the coup planners also made the cardinal mistake of not keeping their intentions absolutely clandestine. When commandos attacked a hotel in the Mediterranean resort of Marmaris (north of Rhodes) where Erdogan was holidaying on the night of the July 15 coup bid, he had already been tipped off, fled the scene and sprang immediately into action.
Second, it seems that the ringleaders completely underestimated the role of modern media, especially social media, even after their resounding resonance in the various Islamic revolutions in the Middle East. The putsch circle did manage to capture public TV stations, but this was woefully inadequate. Many other channels were free to operate. Erdogan kept a clear head and reacted quickly and decisively. The planning of the coup must have taken months, and the country’s internal intelligence must have received some inkling about what was going to happen. It was, therefore, not a question of ‘if’, but exactly ‘when’. When Erdogan realized that a full-scale coup was in progress, he immediately used the free Internet-based video services to call on his supporters to flood the streets and public squares to counter the coup attempt with vociferous demonstrations. The powerful loudspeakers of the mosques did likewise. The coup was thus nipped in the bud.
Third, the coup plotters woefully underestimated the level of support in the general population and political elites for the Erdogan government. The educated public had become sick of recurrent military coups and had put their faith in a functioning democracy, however many deficiencies it may have had. All the opposition parties and even the out of power politicians, like the former Prime Minister Ahmed Devutoglu (who wanted to restore the country’s former Ottoman greatness) followed the call to ‘protect democracy’. The elites were, therefore, united and cohesive – unlike the military – in upholding the legitimate government. Unlike in 1971, 1980 and 1997 when successful coups were instigated by the armed forces as a whole, this time around, they were badly fragmented, and the putsch leaders – only a small group of officers — did not receive the support they expected from the army generals. Many in the know kept silent and awaited developments. The rapid collapse right at the start sealed the fate of the coup – the beginning of the end!
All observers and commentators are clear about the fact that the failed putsch has led to a massive accumulation of power for Erdogan – the very effect that the coup instigators wanted to eliminate. He sees enemies everywhere and has started a large scale purge of the army, police, justices, teachers, university professors and the free media – all reminiscent of authoritarian and totalitarian states. Over 60,000 suspected have been dismissed, detained or are currently under investigation for links to the putsch. The coup attempt was also quite bloody – more than 230 people were killed, and more than 2,000 injured. If Erdogan had been killed or captured, it could have tipped Turkey into conflict.
Above all, he wants to completely eradicate the influence and presence of the ‘Khizmat’ movement of the reclusive cleric Fethullah Gulen — his former political ally (in the fight against the dominance of the army in politics), now in self-exile in Pennsylvania, USA, with an insidious witch-hunt. Even the ruling party is to be “cleaned” of secret Gulen supporters! The US has been unnecessarily implicated in the coup attempt and Gulen’s extradition has also been demanded. This has now led to a cooling of relations with the US. This could have grave implications for the international fight against the terrorist Islamic State (ISIS) in Syria, and in stopping illegal migration to Europe.
Relations with Germany are also strained over the German parliament’s decision to brand as genocide the World War I-era Armenian massacre by Ottoman forces. These were further intensified when Germany, home to Turkey’s largest diaspora, rejected an application last week, to show by video link live speeches from Turkish politicians, including Erdogan, at a massive rally by Turks in Cologne. Meanwhile, Austrian Chancellor Christian Kern has said that he would start consultations with EU leaders to stop Turkey’s accession talks due to its democratic and economic deficits. Turkey’s foreign minister reacted angrily by describing Austria as a “capital of radical racism”. Turkey at the crossroads of the Orient and Western Civilization has now become part of the problem of the various conflicts in the Middle East.
The writers can be reached at: [email protected]