The Failed Coup Attempt in Turkey: What Happened? And What Comes Next?
On the 15th of July, a faction of Turkey’s armed forces attempted to overthrow the democratically elected government in Turkey by organizing a military coup. Details of the planned coup continue to emerge, as the investigation of coup plotters and their intercepted communications become public. Early reports revealed that the Gulen group attempted to gain control of the Turkish military by kidnapping and forcibly removing senior generals to clear the way for a renegade faction of the military to take over Turkey’s elected government.
By unhinging their own chain of command, attacking Turkey’s democratic and constitutional political institutions, targeting the free media, and firing on unarmed civilians – a group of military cadres used force against whoever stood in their way. More than 200 civilians were killed by the jet fighters and helicopters.
In Ankara, the coup plotters targeted four strategic locations: the parliament, the presidential palace, the headquarters of the National Intelligence Organization, and the headquarters of the police forces. In Istanbul, military rebels blockaded two major bridges and shot at civilians. The coup plotters also targeted Turkey’s President directly by launching a commando squad against him while he was vacationing with his family in Marmaris, only narrowly escaping the gunmen. Parallel to the military offensive by the putschists, armed military groups seized media outlets, including TRT and CNNTurk, and forced journalists at gunpoint. To stop TV broadcasting throughout the country, forces loyal to the coup leaders attacked the main satellite station. F-16 rebel pilots intimidated civilians by flying dangerously low and causing sonic booms to terrorize the civilians opposing the coup in the streets.
The coup attempt was stopped by unarmed civil resistance of Turkish people filling the streets and physically interposing themselves in front of tanks and the armed rebel forces; the armed forces and police loyal to the democratically elected government; and politicians, including all three opposition parties that came out to denounce the coup. They were united against the military coup. Here is a short chronology of what happened:
- In the afternoon of Friday, July 15th, the National Intelligence Organization (MİT) received a tip in regards to a coup attempt by a group of soldiers and military personnel that belong to the Gulen group. The head of MİT immediately contacted the Turkish Joint Chief of Staff and the top military leadership issued a set of orders to prevent the coup-plotters’ mobilization.
- A few hours later, the Joint Chiefs of Staff in Turkey and its intelligence department received information about irregular actions despite the previous orders for all military units to stand down. Limited mobilization in some units were noted. Different units were informed about this development and were asked not to leave the headquarters.
- In the meantime, a group of pro-coup special operations soldiers attacked the hotel where President Erdogan had been vacationing in Marmaris, along the Mediterranean coast. In a fateful move, President Erdogan had safely left the hotel and his security guards had taken him to another location twenty minutes before the attack.
- The Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff, Hulusi Akar, and senior generals who were in emergency meetings at the military headquarters in Ankara were taken hostage by the putschists.
- In the evening hours around 22:00, a military presence was observed in different critical points of Istanbul and Ankara. The two major bridges into Istanbul, Bogazici and Fatih Sultan Mehmet, had lanes going into Istanbul closed to traffic, blockaded by military tanks and armed soldiers. Soon after, some rebel held fighter jets launched low level sorties in Ankara. Later, it was learned that these six F-16 jets purposely aimed to stoke fear among the residents in Ankara by first creating supersonic impacts and later by using missiles and bombs. Two refueling planes from Incirlik Air Base, commanded by Gen. Bekir Ercan Van, logistically supported these operations while a number of helicopters were used to attack the headquarters of MİT and crowds on the street.
- At 22:35, the coup forces invaded the Istanbul Ataturk Airport and seized control of the control tower at the airport.
- At 23:10, the public learned what was going on when Prime Minister Binali Yildirim was able to make a public statement that a coup attempt was underway. PM Yildirim described it as an uprising by some military officers and an attempt to overthrow the democratically elected government. Shortly after this announcement, all of the political parties in parliament denounced the coup attempt.
- At 23:45, the coup leaders sent an email to reporters stating that the military had taken control of the government.
- At 00:15, coup plotters entered the TRT studio, the public broadcasting network, and forced an anchorwoman to read a statement in which the coup-plotters declared martial law and announced curfew.
- At 00:37, President Erdogan made a statement on CNN Turk via Facetime, asking the public to take to the streets and stand against the coup. President Erdogan described the plot as being organized by a small minority within the armed forces of Turkey.
- At 01:01, the Ankara Police Department was attacked by fighter jets and military helicopters.
- At 01:10, a Sikorsky helicopter attacked TurkSat, the main telecommunications center, headquarters and main satellite centers in order to prevent further messages from the President or Prime Minister from reaching the Turkish public.
- In a very short period of time, hundreds of thousands of unarmed civilians from different walks of life and political convictions filled the streets of Istanbul, Ankara, and other major cities in support of the democratically elected government of Turkey.
- At 01:40, the armed forces loyal to the coup leaders started to fire directly at civilians who confronted the soldiers blocking the bridges. Brig. Gen. Ozkan Aydogdu, commander of the Istanbul Second Armored Brigade, said he had ordered the military personnel blocking the Bosporus Bridge to fire shots in the air to disperse protestors.
- At 02:25, the armed forces loyal to the coup leaders started to fire in the air in order to disperse crowds that had started to fill Taksim Square after President Erdogan’s call. WhatsApp messages appear to show that Lt. Col. Muzaffer Duzenli ordered subordinates to fire on crowds to disperse them.
- At 02:50, F-16 fighter jets started to bomb the Turkish National Parliament in Ankara.
- While a faction of military cadres led the coup, loyal senior generals made statements condemning the coup and explained the situation as an attempt by a small clique to overthrow the government. One of the first senior generals to do so was Gen. Umit Guler, the commander of the 1st Army, which is located in Istanbul.
- At 06:25, military jets started to bomb the Presidential Palace in Ankara.
- By mid-day on Saturday, the military and the government pushed back the coup supporters, and pro-coup elements started to surrender.
- The previously detained Chief of General Staff and other high level generals were rescued by elite military and police forces.
- By Sunday morning, the military and the government declared full control of all military forces. The coup attempt resulted in the death of 240 people, mostly civilians. Almost 2,000 people were wounded.
Who did it? And why now?
According to the early reports and statements of officials, the majority of the military personnel behind the military coup were officers loyal to the Gulen group. It was not a secret that the Gulen group had infiltrated the Turkish military starting in late 1970s. However, this coup attempt revealed that a shocking number of high level generals and commanders of army units were closeted Gulen sympathizers. The President’s aide-de-camp and Chairman of Joint Chief of Staff’s aide-de-camp also supported the coup attempt.
Second Army Commander Gen. Adem Huduti was arrested for connection to the coup, as well as Third Army Commander Lt. Gen. Erdal Ozturk. Lt. Gen. Metin Iyidil, commander of the Land Forces Training and Doctrine Command, and Col. Muharrem Kose, former legal advisor to the Chief of General Staff were also arrested. Former Air Force Commander General Akin Ozturk was also arrested in relation to the coup attempt.
Among the 6,319 military personnel who have been arrested since July 15, a great majority of them reportedly have links with the Gulen group.
The government has frequently warned against the potential threat of an attempted coup for the last three years following the attempted arrest of the head of Turkish Intelligence, Hakan Fidan, by prosecutors loyal to the Gulen movement and the subsequent politically motivated police operation launched by another group of prosecutors with ties to the Gulen group in December 17, 2015 against the government.
The July 15 coup attempt is a continuation of these politically motivated operations by the members of the same network that aim to overthrow the government and form a government of their own choice.
In four different elections since December 17th, this group has attempted to defeat the government by using different tactics in the elections. These included character assassination, disinformation campaigns, politically motivated judicial cases, and use of international networks to discredit Turkish electoral process.
However, after constant electoral victories by the Justice and Development Party, it became clear that they would not reach their goal of overthrowing the government through political and judicial operations. This is why Gulen and his followers resorted to an attempt to overthrow the government by using military force. The idea was to eliminate Erdogan and consequently employ their allies in the army and politics to shape Turkish politics.
The use of violence by the putschists and the dialogues among different members of the coup supporters demonstrated that they were ready to commit massacres in the major city centers and squares.
There were some reports about a possible precautionary move against pro-Gulen military personnel by the military and the government in the forthcoming Supreme Military Council meeting in August. This might have played a role in the timing of the coup attempt.
The Turkish National Security Council had already identified the “Parallel State Structure” as a national security threat prior to this organization’s coup attempt. The violence used against the state institutions and the general public, as well as the assassination attempt on the Turkish president during the coup attempt justify the “terrorist” designation for the members of the Gulenist Parallel State Structure members.
How should we interpret it?
The coup attempt failed as a result of the remarkable united front that was put forth by the general public, politicians, the majority of the police and military forces. The opposition to the coup and a break of democratic process showed that no segment of society supported a military intervention against the democratically elected government. Since then, there has been an impressive degree of unity among different segments of society about an opposition to military intervention in politics. This points to a significant degree of democratic maturity on the part of the Turkish society.
The fact that hundreds of thousands of people flowed to the streets demonstrated that the psychological barrier of fear caused by the coup had already been overcome by the Turkish public. For a long time, the trauma of previous military interventions has impacted Turkish politics. The courage that the Turkish people demonstrated in front of the tanks will be recorded as one of the bravest acts of civil disobedience in modern history.
The fact that some of the top brass military leadership not only resisted the coup attempt but also were taken hostage when they resisted the coup demonstrated the maturity of the Turkish military as well. Historically, the military has been interested in interfering in the political affairs of Turkey. However, this time a great majority of the military leadership resisted involvement in the coup.
With the military intervention attempt, the Gulen group demonstrated the existence of its armed wing within the armed forces and the police. For the past few years, there were rumors about the existence of such a grouping, however, only with this attempt was the true extent of this network identified.
During its fourteen-year rule, the AK Party introduced a series of political and administrative reforms in order to achieve active civilian control of the military. The institutional and constitutional infrastructure of this process was achieved to some extent but clearly a specific network within the military was unwilling to accept the civilian supremacy. With the reaction of the Turkish people against the coup makers, we saw that social dimension of the civilian control was also achieved. This is a cause for hope for the future of Turkish democracy.
The reaction of international community to the coup from its first hours was not satisfactory to the Turkish people. Particularly the fact that the U.S. Secretary of State, in his first statement, emphasized stability and peace instead of democracy shocked many people in Turkey. The statement was considered by some as even a green light for the coup attempt. This statement was later rectified to some extent with President Obama’s statement of support for the democratically elected Turkish government but a high level of skepticism in Turkey continues to prevail.
What will happen now?
The July 15 coup attempt claimed the lives of around 250 people. Thousands of Turkish citizens were wounded. For the first time in a coup, the parliament was attacked by fighter-jets. The headquarters of the National Intelligence Organization was attacked by military helicopters seized by coup plotters. The fact that civilians were targeted by the putschists demonstrated their efforts to terrorize large segments of Turkish society. Both the Turkish public and lawmakers want an immediate investigation and punishment of those who attempted to overthrow the democratically elected government. Those who caused Turkey to live through one of its most tragic moments of its history should be held accountable.
In terms of Turkey’s overall security, the military has already resumed its operations against the PKK, and the security forces will continue their operations against ISIS while cracking down on the putschists. The Turkish state and its security forces are sending a message that they are in full control of the situation. They will continue to contribute to the international coalition against ISIS.
Because Fethullah Gulen resides in the U.S., relations with Washington may face especially challenging times following Turkey’s official request to extradite him to Turkey.
In order to eradicate the members of Gulen’s network from the various branches of the government, the Turkish penal code and codes related to public officials might be amended. The State of Emergency will allow the government and state institutions to comprehensively eradicate pro-coup elements from Turkish military and civilian institutions.
Turkey’s allies in the West should seek to increase their level of communication and cooperation with the Turkish government in order to achieve a full understanding of the coup attempt and to deal with its implications in a way that strengthens Turkish democracy.