Asked why the US hadn’t seen the attempted Turkey coup coming, US Secretary of State John Kerry responded that the uprising that left over 200 dead by Saturday morning did “not appear to be a brilliantly planned or executed event.”
Two days later, a much more detailed picture of the plotters’ effort has come into focus and suggests a strikingly different view.
Cemalettin Haşimi, a senior adviser to Turkey’s prime minister, Binali Yıldırım, told The Guardian on Monday that the coup “was incredibly well organized actually” and “could have succeeded.”
“Sudden moves by the leadership and sudden movement by the people changed the whole plan,” Haşimi said, referring to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s appeal to his supporters on FaceTime that they take to the streets to protest the coup – and the fact that they listened.
The plotters of the attempted coup “lost the moment the president and the prime minister went on air, and when high-level army commanders came out on air and declared their support for democracy, and the people rejected going home,” he added.
In the immediate aftermath of the attempted coup – which was reined in by government forces within 24 hours – rumors circulated that it did not have much, if any, support from Turkey’s military or political leadership.
- Burak Kara/Getty Images
But a military general and brother of a Turkish member of parliament, Gen. Mehmet Dişli, was the one who gave the direct order that put the coup in motion on Friday night, The Guardian’s Kareem Shaheen reported.
And, at one point, the faction orchestrating the coup had the army’s chief of staff literally on his knees: Hulusi Akar was held at gunpoint by the coup’s plotters, who ordered that he sign an order handing them power. When he refused, he was strangled.
Turkey’s top counterterrorism official responsible for the country’s anti-ISIS campaign, meanwhile, was tied up and shot in the neck.
Gen. Adem Huduti – the commander of Turkey’s second army, based in eastern Turkey to counter threats from Syria, Iran, and Iraq – has also been arrested and questioned about his alleged role in the coup attempt.
“These were serious people very close to the top of political power,” Matthew Bryza, a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Dinu Patriciu Eurasia Center, said in a conference call on Monday. “It was very close to succeeding – it had all the right pieces, but the planning was rushed.”
Bryza highlighted the fact that, at one point, the coup plotters enjoyed simultaneous control over Turkey’s most important bridges, largest airport, and state-run broadcaster.
That there was evidently such a “split” among people so embedded within Turkey’s military apparatus is remarkable given the armed forces’ traditional status as “the most cohesive element of Turkish society,” Bryza noted.
Aaron Stein, an expert on Turkish affairs at the Atlantic Council, seemed to agree.
“The cast and characters involved in this coup weren’t so small,” Stein noted on the call. “By my latest count, at least 103 generals and admirals have been detained on suspicion of being involved, which speaks to the significant minority within the Turkish armed forces that were at least aware of the plot.”
Bryza, for his part, said that the “split” within Turkey’s military at these levels lends credence to Erdogan’s theory that there was some ideological factor that led to this power struggle.
“Erdogan’s crackdown may seem like vast overreaching and an attempt to sideline his opponents without due process – but there is a sense that the entire Turkish system was imperiled on Friday night,” Stein said.
- REUTERS/Tumay Berkin
Indeed, several Turkish officials were evidently more shaken as the coup unfolded than they let on in its immediate aftermath.
“They probably will be successful and we will die tonight,” a senior Turkish minister reportedly told his colleagues at a meeting taking place as the uprising began. “Let us be ready to die. We will all be martyred in this fight.”
A police official described it as a “nightmare.”
“Our first thought was how to survive, and then we started shooting at the helicopters with small arms,” police official Murat Karakullukcu told The Guardian, referring to the military helicopters that had begun attacking Turkey’s Parliament and police headquarters in Ankara.
The former chief of Turkey’s air force, four-star Gen. Akin Ozturk, has been arrested on charges of orchestrating the coup. He was one of 27 generals and admirals being interrogated by Turkish security forces on Monday, according to NBC.
Turkey’s state-run Anadolu Agency reported that Ozturk had confessed on Monday, but that report was later contradicted by two private broadcasters, which said that he denied any knowledge of the coup plot.
- REUTERS/Murad Sezer
In any case, many analysts have pointed out that those who staged the coup had significant air support, including F-16s that at one point buzzed Erdogan’s plane as it was attempting to land in Istanbul and at least 18 fixed-wing aircraft.
That is in addition to an “unknown number of helicopters,” Stein noted on Twitter. The Aviationist published an extensive summary of the plotters’ air support, which also included KC-135 Stratotankers – a military aerial-refueling aircraft.
“This wasn’t small – and the planners were not ‘bumbling idiots,'” Stein tweeted on Monday. “The more we learn, the more it becomes clear that coupists nearly succeeded. This whole thing nearly succeeded in decapitating the government.”
What’s left, Stein said on the Atlantic Council press call, “is a fractured and divided military, the extent of which we’ve never seen in Turkey before.”
“The implications have yet to be seen,” Stein noted, “but it’s likely to result in a serious disruption in the coalition’s operations against the Islamic State in Syria.”
James Jeffrey, the former US ambassador to Turkey and Iraq, expressed similar concerns in an article for The Cipher Brief.
“The military, long the most respected institution in Turkey, was revealed to be internally divided, its leadership oblivious to a plot involving thousands of troops country-wide, and initially defenseless against it,” Jeffrey wrote.
“With the loss of this theoretical but potent force, Turkey’s future is now totally in the hands of President Erdogan.”