An attempted military coup by a faction within the Turkish armed forces calling itself the“Peace at Home Council” was stifled in less than 24 hours, after Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan called on his supporters to take to the streets and repel the uprising.
Earlier Friday night, the soldiers stormed Turkey’s state-run broadcaster and said they had seized power, taken over the government, and declared martial law.
They deployed forces onto the streets of Istanbul and Ankara, Turkey’s largest city and capital, respectively, and closed two major bridges leading into Istanbul.
At least 256 people were killed in the clashes, according to Turkey’s prime minister. But the uprising itself was repelled rather quickly. Many soldiers had either been arrested, brutally beaten by protesters, or had surrendered by early Saturday morning, allowing the Turkish government to regain almost complete control within 24 hours.
“I predicted this would fail from early on, because all of Turkey’s opposition parties came out against the coup from the beginning,” Aykan Erdemir, a former member of Turkish parliament and senior fellow at the Washington, DC-based think tank Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told Business Insider on Saturday.
He added: “With the opposition, the media, and Erdogan’s supporters against them, the soldiers had no chance of gaining any traction.”
- REUTERS/Murad Sezer
Geopolitical expert Ian Bremmer, president of the political-risk firm Eurasia Group, largely agreed.
“There was really no popular support” for the coup, he told Business Insider. “All the political parties (including Erdogan’s opposition) opposed it. The extraordinary need for secrecy limited their capabilities to effectively plan and muster allies.”
A ‘very atypical’ coup
The extent of the divisions within Turkey’s military itself, however, is arguably the biggest reason the uprising failed, experts say. Though the uprising encompassed “quite a sizeable network” of young colonels and generals, it did not have the support of high-ranking Turkish military officers.
“It was poorly organized and they didn’t have a broad enough swath of the military, which led to infighting,” Bremmer said. Erdemir, of the FDD, pointed out that the military’s chief of staff was taken hostage by the coup-plotters on Friday night and not released until late Saturday morning.
“There were tensions and divisions within the Turkish military to begin with – now, after this failed coup, there is going to be a trauma,” Erdemir said. “Earlier coup attempts never led to this kind of bloodshed, so this trauma will stay with the military.”
IMAGE: Turkish pro-coup soldiers being whipped by Turkish citizens pic.twitter.com/l7NKjvfcng
— The Spectator Index (@spectatorindex) July 16, 2016
Many are now wondering why the plotters of the coup – many of whom appeared to be young colonels, not high-ranking military officers – went ahead with an operation that, in the words of US Secretary of State John Kerry, “did not appear to be a brilliantly planned or executed event.”
Indeed, reports have emerged that many of those involved in the uprising were conscripts who say they were just following orders and did not know they were taking part in a coup.
— Yarın Haber (@yarinhaber) July 16, 2016
Turkey’s military has a long history of intervening in Turkish politics – there have been at least four coup attempts in Turkey since 1960.This one, however, was “very atypical,” Dr. Gonul Tol, the director of Middle East Institute’s Center for Turkish Studies, told Business Insider on Friday.
“In the past, the military acted on calls from the people and staged a coup against an unpopular government,” Tol said. “That is not case today. The AKP and Erdogan might be very polarizing and might have alienated an important segment of society, but they still have the backing of almost 50% of the population.”
Eurasia Group’s Bremmer agreed that “Erdogan’s popular support base remains significant,” but noted that it has been “narrowing” among the country’s leadership.
“The government certainly believed they were more under control” before the uprising, he said, “but opposition to an increasingly authoritarian (and emotionally brittle) Erdogan was growing given economic and geopolitical challenges and never-ending fights at home.”
A ‘last gasp’ attempt
A member of Erdogan’s ruling Justice And Development Party (AKP) told The Daily Beast late Friday night that the uprising was a “last gasp” by a faction within the military accustomed to taking on Turkey’s democratically elected governments.
That analysis, however politically motivated, has gained traction as reports emerge about the immediate factors that may have compelled the plotters of the coup to act.
Specifically, the military purge that occurs every August – in which numerous members of the Turkish armed forces are either promoted or forced to resign – has been cited as a factor.
“Some are now saying this group of officers who staged the coup, for whatever reason, were to be purged in August, so the coup amounted to a desperate move for them to keep their positions,” Erdemir said. “I definitely think this could be one rationale.”
- REUTERS/Tumay Berkin
A well-known antigovernment Turkish journalist took to Twitter on Saturday to describe a related, yet more immediate, incident that led the officers to mobilize.
In a string of tweets in Turkish – translated by Ragip Soylu, a journalist for the pro-government newspaper Daily Sabah – Ahmet Sik, citing security sources, said Turkey’s prosecutor had decided to arrest the plotters for an alleged conspiracy they were planning against other officers to get higher ranks in the military.
According to Sik, the coup was planned for a later date – perhaps just before the August military purge – but the prosecutor’s decision to arrest them scared them into acting more quickly.
Indeed, Erdemir noted that the coup plotters might have been “forced to act prematurely” if an early wave of arrests was being planned for mid-July.
In any case, Erdemir said, “it won’t be easy to overcome this.”
“One of NATO’s key members is now facing a severe crisis in its military, and this will have severe repercussions on NATO’s strength and the fight against ISIS,” Erdemir said. “This is probably the weakest the Turkish military has ever been in the history of the Turkish republic.”