Chronicle of a coup

Deep in the night of 15th July this year, news came out of Turkey about a possible military coup against the Recep Tayyip Erdogan led-AK party government. Turkey has a history of military coups but a direct push for power has not been attempted in more recent times. News footage of tanks rolling in the streets of Ankara, the Bosphorus Bridge being shut down by soldiers and F-16 Jets in the sky pointed towards a grim future for democracy in Turkey. However, as time passed, democratic forces rallied behind President Erdogan and people stormed the streets, confronting members of the military. By the stroke of Dawn, members of police and unarmed citizens had turned the tide in Erdoğan’s favour. There were incidents of targeted bombing and strafing of landmark buildings (such as the Parliament) by the putschists and some soldiers had been killed in retribution in other parts of the country. Despite the bloodshed and imminent threat to democracy, President Erdogan remains in-charge of Turkey.

As the dust settled, details of the coup effort emerged. Contrary to what was believed initially, the putsch was not orchestrated by the whole army but a faction of officers, primarily from the air force. As a result, many of the top generals were kept hostage while the coup took place. Police officers and members of the public were fired upon by soldiers, leading to a standoff, which went against the planned attempt. State-run news channels were overtaken but private broadcasters were able to report and in CNN Turk’s case, broadcast President Erdogan’s plea to the nation, inviting them to the streets against military. It was a game-changer and opposition parties (ordinarily at loggerheads with AK party and Mr. Erdogan) supported this message unconditionally. On an operational level, Planners of this coup failed to immobilise the head of state (Erdogan) and to neutralise forces that were not part of their plan. Moreover, the coup didn’t have a ‘face’, a leader who could rally his troops. There is a widespread opposition to martial law in Turkish population based on three previous experiences which were not very pleasant. Therefore, the putschists failed to find allies among civil servants and opposition politicians.

During the last few years, Turkey has faced a massive influx of Syrian refugees (whom Mr. Erdogan wants to recognise as citizens), terrorist attacks by ISIS (which Turkish government supported in its flawed policy against the Assad regime), a separatist insurgency and blatant efforts by Mr. Erdogan to consolidate his hold over power by establishing a U.S-style Presidential system (instead of the current parliamentary system) alongside neutering the top judiciary. AK party, in power since 2002, has gradually attempted a reversal of Turkey’s secular character through manipulation of education, media and foreign policy decisions, promoting a neo-Ottoman culture. Turkish army was reined in early by prosecuting generals and handing lengthy jail sentences to coup plotters. As a result of AK party’s decade-long indoctrination, the average Turk is more likely to support an Islamist politician than a secular general. The Islamist-versus-Secular angle was not valid in this instance, in my opinion. While Turkey’s army has been a secularising force in the past, people involved in the coup were themselves associated with an Islamist group-the Hizmet movement established by Fethullah Gülen.

The coup was similar to the one carried out by Baathists in Iraq in 1963, when a group of military officers established their rule over the country and not like any of the coups carried out in Pakistan (where the military has been mostly unified under the generals and coup plot involves the entire top brass). Resistance to the Turkish coup bore similarity to what took place in Venezuela in 2002 when people thronged the streets of Caracas to protest the removal of President Hugo Chavez by Venezuelan generals. Violence was used by both sides during the Turkish coup, leading to loss of more than 200 lives. Tanks crushed civilian vehicles in the streets of Ankara. In twenty-four hours, pro-Erdogan forces had taken control of the situation. Like every other failed coup, there were going to be consequences. It has emerged that the coup was led by members of the Turkish air-force and many units involved were previously stationed in South East of Turkey, where Turkish state has waged a brutal war against Kurds.

Things have gone from bad to worse since 15th of July. Emergency was declared in the country and a number of governors, generals, judges and civil servants were removed from their jobs. This ‘purge’ is probably the largest since the one conducted by Stalin in the 1930s. Turkey has suspended European Convention on Human Rights, signalling the start of a massive witch hunt and trials in which due process will not be followed. The coup has emboldened Caliph Erdoğan to eviscerate his opponents and further consolidate his hold on power. Journalists and Academics, already under considerable scrutiny by the government, are being threatened under the guise of Democracy. In a cruel twist of fate, AK party took the defence of democracy to a level where the concept itself became threatened. The way things are going in Turkey, it could turn very ugly, very soon. Instead of reforming his ways after such broad support, Caliph Erdoğan has doubled down on his antics. Democratic leaders in third world countries should learn from the Turkish example of a failed ‘Islamist Democracy’ which has resulted in devastation and misery for citizens of a once-proud nation. Democracy is not just about voting, it requires participation of diverse groups and upholding basic human rights. A working democracy requires separation of powers and a room for dissent. Erdoğan might have survived the coup, however he is only preparing his own noose by going ‘full retard’ in the aftermath.

The writer is a freelance columnist. Follow him on Twitter

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