The July 15 military coup in Turkey failed because it did not involve the top levels of the military chain of command and enough troops, had not been properly prepared and did not take into account the Arab Spring.
The prime movers of the coup were, allegedly, Lt. Gen. Metin Iyidil, head of land forces training in Ankara, and former legal counsel of the armed forces chief, Col. Muharrem Kose. Among those who took part were former air force commander Gen. Akin Ozturk, second army commander Gen. Adem Huduti, and commander of the third army Lt. Gen. Erdal Ozturk. Ten major generals, one-third of the 220 brigadier generals, lieutenant colonels and majors have been arrested. While this was impressive participation by the military, there was, apparently, not enough involvement of officers and men from the land forces as well as the absence of the chiefs.
Armed forces chief of staff Gen. Hulusi Akar, his deputy Gen. Hasar Guler, commander of land forces Gen. Salih Zeki Colak, gendarmerie commander Gen. Galip Mendi, air force commander Gen. Abidin Unal, and naval commander Bulent Bostanoglu were held by the coupists.
The coup, which had been planned for months, may have been sprung prematurely because of leaks. The coupists failed to detain President Recep Tayyip Erdogan or Prime Minister Benali Yildirim. The loyalist commander of the first army Gen. Umit Dundar, based in Istanbul, provided Erdogan a safe base at Istanbul airport from where he foiled the coup. The coupists chose to seize the less popular television stations and the bridges over the Bosphorus and bomb parliament. Most of the ordinary soldiers involved were conscripts who were told they were engaged in manoeuvres. Junior officers could not cope with the situation which soon spun out of control. The coupists did not have the support of the opposition.
Once Erdogan had flown to Istanbul, he called on his supporters to go into the streets to defeat the coup, using Arab Spring people’s power. This worked and within a few hours the coup was put down and the security forces and armed forces elements backing him began to round up the coupists and those implicated in the conspiracy to topple him. Erdogan also initiated a purge of the judiciary, arresting senior judges and dismissing several thousand. He also fired 30 provincial governors and suspended thousands of police.
This is the second round of purges. The first took place in 2014 after the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government was accused of corruption by policemen, prosecutors and judges. Erdogan denied the charges and claimed those making accusations belonged to the movement headed by Fetullah Gulen, a US-based cleric with millions of followers in Turkey and other countries where he has built schools and charitable institutions. In the wake of the coup Erdogan has, once again, blamed Gulen and demanded his extradition from the US. Erdogan’s ongoing purge could backfire on the president and harm Turkey.
The arrests and suspensions have stripped experienced men from the military and police forces, weakening the Turkish military, the second largest in Nato, and police at a time the country is under serious challenge from Daesh. Removing judges, prosecutors, and other members of the judiciary could also be a major mistake. Replacing them with AKP loyalists could downgrade the judiciary and stoke resentment among families, friends, and local and regional administrations. This was precisely what the Muslim Brotherhood did in Egypt under President Muhammad Morsi.
The coupists took action this month to pre-empt Erdogan’s plans to draft a new constitution that would transform Turkey’s parliamentary system of governance into a presidential system with Erdogan as executive president. He has openly campaigned for these changes for many months, making no secret of his agenda to put an end to the secular republic established in 1923 by the founder of the modern Turkish state Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.
Under a presidential system, Erdogan would escalate his efforts to replace Turkey’s secular system with his version of a state adhering to conservative religious tenets and practices. He is accused of using the coup, the popular support he received in the streets and squares of Turkey, and the campaign to arrest and imprison the coupists and their backers to sweep away all those who oppose his policies.
While Erdogan’s AKP won 49.5 per cent of the vote in the November 2015 parliamentary election, securing 317 of the 550 seats, this figure is below the 367 or two-thirds majority Erdogan needs to change the constitution. Consequently, he could try to use the state of emergency called in response to the coup to reduce the two-thirds majority vote to a simple majority.
Erdogan’s agenda can only exacerbate existing polarisation in Turkey and generate instability. While he can claim the support of just under 50 per cent of Turks, the other half remains in opposition to both his ambition to be an all-powerful chief executive and his agenda to transform Turkey from a secular to a Sunni state.
The opposition includes secularists, nationalists, leftists, “Kemalist” rightists, Kurds who account for 20 per cent of the populace, Christians, Yezidis, and Alevis (who are Kurds). These components of the Turkish society and body politic can be classified as modernists influenced by the “west,” the 5 per cent of Turkish territory located on the western side of the Bosphorus.
The bulk of Erdogan’s followers come from the urban working and lower middle classes and the devout, conservative provincials still dwelling on the Anatolian plateau. The latter have, in particular, prospered under Erdogan’s 13-year regime. These people, representing the “east,” had from 1923-2002, when the AKP won its first election, suffered discrimination and marginalisation at the hands of the aggressively secular elite of the “west.”
Erdogan would be making a mistake if he were to follow the example of the “west” by discriminating against and sidelining the 50 per cent of Turks who belong to this grouping. They are as likely to resist — even to go into the streets as did millions of Egyptians — to protest the Muslim Brotherhood-model Erdogan favours.