Turkey has just witnessed one of the fastest and strangest attempted coup d’etats in history. And it has failed.
Nearly 3,000 soldiers, including two high-level generals, have been arrested and 2,700 judges fired, as the government begins to clamp down on those it suspects of having links to the attempted coup, which officials say left 265 people dead (161 civilians and 104 accused of plotting the coup).
Of all the details that we may never know about what actually happened last Friday night, only one thing is certain: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan — Turkey's top leader and head of the ruling Islamist AK Party, a known ?extremist, suppressor of free speech and human rights, and grand supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas — has emerged as the ultimate winner.
The attempted coup began Friday night when factions of the military set up blockades of bridges in Istanbul and began a takeover of the Parliament building in Ankara as well as the government’s main news station.
?The military faction behind the coup stated that “the Turkish people want their democracy back.” Opposition groups throughout Turkey have consistently been critical of Erdogan's increasingly authoritarian government which has stripped the country of many democratic and secular freedoms, including free speech, free press and religious tolerance.
Those behind the coup cited increasing human rights violations by Erdogan and his ruling AK Party as justification for the attempted takeover and pledged that “all existing foreign relations will continue.”
Initial reports about the coup showed a peaceful military transition and takeover with few casualties. Understanding the sitting government’s influence over media in the country, coup leaders took control of the state-run news station to ensure the truth about the takeover was reported rather than government propaganda.
Speaking to RT, Sreeram Chaullia from the Jindal School of International Affairs, also cited the deteriorating security situation as an impetus for the coup. “A series of terrorist attacks signal the inability of the Turkish government to stop these attacks. It has angered some sections of the security establishment that believe that they can do a better job because Erdogan is just playing politics with everything,” he said.
Chaullia sited Erdogan’s mishandling of the war in Syria and Iraq and its impact on Turkey as well as his vicious on-going attacks on the Kurds. In addition, Erdogan has managed to antagonize both Russia and Iran.
Erdogan made two crucial moves in the first hours of the coup: First, he cut off civilian access to all social media sites, and second, even before rescuing his officials in the parliament building, he immediately sent an F-16 to take out the coup forces at his government news station.
After Erdogan regained control of the media, the news quickly shifted to the story that “the people love their leaders and Erdogan,” “they reject the coup” and the coup was perpetrated by “a small terrorist cell within the military that will be crushed.”
Of course, we will never know the true story of what occurred in Turkey on July 15, 2016. The coup was doomed to failure, however, even if it had a large support of the people whose voices have been stifled in Turkey under Erdogan’s regime. With U.S. President Obama and NATO leaders praising Erdogan and needing to maintain Turkey’s alliance in the region, the statements made by the leaders of the coup served as futile attempts to bring actual democracies to their side.
It is no surprise that those who may have cheered at a successful takeover now claim to have be in support of the government, as it is clear that any dissident voices in Turkey will be violently silenced.
Although Turkish cleric and Erdogan-rival Fethullah Gulen is being blamed for the coup, he claims to have had no part in it. He also says that the coup could have been a government “show” to further a political strong-arm of the U.S.
Gulen’s movement, Hizmet, began creating a parallel state inside Turkey in the 1970s through a network of schools, media outlets and businesses and recruitment of supporters in the security services and government. His movement is widely credited with paving the way for the Islamist Justice and Development Party to take power electorally in 2002. However, Gulen and the AK Party had a falling out afterwards.
Gulen fled to the U.S. in 1999 when the Turkish government planned to prosecute him for allegedly trying to undermine the secular nature of the state. The Islamist government of Turkey acquitted him of those charges in 2008.
Whoever was behind the coup, Erdogan will benefit enormously from this attempt takeover while a small number of his military will pay for it. In fact, it serves Erdogan very well. He gets rid of rebels within, consolidates his power and eliminates any and all opposition in the parliament.
The attempted coup will give Erdogan all the power he has been trying to wrench for himself over the past number of years. He can now complete his purge of the army, police and justice system and replace all those he doesn't trust with loyalists.
Most likely, he will introduce “emergency” measures to prevent any further attempts, which in reality will give his party uninterrupted reign for years to come.
One could say he is now invincible.
Desperate people do desperate things. For a country whose jails are filled with citizens who disagree with their president’s leadership, one must wonder if a military coup – however feeble — was the only thing they could do to show the world they are not OK with oppressive, Islamist rule.
Jennifer Breedon, William Reed and Meira Svirsky contributed to this report.