Turkey’s Presidential Putsch

One cannot help but think that the countermeasures were prepared well in advance. Either Erdoğan anticipated the coup with extensive proscription lists or he staged a provocation himself so he could proceed with a presidential putsch. The government countermeasures appear too seamless, too well-thought out, and too professional. One way or another, the Turkish avatar of the Muslim Brotherhood is firmly in power. No wonder that Erdoğan referred to the military coup as “Allah-sent.” Perhaps he even helped Allah himself.

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By Marek Jan Chodakiewicz | July 25, 2016

Turkey’s Presidential Putsch

The Turkish military launched a coup to restore secularism, but the Turks woke up to their President carrying out a Putsch to entrench Islamism. The fog of war permits us but an incomplete picture of what has transpired and what is under way.

The armed forces apparently moved first. As the guardians of the nation’s secular constitution established by Kemal Pasha Atatürk, the military feared that Turkey’s system had been seriously jeopardized by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s creeping Islamist revolution. The armed forces took advantage of the chief executive’s absence on a vacation. The rebellious elements of the Turkish army, air force, and navy, along with the police, went by the traditional book. They seized, or attempted to, key infrastructure, government buildings, and media outlets. They declared themselves in power. And then they basically stood around and waited. That worked well enough in the 1960s and 1980s. However, this time around the old playbook was not enough.

The coup leaders failed to gain support of the most crucial military units, including elements of the air force who remained loyal to the President and intervened on his behalf at a crucial juncture. The secularist military also forgot to take advantage of social media to mobilize secularist mass support. They further did not think to turn off the Internet, if such an operation is still possible as it was during the Green Revolution in Iran in 2009. On the other hand, Erdoğan, who frequently excoriated, censored, and suppressed social media, took to Twitter and FaceTime with gusto to call out his supporters. This is analogous to Ayatollah Khomeini using a fax machine and tape recorders to launch his Islamic revolution. And, unlike their secularist counterparts, the Islamist Turks turned out in their hundreds of thousands. They obviously cared enough to risk their lives for Islam. Erdoğan entered Istanbul like a conquering sultan to the applause of throngs. The civilians then turned on the military, who meekly surrendered.

The failure of the coup can ultimately be laid at the feet of the rebel soldiers who did not bother to adapt new techniques indispensable to the overthrow of a contemporary government. Also, the Turkish military had really no stomach for slaughtering the Turkish people, even if they were Islamist. A ruthless coup leader would have simply ordered mass murders of the unarmed civilians. And he would have accomplished his objective. The rebel air force even balked at shooting down the presidential plane. So, there was no real resolve. Why carry out a coup, if one is not serious about it?

This brings us to the question of who was behind the attempted military take over. There is no evidence as of yet that the brains of the operation was Fetullah Gülen, a Sunni mystic and neo-Ottomanist in exile in the USA since 1999. This is what the Turkish government claims. Gülen and his Hizmat/Cemaat (Service/Community) movement is a rival of Erdoğan and his Justice and Development Party. Gülen and Erdoğan were once friends and allies – both subscribing to similar ideology – but their relationship steadily deteriorated and the breaking point came in 2013 when the followers of the exile launched a highly damaging corruption probe implicating many in the Islamist government. So, according to the Gülenist scenario, the coup is a quarrel in the Islamist and neo-Ottomanist family. However, the military rebels invoked Ataturk’s secularism as their guiding light. Of course, everyone in Turkey, including the President, likes to praise Kemal Pasha, who looms large over the country he founded. Are the coup leaders Ataturkists or Gülenists, and, thus, mildly Islamists? It is hard to say.

I wrote a few years ago that the window for a secularist coup in Turkey had virtually closed. This is because Erdoğan seriously purged the Ataturkist armed and security forces. Having either shrewdly contrived a conspiracy named Ergenekon or having discovered it, the Islamist leader fired and imprisoned hundreds of high ranking secularist officers and their alleged civilian accomplices. Ultimately, 275 people were put on trial accused of plotting against the government. Many of the Ataturkist brass retired involuntarily.

The Turkish government, meanwhile, staffed the military, police, and intelligence with Islamist junior officers and senior political appointees. And Erdoğan harped constantly on the threat from the armed forces. He suavely undermined their power by making approaches to the European Union and invoking the imperative of modernization which could not happen, the President stressed, unless there was civilian control over the military. The Attaturkists remained self-paralyzed for theirs was a gospel of Europanization and modernization. Thus, the armed forces were slowly neutralized and Islamicized. And that is also why the coup failed so miserably.

The retribution by the government has been swift, perhaps all too swift. So far, Erdoğan has imprisoned at least 6,000 military personnel. Some of them have been publicly humiliated by stripping them naked and parading for all to see. A massive purge is under way not only in the armed forces, intelligence, and police, but also in the civil service, universities, schools, and media. The President dismissed at least 2,745 judges and prosecutors. 8,000 police officers were reportedly fired. It is unclear whether this number is included in the total of 20,000 employees sacked from the Interior Ministry. Three million civil servants have been placed on “holiday leave.” The chief executive vows that this is just the beginning. He refuses to rule out the death penalty.

One cannot help but think that the countermeasures were prepared well in advance. Either Erdoğan anticipated the coup with extensive proscription lists or he staged a provocation himself so he could proceed with a presidential putsch. The government countermeasures appear too seamless, too well-thought out, and too professional. One way or another, the Turkish avatar of the Muslim Brotherhood is firmly in power. No wonder that Erdoğan referred to the military coup as “Allah-sent.” Perhaps he even helped Allah himself.


Marek Jan Chodakiewicz is a Professor of History at the Institute of World Politics, A Graduate School of National Security and International Affairs in Washington, DC, where he also holds the Kościuszko Chair in Polish Studies. Professor Chodakiewicz is author of Intermarium: The Land between the Black and Baltic Seas. He is also a contributor to SFPPR News & Analysis.