The Turkish Coup: The Last Great Failure
Sault Ste. Marie, ON.
July 21, 2016
Friday evening, Ankara. As the curtain closes at a play in Kizilay, the rumble of rogue tanks moving in on the square overpowers the audience's applause. The beginning of the coup d'etat against Erdogan's government has begun.
Suha, a banker, lives in the upper-class neighbourhoods in Kizilay and was at the theatre as the tanks rolled in.
"We walked out of the building and we were met by Turkish soldiers telling us to go home immediately. Nobody told us anything," he told me over Facebook. "We had to walk home through groups of soldiers and tanks. Everybody was yelling. I thought there was another terrorist attack."
Suha, his wife and two children eventually made it to their apartment and immediately turned on the news. At the same time, rogue soldiers stormed in on the state news' headquarters and forced the anchorwoman to read a note on air.
"Members of the Turkish army have taken control over Turkey's infrastructure and are denouncing Erdogan as President," Suha repeated the statement to me. "Just like that."
Meanwhile, on an airstrip outside of Ankara, rogue soldiers took to the skies in fighter jets and took aim on the parliament building and the presidential palace.
"Suddenly, we started hearing bombs being dropped on our neighbourhood," Suha said. "For the first time in my life I knew what it was like to be truly scared, Mitch. I felt like we were living in Syria."
In a ministry building down the street from Suha's apartment, nine of Erdogan's senior ministers were gathered in the basement. They were also watching the state-run news when the soldiers stormed in and announced control of Turkey.
"That's it then," one of the ministers said. "When they find us, they will kill us."
He buzzed for his security to bring him a handgun and then dismissed all the security workers, fearing that they too were part of the revolt. The nine agreed to stay in the basement until it was all over.
The bombings didn't last long, though. Eventually Erdogan made it into hiding in Istanbul, those rogue fighter jets were shot down or forced to land, and soldiers opposed to the coup, along with the Turkish people likened to Erdogan, were able to subdue the rest of the dissenters on the streets. The coup, in its entirety, had lasted just 5 hours and claimed nearly 145 civilian lives along with 150 soldiers.
In the days following the coup attempt, thousands of arrests and suspensions have been leveled against the judiciary, administrative and military branches of government. Erdogan and the AKP government considered reinstating the death penalty, and fingers have largely been pointed at Fetullah Gulen, Erdogan's ex-best friend and American-based asylum seeker.
It's hard to say who's to blame. On one hand, you have a palpable divide in Turkish society between increasingly hardline supporters of Erdogan and the more liberal, European-esque faction of anti-Erdoganists, coupled with a corrupt AKP party and a progressively more frightening human rights situation, and on the other you have an Islamic cleric who, supposedly, orchestrated the entirety of the coup attempt from his home in Pennsylvania.
Who do I blame? The man himself. Erdogan.
Think of it. Whose government would benefit the most from quashing a revolt that was immediately on the wrong side of public opinion? With a scapegoat like Gulen and thousands of jobs in the government and judiciary in the palm of his hand, Erdogan needed a reason to cut off the remaining dissenters he failed to replace back during the Gezi Park uprising. What a better cover story than an attempt on his life and the strong (read: non-existent) democracy of the Turkish republic?
The coup, which presumably took months to orchestrate, was defeated in less than five hours. Immediately after, calls for Gulen's extradition to Turkey and replacements in all branches of government had been set in motion by the AKP government. What's more, Erdogan's post-coup rhetoric has been of strengthening Turkish democracy while his actions in the legislature have systematically undermined any coherent democratic principles.
What we are left with is what I will call the last attempt at removing Erdogan from power through conventional means. Coups, though widely seen as undemocratic, have formed a backbone of Turkish politics and government, with five happening within the last sixty years. Each five times, the dissenters were victorious and the unconstitutional government was replaced by a new, democratically-elected government. This coup, though bold in its intentions, has failed to replace the government and now opens itself up to being systematically deconstructed through more arrests and suspensions.
In short, all branches of Turkish society are now open for Erdogan to replace anyone who threatens his power. The last shot at saving the Turkish republic from slipping into something like Iraq has been lost.
Say goodbye to President Erdogan. Say hello to the new Caliph on the block.