Turkey's Coup Catch-22

Image: “A member of the Turkish Armed Forces stands at attention during a wreath laying ceremony for U.S. Marine Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, at Anitkabir Cenotaph in Ankara, Turkey, Jan. 6, 2016. (DoD Photo by Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Dominique A. Pineiro).”

A military dictatorship would've ended democracy; suppressing the coup is deepening polarization. 

Turkey’s failed coup attempt on Friday, July 15 was bad news for Turkey. After enduring a string of horrific terrorist attacks, the most recent less than a month before at the very airport that was shut down over the weekend, the black eye from these events and reactions they will provoke are hard to estimate at this point. But the fact remains that if the coup had been successful, Turkey would have lost its democratically elected government to yet another military junta. Its people would have to leave their hope for democratic consolidation and individual freedom. Yet now, the suppression of the failed coup has only further exposed the levels of polarization that have given President Erdogan exceeding authority over his country and its constitution.

Unlike some other coups in Turkish history, this coup attempt was violent, messy and divided. It was not bloodless, since the state maintained control over the police forces and higher-ranked officers. For the first time, the Turkish parliament building was bombed. The hotel where President Erdogan had been staying on his vacation was bombed. As F-16s struck government-run areas from the coup side, jets from the government-supporting side struck back.

Civilians in Turkey’s two biggest cities (Istanbul and Ankara) sat inside their homes and heard fighting and bombing as the coup attempters announced a nationwide curfew. President Erdogan spoke via Facetime, urging his supporters to take to the streets and demonstrate. Every cell phone user received urgent text messages, raising further questions about privacy that are just now beginning to surface. When the smoke cleared and the sun rose, it was clear that the AK Party had squashed the coup, unlike any of their political predecessors. Shocking numbers emerged. There are reported to have been close to three hundred casualties which included members of the military, police force, and some civilians. More than six thousand people were immediately detained, half members of the military and half members of the judiciary. The numbers have only ballooned since then. Unfortunately anti-Erdogan has come to be equated with pro-coup, and that requires detention until further notice. Many Erdogan supporters believe that the failed coup is just a prelude to what is to come while anti-Erdogan critics believe he staged the coup to increase his own power. Such conspiracy theories will continue to run rampant and sorting fact from fiction is now more difficult than ever.

Did the coup have a chance?

Turkey’s allies, including the United States, quickly voiced support for Turkey’s democratically elected government when the coup began. Interestingly, so did the AK Party’s opposition, as did President Erdogan’s supporters, who flocked to the streets to show their support when he returned to Istanbul in a last-minute press conference. It is noteworthy that he chose to assert his control from the city he ran as a popular mayor rather than returning to Ankara, where most of the coup plotters originated.