By Farid Mirbagheri
Military coups are typically an organised attempt by army officers to enforce a new order in the country through coercion. The failed bid for a military takeover in Turkey on July 15 has left many wondering how an experienced army that had already staged three successful coups in the country, in 1960, 1971 and 1980, was unable to see this one through. What went wrong for the putchists?
At a fleeting glance, forces loyal to the democratically elected government comprising of the police and the security apparatus together with the street supporters of President Tayyip Erdogan appear to have worked to foil the coup. In the age of democracy, it can be stipulated, you can no longer expect the masses to remain indifferent to an open and blatant revocation of their political choice.
However, a deeper look may raise a couple of questions that cannot be easily brushed aside by the democratic argument. Firstly, it seemed rather strange that the coup plotters, aiming to depose President Erdogan, did not disable or isolate him politically; in fact Erdogan was able to hold a telephone interview with a journalist that was broadcast throughout the world. In it he urged all his followers to come out in protest.
Secondly, whilst martial law had been declared and supposedly a curfew was in force, the army – thankfully and against the ethos of military coups – refused to open fire on demonstrators or detain those who were flouting the curfew. This appears to have been the case in Istanbul. In Ankara, however, where the curfew was enforced, there were no street protests.
The Turkish army, imparted to protect the country’s secular constitution, has been the most potent power broker since the establishment of the Republic in 1923; that is at least until now. It may therefore be of little surprise to note the military’s dismay at AKP’s (Justice and Development Party) Islamic policies, in power for the past 14 years, and its attempt to depose the government.
So was the failed coup a plan devised by Erdogan himself to provide him with the ammunition needed to purge the army and other state institutions of all those suspected of disloyalty to him and his policies? Well, it may have given him the added incentive and of course the opportunity to do so, but I very much doubt he actually planned the coup.
Doing so would have entailed the great risk of actually deposing the government. How could Erdogan and his advisors trust the army enough to conspire with them in a plot that would lead to the weakening of the army? And what if the conspirators betrayed Erdogan and went all the way to unseat the government? Also, if it all was a ploy, why have all military and non-military staff implicated or suspected of involvement in the coup now been dismissed or detained? Apparently they number in the thousands if not tens of thousands. (It is a good job they were just a “small minority” in the army.)
In the end who or what really came to the aid of the government in Ankara in those anxious hours is still unclear. However, rattled by the coup attempt the Turkish president is eagerly flying to Moscow later this month. The honeymoon period in the post-coup era may not last that long after all.
Farid Mirbagheri is professor of international relations and holds the Dialogue Chair in Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Nicosia