Turkey’s Failed Coup: 5 Things to Know

Phil Johnson, Ph.D.
July 17, 2016

1. What happened and when? 

Between Friday night and Saturday morning (July 14-15), segments of Turkey’s military attempted to take over the government and oust current president and leader, Recep Tayyip Erdogan (who was vacationing on the Black Sea) Roads and bridges were blocked by tanks, helicopters dotted the skies, and some of the media outlets were taken over by the military – but not all of them.

The coup – for what it was – appeared to have been a half-hearted attempt. (Just a note for future “coup-attempters:” If you’re going to attempt a coup, you’ve got to have either most of the people on your side or most of the military on your side.  I’m not even sure that some of the soldiers knew that they were in a coup.)

When President Erdogan got word of what was happening, he came back, made sure he and his loyalists took things back over, rounded up dissenters and began to put things back in order. Having survived an attempted coup, now Erdogan can be free to pursue his political agenda with even more freedom. In the aftermath, 290 people were killed and more than 1400 wounded.  According to USA Today, at least 6000 people have been arrested and are being held in custody by Erdogan’s government.

2. What was the the goal of the coup? 

The Turkish military has often taken a role through history to protect the democratic freedoms of Turkish people. There has been growing tension between the military and Erdogan as the president began taking the country in a more Islamist direction. So, the goals of the coup were probably a combination of a reaction to the war in Syria spilling over into Turkey as well as an effort to restore democracy against Erdogan’s lessening of freedoms, crack-downs on the free press and the overall philosophical-religious direction he has been taking the nation.

3. What exactly is the relationship between the U.S. and Turkey? 

It’s an interesting relationships. And it’s an important relationship because of all that’s going on in that region with ISIS and Iraq and Iran, Syria’s Assad and the resultant refugee crisis. But it’s also a relationship of disappointment. Erdogan is not the moderate Muslim leader that Obama thought he would be – he is an authoritarian leader that limits freedoms and journalists and knows who his enemies are. And as for Erdogan, he believes that Obama doesn’t get the serious nature and problem of the Kurds that Turkey views as a dangerous terror group.

The U.S. came out quickly stating its support for President Erdogan and his “democratically elected” government. (OK, it’s not exactly the kind of “democratically elected” government an American might be used to, but when you suppress your competitors and silence free media, democracy always looks a little different.)

But we need Turkey  – as we use their territory to stage airstrikes against ISIS. But I want to point out that Turkey has not been a whole-hearted fighter against ISIS.Would-be ISIS fighters have gone back and forth across Turkey’s border with Syria with little concern from Turkey.  Erdogan is more concerned about suppressing their Kurdish population than ridding the world of ISIS. And yes, there have been a number of people in the U.S. media who came out stating that they hoped the coup would succeed – a hope that is no where near a possibility at this point.

4. Who was behind the coup and who is Fethullah Gulen? 

Some sources indicated that the coup was most likely led by Colonel Muharre Kose and a few other mid-level military officers. In addition, Gendarmerie Commander for Bursa Province, Colonel Yurdakul Akkus has been taken into custody for his part in the coup. (According to Newsweek)

But you can’t have a coup in the Middle East without a few conspiracy theories. One of the most oft repeated theories is that the coup was arranged by President Erdogan himself – in order to root out dissenters, to provide him a chance to solidify power, warn some enemies, and send a message to some potential rivals. Another theory is that the U.S. was behind he whole thing.

Currently, President Erdogan and his government are requesting that a man by the name of Fethullah Gulen be extradited to Turkey. Who is he? Fethullah Gulen is a reclusive, but powerful cleric who used to be best buddies with President Erdogan. They  disagreed and eventually had a falling-out over ideologies. Gulen now lives in the U.S. – in Pennsylvania. He denies involvement in the attempted coup – but Erdogan is not buying it and he wants the U.S. to extradite Gulen back to Turkey to be investigated. So far the U.S. has said “no,” until they are given evidence of Gulen’s crimes. This is putting no small strain on the U.S. – Turkish relationship.

5. What’s next?

The Turkish government will continue to arrests anyone connected to this coup. Punishment will be meted out and some will be assassinated for their treason. There are still divisions in the country – there are tensions between those who want Turkey to be more of a modern, liberal, democracy and those who want to keep it old-school.

Obviously the military will go through many cuts as Erdogan and his administration sort out who can and cannot be trusted. This is a less than an ideal time to have a fractured military –  when your neighbors are Iraq and Syria and you’ve got to battle not only ISIS but your own internal Kurdish militant movement.  But from a power-perspective, surviving a coup, as Erdogan has done, will make him more legendary – and powerful. He’ll be able to take the country in any direction he likes.

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