Questions linger after Turkey’s attempted coup
Three months have passed and the bloody coup attempt, with its deaths and destruction that shattered Turkey, is still wrapped in mystery.
What happened during the night of July 15th until the middle of the following day? We know enough about the citizen resistance to the putschist troops blocking bridges and roads, F-16 jets flying at extremely low altitude with seemingly endless sonic booms over Istanbul and Ankara, the troops shooting at the crowds and, later, the lynching of many soldiers.
As of the evening of the day after, the overall picture of Turkey would be best described as a ruin.
Many major questions remain: Who masterminded the coup? Who pushed the button? If successful, who would be sitting on the military junta? Was it a pure Gulenist coup attempt or does it point out to a larger picture, of broader engagement of the top army ranks? What does its flawed orchestration tell us about the reasons for total failure?
The pro-government media obsessively focus on the role of Gulenist officers, who have been depicted as the sole culprits and demonised as FETO (Fethullah Terror Organisation). A stream of accusations has been deliberately, constantly pumped into the public by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP).
Any attempt to display scepticism and dig into the underlying reasons and actors behind the coup is taboo. Journalists are discouraged from doing so and those who ask rational questions do so with the risk of being branded. “You doubt, therefore you must be part of FETO plot,” is a common accusation in Turkey, where fear and paranoia rule.
Nothing will make the bold questions go away. Having dug into the complicated, messy choreography of the events of July 15th, I think what emerges is a series of mysterious acts by AKP figures and top army officials in the hours preceding the coup attempt.
According to fragmentary official statements and confirmed data, the secret service of Turkey, MIT, had already been informed about ”activity” inside the army headquarters and barracks at about 3pm or 4pm on July 15th. It is also known, by official statements, that the head of MIT, Hakan Fidan, entered the army headquarters in Ankara and was known to have informed Erdogan at those hours about the mutiny apparently brewing. Fidan met Chief of General Staff Hulusi Akar to discuss the matter.
From that point, the sequence of events is wrapped in mystery. Akar was taken hostage about 9-10pm as the putsch unfolded. So were the commanders of the branches of the military. One of them was General Abidin Unal, commander of the air force, who was the guest of honour at a wedding in Istanbul together with the country’s number two general. Both men were taken prisoner as the wedding hall was assaulted by masked officers, causing general havoc.
A key factor in ensuring the coup failed was the 1st Army, based in Istanbul. Its four-star commander, Umit Dundar, had appeared at an early stage of the coup attempt on TV and distanced himself from it in clear terms. He was later promoted to deputy chief of the General Staff.
If MIT had informed the top generals, then how did they end up being arrested about six hours later? How come the civilian government was caught by a big surprise late on Friday? What happened in those critical six hours, between afternoon and midnight? And what happened before the top commanders re-emerged free the next day?
In the aftermath of the attempt, another major element is puzzling analysts: 150 generals are held in detention, dismissed from their duties. This number corresponds to about 40% of the top echelon of the Turkish military. That all of them, as accusations indicate, had belonged to the Gulenists awaits to be addressed properly, seriously with concrete evidence. So far, it has not.
Bits and pieces put together do not, as concluded by sharp-minded colleague Umit Kivanc, appear convincing that it was a coup undertaken purely by the Gulenist flank of the army.
“For their own, different motives, many flanks at the top echelons seemed to be involved,” he wrote, adding that the pattern that day shows deceit, divisions, changed minds, panic, “suicidal acts”, such as bombing the parliament building and, the day after, modifying the narrative on the sequence of events to save themselves.
Another colleague, Ahmet Sik, who suffered a lengthy detention that he blames in the Gulen movement, offered his analysis, which I agree with fully based on my research, that the putschists acted on a much broader base.
He argues that between the time the plot was uncovered and the time the rebellious officers began to move on Istanbul and Ankara, there were negotiations between the Turkish intelligence services, the civilian government and nationalist officers who were part of the coup alliance.
The coup failed not because it was poorly planned or because civilians took to the streets to oppose it but, rather, because the Turkish government successfully broke the alliance between the non-Gulenist officers and those affiliated with the movement.
One of the crucial pieces of evidence, or lack thereof, is the fact that no organisational chart or plan for a military junta has surfaced since the coup was foiled. Such a chart has been a crucial part of every other coup plot in Turkish history. According to Sik, this is evidence the Turkish government is trying to cover up the extent of the coup and the specific officers involved.