Turkey risks being caged by AKP self-coup
Now that the bloody coup attempt in Turkey has failed, the focus is on two key aspects. The first covers the underlying motives, which bring to question who the plotters were. The second is the aftershock, its extent and what sort of Turkey will emerge.
This is one of the most bizarre putsch attempts ever seen in Turkey. As an observer of four coups, I am still perplexed by the way this one was executed, its development and the extremely swift, full-scale retaliation — amounting now to a purge — triggered by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).
A coup is an extremely serious business that requires meticulous planning and ruthless, rapid implementation.
When I passed the northern Bosporus bridge 15 minutes after the news broke about the blockage of the southern bridge, much seemed normal, with the usual heavy Friday night traffic moving slowly in both directions. The only unusual sights were civilian-uniformed bridge guards running wildly about with walkie-talkies.
Then, into the night, chaos ensued with every moment a mystery. Information assembled in bits and pieces depicted havoc in the chain of command at the earliest stages. From statements by Erdogan, Prime Minister Binali Yildirim and the chief of general staff, it seems at least clear that it was a large-scale mutiny, in which the roles and positions of the top generals demand meticulous scrutiny.
Obviously, the intelligence was deeply flawed. Turkey’s National Intelligence Organisation (MIT) found out about the putsch at 4pm, six hours before it was unleashed. By their own accounts both Erdogan and Yildirim were informed at around 8pm.
What happened in between remains a mystery, as who among the top officers were involved or played a double game is unclear. It raises the question whether the presidential palace and the government knew of the plot but let it happen to turn the tables to their advantage.
Given the fact that 84 generals are in detention, along with thousands of lower-ranking officers and soldiers, the entire act that shook Turkey for 12 hours leaves more questions than answers.
It is not clear whether it was simply carried out by elements within the military loyal to exiled preacher Fethullah Gulen. Simple arithmetic tells us that at least a quarter of the top brass was involved. It seems hardly credible that such a dense plot would not have been exposed until four hours prior.
Second, the same data raise questions as to where such a large top echelon was met with silence so many years, particularly following the December 2013, corruption investigations into ministers, government officials and their relatives.
Erdogan blamed what he said were police and prosecutors loyal to Gulen for making the accusations. If this coup was a sole product of Gulen and his followers, why did they wait so long? There is neither an explanation why, after having a pro-democracy communiqué read out in Turkish TV, the plotters’ jets would steadily bomb parliament building deep into the morning hours.
Few independent observers buy into the claims that the top officers, many of whom were filled with hostility to Gulenists, would allegedly flock around him.
On another level, sources within the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) shrug it off, saying that it points to an uprising led by officers who, being operational in conducting a war against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), thought the timing was perfect to seize the political helm.
Some analysts with military backgrounds point at a hybrid structure, perhaps a coalition of various affiliations — hardliners, Kemalists, pro-Western elements as well as Gulenists — whose command centre is unclear.
In retaliation, Erdogan launched an immense purge that began with arrests of 2,700 judges and, within 72 hours, more than 50,000 public servants were suspended. Media were curbed even more severely with bans of access and print houses refusing to print four newspapers. Nearly 1,600 university deans were ordered to resign.
Such moves leave little doubt about the emergence of an iron-rule that will perhaps be long lasting. The pattern of counter-measures exposes a power grab.
Indeed, the bloody coup was a deadly blow to Turkey’s already crippled democratic order. If Erdogan uses what he called a “God-given” opportunity to settle scores with the entire opposition, take it for granted that its party state path will have reached its completion any moment.