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Turkey’s Short-Lived Coup


Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan addressed his country from the airport in Istanbul during the attempted coup.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan addressed his country from the airport in Istanbul during the attempted coup.

It was a “classically Turkish” coup attempt: staged by one faction of the army in isolation from the general population.

Gradually, though, government supporters started to come out onto the streets and strategic points in large cities -- though not in huge numbers -- while few demonstrated support on the streets for the mutiny.

From Friday evening on, leaders of the three biggest political parties represented in the parliament rushed to condemn any coup attempt, referring to the “bitter experience” of the past three army coups and said that “the government has been elected by the people and can only be changed by an election -- and not a coup.”

Even leading government allies-turned-critics, such as former President Abdullah Gul and former Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, came out in support of the “constitutional and elected” government.

Generally, it appeared that the police and other security agencies such as the Interior Ministry’s rapid-reaction force were leading the pro-government effort against the army.

In many cases, the coup attempt’s foot soldiers, often very young and seemingly unaware of why they were being deployed, were observed being disarmed and taken away by police officers after occasional shoot-outs.

Deputies also started to gather overnight in the parliament building in Ankara that was strafed with air strikes by the coup plotters, like many other government buildings and strategic points such as Turkish Telecom and the State Radio and TV Center.

Radio and TV channels went off air, but members of the government made it through to those still broadcasting – most memorably, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, appearing on CNN Turk via mobile-phone video link -- to encourage the population not to give in.

Arrests soon followed. By Saturday morning, around 1,500 members of the military and security forces suspected of involvement in the coup, including five army generals and 29 colonels, had been detained.

Erdogan, on returning to Istanbul, vowed to restore order as soon as possible and to punish the “traitors.”

The reopening of Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport and the gradual resumption of flights was a sign of a new day on Saturday.

From the beginning, Erdogan and other officials blamed a small mutinous group inside the army, saying they were supporters of exiled cleric Fethullah Gulen.

The government calls Gulen’s supporters a “terrorist group” that has long plotted to overthrow the country’s elected government.

Gulen’s supporters have been getting positions in Turkey’s army, police, education, and justice system for the last two decades. They supported Erdogan in the early 2000s and helped him later come to power and get reelected. But in 2011, Erdogan’s government moved to purge them from top government, media, and business positions.

It seems that the July 15 coup attempt was an effort of the “Gulen group” without visible support from the Turkish opposition.

And by Saturday morning -- less than 12 hours after it launched -- it was clear it would not succeed.

About This Blog

Turkey Notebook is a blog written by Abbas Djavadi, regional director of programming at RFE/RL and a longtime Turkey specialist. The blog presents Djavadi’s personal take on events and is designed for Turkey-watchers and all who want to get the most relevant news, views, issues, and insights on the country that you might not find in the daily news stream. Also check out Turkey Notebook on Facebook or Twitter.