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The attempted coup in Turkey signals the end of political-militarism

People hold banners during a protest against defendants involved in last July’s attempted coup in Turkey in front of the prison where the defendants are being held on May 22, 2017 [Murat Kula/Anadolu Agency]
People hold banners during a protest against defendants involved in last July’s attempted coup in Turkey in front of the prison where the defendants are being held on May 22, 2017 [Murat Kula/Anadolu Agency]

Turkey's latest military coup has ended in ignominious failure. As these words are written, over 1,500 military personnel, including officers, have been taken into custody, and Turkish security forces loyal to the government are besieging stubborn stragglers in the last few pockets of rebellion in both Istanbul and Ankara. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has made several appearances already after having joined the Turkish people in telling segments of the military "No!" for perhaps the final time. Turkey has apparently and finally entered a new era of civil-military relations, and there can be no turning back.

Although the next few weeks will be replete with analyses addressing the various, still obscure details, what is clear is that the Turkish people have made their voices heard loud and clear not only to the military but also to the international community, and this time by actively ensuring that civil rule and their democracy is protected. This time, the people of Turkey did not need to resort to the ballot box to make their will known to the world; this time, the people of Turkey prevented the evil of military rule with their presence in the streets, with their hands and sometimes, sadly, with their blood.

The would-be putschists frankly stood no chance. They believed that they could replicate the political-officer classes of the decades prior to Erdogan's rise to power, and in particular the chilling coup of 1960 that saw the army murder Adnan Menderes, Turkey's democratically-elected ruler, as well as the brutal 1980 coup led by Kenan Evren, who would later declare himself president, that saw torture and murder spread through Turkey like a scourge. Fortunately, however, the Turkish military's former belief that it was the final guardian of Kemalist ideals has had its last tilt at the lists, and flopped spectacularly.

By failing to secure support across all arms of the military, and by failing to ensure that they had allies within the civil-political institutions and parties, the rebels guaranteed their own downfall. Although the initial signs late last night were deeply disturbing, with the military seizing control of two main bridges in Istanbul, surrounding Ataturk Airport and other security facilities throughout the old Ottoman capital, as well as engaging in active combat in Ankara, the state apparatuses and civil society rallied quickly and put the rebels onto the back foot.

At around 11:30 pm local time, the Turkish public prosecutor issued an order to the police to arrest any military personnel or others attempting to seize control of key infrastructure and facilities. Half an hour earlier, rebels flying helicopters opened fire on the Turkish national intelligence agency's (the MIT) headquarters in Ankara. The rebels also took Hulusi Akar, the Chief of the Defence Staff, into custody just before midnight; all of this was done at around the same time that they made moves to capture the state broadcaster, TRT, a move in which they were successful. A TRT presenter came on air swiftly, allegedly at gunpoint, at around midnight, to announce the success of the coup and that the country had come under the control of a self-proclaimed "peace committee".

While many on social media were announcing the end of the Turkish government and the restoration of military rule, the state and its citizens had other ideas. In response to these attacks, the MIT ordered its men to fight the coup plotters "to the death." At just before 12:30 am local time on Saturday, Erdogan made his first televised appearance via FaceTime on CNN Turk, calling on the people to go into Turkey's squares and streets and to defend their democracy and their nation from those who would overthrow both.

Many commented that the president's appearance via FaceTime showed that he was not in a position of strength, but I heard from reliable sources within the ruling Justice and Development Party that he was not near any of his usual residences or specialised government facilities at the time and therefore did not have access to the usual media facilities. Hence, not wishing to waste time, and already a man known for making his voice heard whatever the circumstances, Erdogan went live on screen by any means necessary.

This had an immediate impact. The president's supporters knew that the coup had failed in its immediate goals, as not only had the rebels failed to seize Prime Minister Binali Yildirim and his cabinet, but they had also now failed to seize the most powerful man in Turkey today. Even to Erdogan's opponents, this was a promising sign, as not a single party declared support for the putsch; instead, they declared that they would stand against it. Whatever one may think of Erdogan, the Turkish people and political parties know that the solution can never be to remove him at the point of a gun. Also, this is a man who has repeatedly won election after election, and gained a 52 per cent share of the vote when he became president. The coup was never going to attract popular support.

In a demonstration of defiance, scores of MPs in Ankara entered the Grand National Assembly at around 01:00 am and about half an hour later issued a statement of support for the Turkish Republic, though not necessarily the government. This was a show of loyalty to the concept of Turkey as a nation-state governed by the rule of law and civilian rule, no longer the playground of military officers wherein they can intervene whenever they choose. Indeed, Erdogan's various speeches throughout the night and references to him being the "Commander-in-Chief" of the military seemed to have a galvanising effect, as Turkey's second-most senior general and commander of the 1st Army declared that he stood against the coup, and that things would soon be over with "no need for concern".

Matters went downhill quickly for the rebels, as at around 02:00 am a loyalist F-16 fighter shot one of their helicopters out of the skies over Ankara. Military coups by and large fail if they are not supported by the air force, and no helicopter is going to be able to go up against an F-16. This demonstrated that the Turkish authorities still had serious firepower at their disposal, and the loyalty of much of the military. Clashes erupted throughout the night between the Turkish police and SWAT teams, who dramatically forced the surrender of soldiers in Taksim Square at 03:25 am, and engaged the rebels alongside the people in Fatih.

As daylight broke over Turkey, the country had entered a new era. Images of rebel soldiers surrendering over the Bosphorus will not be erased from the public conscience any time soon, and all eyes are now turning to how these events will affect the standing of President Erdogan. As a leader, he showed resilience and strength, and the aborted coup will strengthen his hand domestically as he seeks to establish himself at the top of a constitutionally-altered presidential system. His political opponents failed to defeat him at the ballot box, and now the public believes that he is impervious even to military intervention. Everyone in Turkey is today drawing the same conclusion – there can be no stopping Recep Tayyip Erdogan now.


The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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