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Why and how the Turkish coup failed

At around 10pm on Friday 15 July when rumours that a coup had started began to spread, the spotlight fell on President Erdogan. His first reaction would set the tone for the rest of the evening and would be what would ultimately dictate the course of action. At around 10.30pm, Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said the government was aware of a coup attempt but that it hadn't originated within the military. Moments later, Erdoğan reached out to CNN Turk using FaceTime on his iPhone and urged people to come out onto the streets and resist.

Erdogan's charisma and his ability to comfort his people, if only through FaceTime, undoubtedly played the most important role in convincing not only his supporters but other Turkish citizens to resist the coup. In a second speech at Istanbul's Ataturk airport, Erdogan, who spoke without fear of being assassinated, emphasised the betrayal of the putschists. He promised people: "We will not abandon our country to these invaders."

The coup plotters had not only underestimated Erdogan's popularity but they had also failed to develop a Plan B, i.e. what would happen if they failed to assassinate Erdogan as they had intended? Instead, when they failed, Erdogan rallied the masses to fight back.

One thing everybody in Turkey agrees on without any hesitation is that this type of resistance is unprecedented in Turkish history. For the first time in Turkish history, millions of people who had never even held a stone in their hands before took to the streets to stop the coup plotters from going any further. People took the soldiers' guns, pulled their cars out to stop tanks and even lay down in the tanks' path to stop them.

Pictures of dead bodies and posts warning that "there is a hail of bullets" in one area or another did not deter people who were eager to defend their country. The masses were reckless, undoubtedly motivated by Erdogan's call, and their resistance made people recant their support for the coup.

From the beginning of his career, Erdogan has referred to the tragic stories of each coup d'etat in Turkey and, in particular, the traumatic execution of Adnan Menderes who was the first prime minister to be elected and arguably one of the most popular.

The "Ergenekon" experience, which saw hundreds of soldiers and journalists thrown in jail for attempting a coup, and the public discussions surrounding it have resonated in the minds of Turks. As a result of the trial, Turks developed a mentality against "military intervention in politics".

Egypt's 2013 military coup was also at the forefront of people's memories. The people's courage in facing live bullets was driven by the memory of the resistance movement in Egypt.

Civilians found the courage to face bullets head on because they remembered the importance of the resistance movement in Egypt. Erdogan had emphasised this on numerous occasions since 2013. The Rabaa sign – a hand gesture that first appeared in Egypt's protests against the army – became the symbol used by Erdogan and his supporters. It was a reminder of how honourable it is to resist a coup.

The media in Turkey had never been able to resist former coups and in fact it had often applauded the army for attempting coups. This time was different. Each media outlet in Turkey, with the exception of a few, broadcasted anti-coup messages. There is no doubt that the Ergenekon case taught the people and the media that supporting a coup is shameful and something that cannot be justified or defended.

After the state owned TRT building was seized and the junta made live announcements on all TRT channels, people started to gather in front of TRT to resist the putschists, support the security forces and regain control of the channel. The protesters' ability to take back control of the station strengthened them.

Additionally, social and visual media proved to be effective instruments in spreading information and encouraging people to protest. Social media was used by both civilians and governmental institutions to make announcements and give live updates. Erdogan's tweets calling for resistance were re-tweeted at impressive rates.

From the very beginning, the rumours started to spread that Hulisi Akar was being held along with other generals because of their opposition to the coup. News of this opposition quickly spread and weakened the coup attempt.

The coup, which had never enjoyed the support of senior military officials and had been manipulated by junta soldiers, was doomed from the beginning. But, when junior level soldiers began to surrender after receiving orders to kill civilians, there was no support left.

When Turkey's First Army Commander Umit Dündar appeared on TV to publicly denounce the coup, stating that a small rogue group had instigated it, he ensured that the putschists would not get very far. It was later revealed that Dundar had been invited to join the coup attempt but had refused instead informing Security Forces and Erdogan about the coup and convincing the president to land in Istanbul because "Ankara is not safe, I'll protect you in Istanbul".

As the junta soldiers expected, the most important resistance came from the police who, by uniting with civilians, managed to stop ground operations.

There is no doubt that the participation of local officials in the resistance movement also played a vital role in stopping the junta. Many of them used dustcarts to stop tanks and cut off the electricity supply to airfields to prevent F-16s from lifting off.

At around 12:30am members of parliament from the four political parties came together to attend a live session in Parliament. They set aside their differences and condemned the coup. This not only motivated civilians who had been resisting the coup, it also radicalised all the pro-coup attitudes. Supporters of the varying parties were urged to come out and resist. Their sheer number proved their support for democracy.

The putschists' biggest mistake was the bombing of Parliament on live television while members of the four parties were sat inside. Images of warplanes swooping down on the Parliament building were the most jarring of the evening. They gave the public more motivation to rally around Erdogan. The bombing of the Presidential Palace, the attacks on the headquarters of the Turkish Intelligence and the invasion of Turksat (Turkish communications satellites) also raised the levels of patriotism and strengthened the resistance.

From the very beginning of the coup attempt, calls to prayer heard from the mosques drove people to act. After everything call, the mosques shared Erdogan's message to the people, calling them to the streets and encouraging them to take back control. A cry they answered until victory.

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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