Erdoğan Survives Military Coup Attempt in Turkey

Read the Atlantic Sentinel’s live coverage of a military attempt to topple Turkish president Recep Erdoğan.

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan observes a military ceremony, July 9, 2015
Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan observes a military ceremony, July 9, 2015 (Turkish Presidency)
  • A faction of the Turkish military tried and failed to overthrow the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan this weekend.
  • Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım said fewer than 3,000 soldiers were involved in the putsch. A similar number was later said to have been arrested, including the heads of the Second and Third Army.
  • Late on Friday, soldiers barricaded access to the major crossways over the Bosphorus in Istanbul and seized the city’s airport. Tanks strafed the parliament building in Ankara.
  • Ruling party supporters across the country heeded Erdoğan’s call to take to the streets and protest the coup attempt. Soldiers surrendered to the crowds and police overnight.
  • Erdoğan and his allies immediately accused their nemesis, Fethullah Gülen, of orchestrating the coup from his self-imposed exile in the United States. Gülen denied any involvement.
Ryan Bohl Ryan Bohl July 15, 201610:08 PM

Hi everyone, Ryan Bohl of Geopolitics Made Super here.

Watching Sky News now and my Facebook feed explode. A lot of Facebook is very sympathetic to the idea of a coup; Erdoğan’s reputation as an Islamist has made him unpopular among Turkey watchers.

Meanwhile, we still don’t know how large this coup is, but so far there are no reports of military units resisting the coup. It’s entirely possible that a professional and disciplined force like the Turkish military could not make this kind of move without unity.

Ryan Bohl Ryan Bohl July 15, 201610:09 PM

Soldiers are taking over the AKP’s offices in Ankara, says the now-military-controlled state news agency. Nobody knows where Erdoğan is; his prime minister merely says he’s “safe.”

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens July 15, 201610:13 PM

Back in October, I argued that Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had stretched communal relations in Turkey almost to the breaking point. It appears we’re now there.

Turkey has been rocked by bombings in recent months, carried out by Kurdish separatists as well as Islamists professing fealty to the self-declared Islamic State in neighboring Iraq and Syria.

Republican and secular Turks blame Erdoğan for sabotaging the peace process with the Kurds in order to scare people into voting for him.

They have a point: Erdoğan lost interest in the peace process when his conservative Justice and Development Party (AKP) lost its majority in June of last year. Right-wing voters defected to the more hardline Nationalist Movement Party at the time. But the AKP won back its majority when Turks returned to the polls in November.

Erdoğan’s opponents also blame him for the Islamic State-inspired violence and they have a point there as well. The AKP government was indiscriminate in its support for the uprising against Syrian president Bashar Assad, arming relatively moderate rebels as well as fanatics. It also allows foreign fighters to cross the Turkish border into Syria to join the rebellion. Both decisions enabled what became the Islamic State.

Finally, Erdoğan’s tenure has seen Turkey slide into authoritarianism in recent years. He has turned the formally ceremonial presidency into a de facto executive to the point where even former prime minister and once ally Ahmet Davutoğlu had enough. He was replaced by Binali Yıldırım earlier this year.

I reported at the time that AKP leaders — Bülent Arınç and Abdullah Gül, for example, in addition to Davutoğlu — were starting to see Erdoğan as a liability. As Turkey expert Steven A. Cook has argued in The American Interest, “Bullying the country’s central bankers, locking up journalists, undermining checks and balances and destroying relationships with important countries may have political benefits at home, but it is not cost free.”

Approximately half the country has supported Erdoğan through thick and thin. The other half has come to see him as a dictator. That was not a situation that could last.

Ryan Bohl Ryan Bohl July 15, 201610:17 PM

This could well be the death of the “Turkish model” for Muslim democracy. This leaves only Pakistan, Indonesia and Bangladesh as functional democracies in the Muslim world. (Afghanistan and Iraq are highly dysfunctional by any metric).

Ryan Bohl Ryan Bohl July 15, 201610:17 PM

Military announces they will remove the current constitution and write a new one.

They blame Erdoğan and his party for “eroding” democracy. Clearly it’s a secular coup.

Ryan Bohl Ryan Bohl July 15, 201610:21 PM

How will NATO respond?

After the Egyptian coup in 2013, the Obama Administration went through the motions of protest but eventually mostly restored ties, even after the Egyptian army massacred the Muslim Brotherhood in August 2013. It seems likely the weight of geopolitical energy will demand NATO come to terms with whatever takes form in Turkey, regardless of the body count.

Greg R. Lawson Greg R. Lawson July 15, 201610:22 PM

Turkey has long been a “torn country” in the sense that was described by the great Samuel Huntington in his “clash of civilizations.”

I wrote on this before for Wikistrat. As Huntington said, “The most obvious and prototypical torn country is Turkey.”

Having rejected Mecca, and then being rejected by Brussels, where does Turkey look?

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens July 15, 201610:22 PM

Turkey’s last coup — sort of — was in 1997. It’s typically described as a “soft coup,” because the army issued an ultimatum to the civilian government at the time but did not put tanks in the streets.

The last proper coup was in 1980. It took place in the context of the Cold War, with the Soviet Union supporting far-left terrorist groups in Turkey and the United States (unofficially, of course) supporting the military takeover. It took three years before democracy was restored.

Earlier coups happened in 1971 (which was more like the 1997 one) and 1960 (which was carried out by a faction of junior officers).

Ryan Bohl Ryan Bohl July 15, 201610:24 PM

Where is Erdoğan?

Coup leaders seem to have the upper hand, with state-run communication networks in military hands, Istanbul airport occupied and Europe-Asia bridges controlled by troops in Istanbul itself. If Erdoğan does not respond or appear soon, it seems reasonable to assume he’s been captured.

Ryan Bohl Ryan Bohl July 15, 201610:32 PM

Erdoğan has appeared via phone on an Arabic news station. “We will overcome this,” he says.

He is, at the moment at least, still free.

Steve Keller Steve Keller July 15, 201610:32 PM

NBC News is reporting that Erdoğan has been denied landing rights at Istanbul and is seeking basing rights in Germany. This suggests that the coup is seeing some level of success. Should it win the day, Germany will be in a very awkward position regarding Turkey’s new leadership.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens July 15, 201610:35 PM

State television says the military is imposing martial law.

A Turkish government spokesman tells Al Jazeera that “spontaneous” pro-Erdoğan protests are forming, but Anno Bunnik reports on Twitter that AKP supporters have received texts urging them to take to the streets.

Some Turkish Twitter users are reporting the service is no longer accessible. Could be a blackout; could be that half the country is taking to Twitter to express their views on the coup attempt.

Ryan Bohl Ryan Bohl July 15, 201610:36 PM

Varying degrees of success with communications for journalists in Turkey. How much of that is controlled via the military? A great deal of Turkey watchers are seeing this as business as usual, yet another Turkish coup. The key difference is that Erdoğan was meant to have made Turkey coup-proof, purging and arresting officers he suspected of trying just this years back.

Ryan Bohl Ryan Bohl July 15, 201610:38 PM

Taksim Square is empty of AKP supporters, according to a journalist appearing on Sky News. Soldiers are clearing the square.

Steve Keller Steve Keller July 15, 201610:41 PM

In a military coup, outsiders with an interest in stability have to hope it goes one way or the other pretty fast — unless one of the sides is so objectionable that extended civil conflict is preferable.

That’s rarely the case and it doesn’t appear to be the case here. The military has traditionally been a defender of secularism within Turkey and they appear to be using Erdoğan’s authoritarianism and Islamism as a justification for the putsch.

As a NATO ally, the US cannot be rooting against the elected government of Turkey. But at the same time, if the coup seems to be winning, the US will have to embrace it and hope for a swift resolution.

America has too much at stake in the region to see instability in a country bordering Iraq, Syria and Iran — and which has the second-largest army in NATO.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens July 15, 201610:43 PM

Taha Özhan, a ruling party lawmaker, predictably blames Gülenists for the coup attempt in an interview with Al Jazeera. He wrote the same on Twitter a short while ago.

Erdoğan has long portrayed the Gülen movement as a fifth column and cited its (unproven) schemes as a pretext for detaining reporters and purging police officers as well as prosecutors.

Ryan Bohl Ryan Bohl July 15, 201610:48 PM
Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan calls into a television program by FaceTime
Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan calls into a television program by FaceTime (CNN Türk)

Erdoğan is live on local Turkish television making statesments via Skype and FaceTime. He doesn’t appear to have access to a better communications system.

Steve Keller Steve Keller July 15, 201610:50 PM

Frankly kind of bizarre to see Erdoğan communicating with the Turkish public via FaceTime, as Ryan noted. That doesn’t bode well for him.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens July 15, 201610:55 PM

Steven Cook, a Turkey expert I cited earlier, writes on Twitter that the AKP has been in power for thirteen years. If the coup is successful, he writes, “it is going to be hard to establish control and root it out.”

Ryan Bohl Ryan Bohl July 15, 201610:56 PM

Sky News is reporting a military helicopter has opened fire on unspecified targets in Ankara. Unsure if it’s a pro-coup or anti-coup chopper; there’s also a report of a loud explosion.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens July 15, 201610:58 PM

Michael Koplow, who blogs at Ottomans and Zionist, cautions on Twitter against celebrating the coup attempt. Coups do not lead to democracy, he writes. “They create path dependencies for decades.”

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens July 15, 201611:03 PM

Quote from one of Erdoğan’s FaceTime interviews:

I urge the Turkish people to convene at public squares and airports. There is no power higher than the power of the people. Let them do what they will at public squares and airports.

People are heeding his call — and ignoring a curfew announced by the military. Al Jazeera shows pictures of hundreds of cars crowding the roads in Gaziantep, Turkey’s sixth-largest city, while gunfire has been reported in Istanbul’s Taksim Square.

Steve Keller Steve Keller July 15, 201611:11 PM

Another reason that the US needs to consider accepting the coup if it goes well: If the Turkish people seem to back it and it goes smoothly, the US cannot be seen as a backer of an old-guard authoritarian.

This is what happened in Egypt with Hosni Mubarak (and, some would say, Mohamed Morsi) and Iraq with Nouri all-Maliki. (And, of course, the myriad of authoritarians which the US has historically backed because of no better option…)

What complicates this, of course, is that Erdogan was elected democratically. So any claim that the military has to legitimacy is very, very limited. If the military wins, it will need to hold elections as soon as possible to avoid taking the path which Egypt has taken.

The situation is very, very complicated for the United States.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens July 15, 201611:11 PM

Soldiers are firing at people approaching the bridges in Istanbul.

Ryan Bohl Ryan Bohl July 15, 201611:15 PM

Sky News showing crowds gathering at the Istanbul airport.

It’s not clear if these are crowds heeding Erdoğan’s call to take to the streets or supporters of the coup.

Steve Keller Steve Keller July 15, 201611:16 PM

In calling for the public to swarm the streets, Erdoğan may be hoping for a redux of the 1991 Soviet coup attempt, where the public rejected the coup plotters and Mikhail Gorbachev was restored to power.

The problem is, that situation merely hastened the Soviet Union’s collapse. Should Erdoğan win the day, it would not solve the fundamental problems within Turkey which led to this coup taking place.

Ryan Bohl Ryan Bohl July 15, 201611:20 PM

Vice News is reporting that the crowd at Istanbul airport is protesting the coup.

I agree with Steve, doubtless Erdoğan hopes to replicate the August coup. He will hope to count on NATO as a fellow democratic ally; they should, in theory, back an elected president. But they seem to be hedging their bets right now and waiting to see how this turns out.

It would be wise to avoid doing or anything anything until one can tell how popular this coup really is.

Steve Keller Steve Keller July 15, 201611:25 PM

If these are indeed anti-coup crowds, this does not bode well for the uprising. Any filmed or photographed scenes in which military action results in the deaths of protesters will utterly deflate international and public support for the coup. Should such violence take place, it will be impossible for the coup plotters to sweep it under the rug.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens July 15, 201611:26 PM

Twitter says it has no reason to think it’s been fully blocked in Turkey, but the company suspects there is “an intentional slowing of our traffic” in the country.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens July 15, 201611:31 PM

Henri Barkey, one of the biggest Turkey experts in America, doesn’t buy Erdoğan’s claim that Fethullah Gülen and his sympathizers are behind this coup attempt. “The last group military likes is Gülen,” he writes on Twitter.

Steve Keller Steve Keller July 15, 201611:37 PM

It’s not out of the question that Erdoğan survives this thing. How would a victorious Erdoğan handle relations or dissent within the military? Or dissent among the public? Turkey’s slide away from democracy may be hastened if the coup is crushed — even quickly. That won’t endear Erdoğan to the young, pro-democracy movement which saw its hopes dashed with the end of the Gezi Park movement in 2013.

Ryan Bohl Ryan Bohl July 15, 201611:39 PM

Sky News is showing gunfire in Istanbul. No word on casualties.

Steve Keller Steve Keller July 15, 201611:43 PM

If you want to gauge public support for Erdoğan and the AKP, just look at the election results from November 2015: It won 49.5 percent of the vote. This isn’t a government roundly rejected by the public. It actually gained seats compared to the previous elections.

Ryan Bohl Ryan Bohl July 15, 201611:48 PM

A determined response by the army could quash an uprising. Case in point is both Egypt and Bahrain.

In Bahrain, the royal government made the active choice to shoot their way through the uprising and it worked, restoring order.

In Egypt, the coup plotters did the same, crushing the relatively popular Muslim Brotherhood throughout wholescale violence.

Will the Turkish army do the same?

The Soviet army of 1991 was wholly demoralized and badly led, having failed to keep order in the Baltics and the Caucuses. The Turkish army isn’t in the same position, so it boils down to how well prepared the coup plotters are — and how far they’re willing to go.

Ryan Bohl Ryan Bohl July 15, 201611:54 PM

Vast number of bullets fired at the protesters in Istanbul, broadcast via Sky News. Didn’t show anyone falling; the crowd booed in response.

Ryan Bohl Ryan Bohl July 16, 201612:02 AM

Turkish fighter jet possibly has shot down a coup helicopter in Ankara, according to Reuters.

Steve Keller Steve Keller July 16, 201612:02 AM

Building on what Ryan said regarding a public uprising, it’s significant that the opposition parties, many of the top military commanders and it seems the police oppose the coup.

It’s hard to come out of a failed coup alive, so the plotters may be forced to lash out at the public if this goes south.

Ryan Bohl Ryan Bohl July 16, 201612:08 AM

Footage has emerged of Turkish forces fighting each other.

Steve Keller Steve Keller July 16, 201612:11 AM

Unsurprisingly, the Obama Administration is publicly supporting the democratically elected Erdoğan government.

The rest of Turkey’s allies will likely follow suit.

International legitimacy is important in any coup situation and this coup doesn’t seem to have it.

Ryan Bohl Ryan Bohl July 16, 201612:12 AM

Seventeen police officers killed so far, according to the AP.

This social media drive is going to accelerate trends in Turkey much faster than in the past. If the coup has strong support, it will be clear rapidly. If not, that also will be apparent much faster than in the past.

There is increasing evidence this is not a popular coup.

Ryan Bohl Ryan Bohl July 16, 201612:24 AM

The Third Army Corp based in Istanbul has been ordered back to their barracks by their commander. He seems to be on Erdoğan’s side.

Sky News now confirms that a fighter jet has indeed shot down a helicopter.

Greece is holding emergency military meetings.

Ryan Bohl Ryan Bohl July 16, 201612:45 AM

Reports of explosions in Ankara, Istanbul.

This seems to be moving into a period of civil conflict. It’s unclear what the factions are, but the coup soldiers seem to be fighting the police at the very least and possibly other soldiers.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens July 16, 201612:45 AM

The state-run Anadolu Agency reports parliament was hit by bombs.

The commander of Turkey’s special forces has condemned the coup attempt, saying a faction of the military has committed “treason”.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens July 16, 201612:55 AM

Gülen’s supporters have denied involvement in the plot. The New York-based Alliance for Shared Values states, “We condemn any military intervention in domestic politics of Turkey.”

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens July 16, 20161:02 AM

The government claims it has full control of Ankara while the intelligence service claims the coup attempt has been repelled.

They may be getting ahead of themselves, but looking at live images of Turks defying soldiers in the streets of Istanbul it is hard to escape the impression that the momentum is turning against the plotters.

People are standing on a tank at Istanbul airport, which had been seized by the putsch forces. Elsewhere, tanks and other military vehicles are rolling into the city — unclear if they are part of the coup or not.

Greg R. Lawson Greg R. Lawson July 16, 20161:09 AM

If Erdoğan survives, as seems likely given the street protests and the fact that senior military officials claim to not support the coup, is he stronger or weaker?

It would seem any dissident factions will be neutered and he will be in firmer control than ever.

Ryan Bohl Ryan Bohl July 16, 20161:22 AM

Erdoğan is said to be landing in Istanbul, even as coup tanks remain on the tarmac.

Steve Keller Steve Keller July 16, 20161:37 AM

The coup attempt seems to be fizzling out as the military departs from most of its seized key points, for instance, Taksim Square. Turkey and the United States can only hope that the remaining elements stand down to avoid further bloodshed.

The offices of Hürriyet Daily News and CNN Türk, however, seem to be the target of an ongoing military takeover attempt.

Ryan Bohl Ryan Bohl July 16, 20161:52 AM

The fog of war make all of this very unclear; coup soldiers have now taken over CNN, but have abandoned state television. There are reports soldiers are opening fire at varying places and sometimes very tough to see Facebook feed of what appear to be civilians killed somewhere in the country. One had a large, gaping wound.

Ryan Bohl Ryan Bohl July 16, 20162:01 AM

It is becoming clear the coup soldiers will fight. The question now is how many of them there are and how long they are able and willing to continue.

Ryan Bohl Ryan Bohl July 16, 20162:08 AM

Erdoğan has arrived in Istanbul; pictures confirm it.

Steve Keller Steve Keller July 16, 20162:11 AM

Almost as amazing as how fast this major event in Turkish history took place is the role that social media played in it — not just for protesters, but for Erdoğan. Turkey’s president has staved off a coup partially because he managed to videochat with the public via smartphone.

Ryan Bohl Ryan Bohl July 16, 20162:33 AM

Erdoğan didn’t waste much time reminding us why he’s a divisive leader: he went straight to blaming his old enemy, Fethullah Gülen, who is in exile in the United States.

Ryan Bohl Ryan Bohl July 16, 20162:34 AM

The coup appears to be crumbling in Istanbul; the situation in Ankara remains unclear.

However, the fact that Erdoğan decided to move to Istanbul and not the capital is telling about where power truly lies in Turkey.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens July 16, 201610:39 AM

The coup attempt appears to have failed.

Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım is speaking in Ankara right now, flanked by members of the government and the head of the army, General Hulusi Akar.

Akar was apparently held hostage by rebels earlier in the day and freed by forces loyal to the government.

Turkish authorities say they have detained about 1,500 members of the armed forces who were involved in the coup. Yıldırım claims fewer than 3,000 soldiers were altogether involved, which seems like a terribly low number to attempt a takeover.

The prime minister praises opposition parties for uniformly condemning the coup and the media for reporting freely on events in the night from Friday to Saturday. Like Erdoğan, he blames Fethullah Gülen.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens July 16, 201611:35 AM

It’s unclear how many people have lost their lives in the coup attempt. Yıldırım mentioned 161 fatalities, but he may have been referring only to losses on the government’s side. The number may be twice as high when killed plotters are counted as well.

Some 1,400 people were injured. The number of arrests is approaching 2,900. One army helicopter landed in Greece and the eight soldiers on board requested asylum.

Erdoğan has vowed to purge the armed forces. “They will pay a heavy price for this,” he said. 29 colonels and five generals have already been fired.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens July 16, 201611:48 AM

The American Interest worries that Erdoğan and his allies will use the putsch to consolidate the strongman rule they clearly hunger for.

Purges of real or accused Gülenists from the military, journalism and civil service, crackdowns on any public criticism, constitutional “reform” that reduces freedom and shores up Erdoğan’s personal power: these goals will all now be easier to accomplish.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens July 16, 201612:14 PM

Prime Minister Yıldırım has said any country that stands with Gülen will be considered “at war” with Turkey.

That seems a careless thing to say when Gülen lives in the United States and it’s far from clear that the Americans would extradite him.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens July 16, 201612:18 PM

A group opposed to the Turkish government has seized a frigate at Gölcük Naval Base, east of Istanbul, and the head of the Turkish fleet is being held hostage, a senior Greek military source tells Reuters.

Looks like we’re not quite through this yet, although at this point it may be more likely that plotters are looking for ways to flee the country rather than make a last stand.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens July 17, 201612:06 AM

Arrests have now reached 3,000 and include the heads of the Second and Third Army, which protect Turkey’s southern border and Istanbul, respectively.

An equal number of judges and prosecutors have been removed from their posts. It’s hard to believe the government has concrete evidence of their involvement in the attempted coup at this early stage. Rather it seems every known Gülenist is being rounded up. Erdoğan wasn’t kidding when he called the putsch “a gift from God” last night. It’s the opportunity he’s been waiting for to defang the remnants of Turkey’s secularist establishment.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens July 17, 201612:08 AM

Reuters has a great rundown of how the coup went down. “It was a strangely twentieth century coup,” the news agency writes, “defeated by twenty-first century technology and people power.”

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens July 17, 201611:55 AM

Mark Galeotti (who I work with at the Wikistrat consultancy) argues for bne IntelliNews that the coup failed on pretty much every count.

It was brutal without being — for the sad truth is that gratuitously applied violence tends to bring results — brutal enough. It failed to neutralize President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan at the start and to control his access to communications. It offered no plausible cause or narrative.

The result, Galeotti writes, will be a stronger Erdoğan presidency. And therein lies the tragedy of the coup attempt: “it pitted an anti-democratic bid to seize power against a ruler eager to use democracy to create an authoritarian regime.” Turks have every reason to celebrate the military’s failure, but for the West there was no good outcome. “Erdoğanist Turkey” will be an even bigger headache for the European Union as well as NATO.

On that note, we conclude our live coverage of the events in Turkey. Thank you for reading the Atlantic Sentinel. We hope to see you back here soon!

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