On July 15th a coup was attempted in Turkey, and seemed for a few hours to be on the verge of success; at one point its leaders proclaimed martial law, claimed control by way of TV, imposed a curfew, and indicated that a Council of Peace would henceforth be the governing body of the country.
These bloody events resulted in 265 people being killed, 1,536 wounded, the Parliament bombed, and F-16s flying in menacingly low altitude patterns over the cities of Ankara and Istanbul in an apparent show of force.
The dominant Turkish political figure, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, was targeted for assassination or capture while vacationing at the Turkish seaside city of Mamoris. Had he not been warned about the dangers he faced, he would not have escaped minutes before 28 soldiers arrived at his hotel. Quickly the tide of battle turned, with ‘the people’ urged to support the government by showing their support, and the coup leadership either seeking sanctuary inside and outside the country or surrendering.
As is widely known, Turkey has been deeply polarized ever since the Justice and Development Party (AKP) led by President Erdogan came to power in 2002. Half the country believes he is a great leader, the best since the founding of the republic by Kemal Ataturk after World War I. The other half is intensely hostile, fearing that Erdogan is taking the country in an Islamic direction and following a course that is increasingly authoritarian. Despite this, and with memories of past coups (1960, 1971, 1980, 1997), the political forces in the country were surprisingly united in opposing any military takeover of the governing process. Turkish political culture had changed to the extent that despite intense opposition to the AKP and Erdogan, all the major political parties joined with the AKP in a formal declaration denouncing the coup attempt and proclaiming loyalty to democratic constitutionalism, including the rule of law.
At this point, the Turkish government is preoccupied with holding those involved in the coup accountable for what are alleged to be crimes of high treason. Fingers have been pointed persuasively at the secretive religious and educational movement headed by Fetullah Gulen, a Muslim cleric living in the United States. There is rather broad agreement that this movement is responsible for the coup through its penetration of the armed forces, judiciary, and police, creating a vast network designed for subversion, a virtual state within the state. The situation is obscure and complex. In the background was Gulen’s seeming support for the AKP until a sharp break occurred in 2013. At present, the Turkish government is insisting on the extradition of Fetullah Gulen for prosecution and trial, while the US Government says that it will examine the evidence linking him to the crimes associated with the coup.
In the now unfolding ‘crisis of the aftermath’ there are some hopes and growing concerns. The main hope arises from the defeat of the coup by popular mobilization and the impressive show of political unity rejecting military intrusions in the democratic process. Beyond this are strong signs that the leadership wants to restore confidence in the economy, which surely depends on the pursuit of a moderate political course. Present concerns arise because of intense populist demands for the restoring of the death penalty and the sweeping dismissals and mass detentions affecting many thousands of persons in the civil service, the military, the judiciary, and educational institutions. The declaration of a state of emergency on July 20th, giving the government expansive authority for a period of at least three months, is also worrisome despite assurances from the leadership that daily life will not be affected.
At this point, with so many uncertainties present, the best counsel for those outside of Turkey is to wait and watch with attentive patience, and hope that the spirit of unity will prevail, vengeful responses will be avoided, and national energies will be directed toward accommodation with Kurdish aspirations and an effective reckoning with threats posed by ISIS.