Analysis - Political Transformations

Thwarted Coup

Four Reasons Behind the Failed Attempt and its Aftermath

Saturday، July 16، 2016
Thwarted Coup

Turkey's government and opposition alike have demonstrated prominent solidarity against the attempted military coup d'etat staged by a group of second-in-command officers in the military hierarchy. The coup is reminiscent of a series of coups witnessed by Turkey in the second half of the 20th century. General Cemal Gürsel staged the first coup in 1960 leading to the execution of the then-prime Minister Adnan Menderes. Eleven years later, in 1971, a second coup was led by a group of army officers against the then-prime minister Süleyman Demirel. General Kenan Evren led a third and successful attempt in 1980 against former President Fahri Korutürk, followed by the so-called 1997 post-mortem or "white coup" against the then-prime minister Necmettin Erbakan.

The same governing rule was always present throughout all those coups: the military protects the constitution, and the constitution protects the military. That is, the previous laws included certain clauses that authorize the army to interfere in the political life of the state if and when they recognize a threat to the secular principles that founded the Republic of Turkey. The very same clauses protect the military from being prosecuted afterward.

Accordingly, the army, which is one of Turkey's oldest and most prestigious national institutions, was not hindered to make a move at a time it deems appropriate. However, when it rose to power in 2002, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) changed the rule to enable the then-Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to use the constitution against the military where, during his years at the helm of the cabinet, he introduced a series of reforms, which eventually led to the military establishment being restructured and removed from Turkey's political life.

Reasons behind the Attempted Coup in Turkey

1- In recent years, the Turkish army, which historically was tasked with defending secularism and the democratic foundations of the Turkish state, found itself unable to carry out this work. Erdogan removed the military from public life, changed the structure of the National Security Council after it was dominated by the army, and had the authority to issue binding decisions for the government. The council’s decisions became non-binding during Recep Tayyip Erdogan 's tenure, whereby the prime minister heads the body itself and not by the Chief of Staff, as was the case. Accordingly, some officers in the military were waiting for a chance to move against Erdoğan.

2- The recent measures taken by Erdogan after the escalation of the war with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), include, in particular, the declaration of a state of emergency in most of the country's southern and eastern regions, delegating full power to commanders of the military zones in these areas, and exempting military personnel operating in these regions from standing trials. All these measures contributed, though indirectly, towards the return of military commanders to exercise their full powers and make decisions without having to wait for authorization from the government. Erdogan wants to establish total military rule in the Kurdish areas in exchange for absolute political authority for himself across Turkey. But later, he perceived that the measures prompted the military to restore the "Yes sir" formula of governance, that is in case the attempted coup succeeds; meaning politicians' absolute subordination to the military.

3- It is not a secret for observers of Turkish affairs that the army is not satisfied with a lot of Erdogan's foreign policies and stances. That is because, mostly, the military blames Erdogan for Turkey's involvement in the Syrian crisis, and its repercussions on the Turkish internal situation. The same goes for tensions with Israel over the past years and the new strained relations with Russia, Europe, and the United States, although there are different reasons for each respective situation. Further, the putschists appeared to have placed their bets on the aforementioned disagreements, and even interpreted the scenario in the US and British press over the possibility of a coup d'etat in Turkey, and that nobody will shed tears for Erdogan if a coup takes place, as a green light for them to attempt the coup.

Why Turkey's Coup Failed? 

In fact, there were many reasons why the recent failed military coup in Turkey took place. However, there are more reasons as to why the attempted coup failed, the most important of which are as follows:

1- Wide divisions in Turkey's military establishment between Erdogan's supporters and the perpetrators of the coup. This unfolded in the July 16th early morning coup attempt where those who led the coup were second-in-command officers in the military hierarchy in the land and air forces, while those who rejected the coup were mostly from the forces under the Command of the General Staff of the Republic of Turkey, the interior security and police forces.

2- Military reforms introduced by President Erdogan over the recent years were among the reasons why the coup has failed. That is, through these reforms, Mr. Erdogan managed to remove the military from the centers of Turkish cities and delegate the responsibility for guarding the security in the cities to the police forces after subordinating these forces to the ministry of interior. Previously, these forces were subordinate to the ministry of defense or the Command of the General Staff of the Republic.

3- The leaders of the attempted coup did not have a certain political agenda and also lacked popular support. That is why when the coup attempt took place, no political forces or parties went down to the streets to declare their support for the coup. Even the coup perpetrators themselves did not disclose a political program even after hours into the coup attempt, unlike President Erdogan, who took advantage of this point to call the Turkish people to take to the streets to defend democracy. This move made the coup perpetrators look like a bunch of adventure seekers without any political cover or popular support, and were soon surrounded on the Bosphorus Bridge in Istanbul.

4- Turkey's opposition parties were quick to stand with the ruling AKP government's move against the coup attempt and declared rejection of the attempt. This contributed to the unified international rejection of the attempt, which led Russia, the US, and Europe to shift their reserved positions quickly to a total rejection of the coup and support for the existing Turkish government. These positions were based on an interest in preserving democracy and preventing Turkey from slipping to a situation of marred chaos, division, and blood, especially because Turkey is a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and a state that is important for all international parties.

Challenges in post-coup Turkey

Some have voiced fears over the situation after the failure of the coup, particularly since President Erdogan vowed harsh punishment for the putschists, and even renewed his call to purge the members of Fethullah Gulen's movement which he accused of being the mastermind of the failed coup. Although it is hard to be convinced that the ailing 80-year old cleric, who has been in self-imposed exile in the United States for two decades, can plot such a coup and move armies in the middle of the night. It is equally hard for one to be convinced that Washington has backed Gulen to plot the coup because if the United States wanted to back the recent coup, it would have found a several number of ways to achieve this, not through Gulen, and perhaps the coup’s fate would have been different.

Rushing to blame Gulen for the coup can be explained by the "war of exclusion" that Erdogan waged several years ago against Gulen's followers. However, what is even more dangerous than this is that Erdogan is doing now what the military used to do in the aftermath of previous military coups, that is similar exclusionary actions against political life.

What supports this argument are the powerful calls to reinstate capital punishment to eliminate thousands of military and security officers and civilians, in particular, those supporting Gulen, on charges of treason. Erdogan further took advantage of the failed coup attempt to launch the widest arrest campaign so far to round up military and civilian people on charges of collaboration with the coup perpetrators. The developments would also give Erdogan full power to restructure the military and security establishments again to make them serve his aspiration of an absolute presidential ruling system that would have conclusive executive powers. This applies in particular because the consultative military council will hold its annual meeting next month. This meeting used to witness significant changes in the army's command and new decisions on the missions and mechanisms of relations between the military and security establishments.

On a final note, the recent coup attempt may force President Erdogan to reduce his foreign interventions, in the Syrian crisis in particular, and shift his attention to domestic affairs to get Turkey's own house in order, especially because, after all, these events, misgivings about the coup attempt will haunt him hereafter.

Keywords: Turkeymiddle eastCoupErdoganGulen MovementAKP