On the 15th of July, Turkey witnessed an unexpected attempted coup which seemed to have been coordinated by more than one clique within the country’s own army. The coup itself has been said to have been organised by an estimated several senior military officers, including generals, admirals and lieutenant colonels alongside the support from mainly many of the lowly enlisted officers. What is surprising about the coup is that it was believed that the AKP had successfully eliminated its most severe opponent officers within the army and alternatively were in cooperation with the main body of the army. Such cooperation was seen not only between the AKP and the army (or at least the main command echelon) but also those that held strict secular and Kemalist political ideals such as the Dogu Perincek group-also known as Ergenekon group. However, the coup has confirmed these perceived cooperations were not what they seemed to be. Because, despite the command echelon of the army and Ergenekon group’s support to the government and challenge to the coup, a significant body of the military were involved into this failed coup. This also revealed that there is a severe split within the army.
Nonetheless, that is not the only reason for considering this coup as unusual. Another reason why the coup was unexpected was because the majority of people assumed that the Turkish military would have taken away significant lessons from the past military coups which strongly damaged the army’s reputation. This factor alongside the fact that Turkey has become a significant member of NATO only further distanced the idea of a possibility of a military coup today. In addition to this, Turkey’s on-going battle with the PKK, as well as the Syrian and Iraqi wars and the re-design of the Middle East through the proxy wars, are also certain factors which led many to believe that no one would dare, or even take the risk of carrying out a military coup. As a result of all these conditions, it was logical to assume that a coup in Turkey was an unlikely event. Therefore, Junta’s attempt shocked many both at home and internationally.
However more than the attempted coup, the methods used by Junta were what shocked so many. Such methods and tactics included the bombing of the Turkish assembly and Special Operations Command in Ankara, opening fire on civilians, kidnapping and arresting the chief of general staff Hulusi Akar as well as chief of air staff and naval forces, and the bombing of Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s hotel in Marmaris. Such ruthless methods were unusual in comparison to the previous military coup d’états that were not carried out in the same manner. These points naturally lead to further questions on Junta’s motives.
Authorities did not point at all forces that could back the coup d’etat
It has become apparent that the government has shifted the blame onto the Gulen movement while the military deliberately, or at least is in no rush, to place all responsibility on the Gulen movement. Furthermore, a considerable number of citizens also feel that the Gulen movement affiliated officers coordinated this coup. Such beliefs are justified when considering the severe fighting between the Gulen Movement and AKP, hence to some extent, it seems applicable to hold the Gulen movement to account. However, holding the Gulen movement accountable and as the only mastermind behind the coup therefore, ignoring other cliques is rather dangerous and is an overly simplistic explanation for such a complex and violent coup. Such a simplified overall approach that does not touch details, can lead to covering of the competition within the different groups, corruption within the army and also hide the local and regional political motivation behind the coup.
So, considering the daring attempt, the degree of violence, and most importantly the coup’s failure to take precautions against the governments tough and extreme reactions which , included the declaring of state of emergency for three months, arrestment of thousands of senior officers within the army and police forces, judiciary, people from other state institutions and dismissal of thousands from various state organisations, it seems that it is not only an overnight coup attempt. The government most probably begun to realize that there are several cliques behind the coup and such an attempt can happen again. Therefore, condemning only the Gulen movement will prevent to see the bigger picture behind the failed coup attempt. Nevertheless, that does not mean that to trivialize (make insignificant) or simplify Gulen movement’s contribution to the coup.
The defeat of the coup: path to dictatorship or democracy?
The prevention of Junta’s coup attempt is certainly a noteworthy development and a step in the right direction for democracy since people chose to side with the government. However, there are high concerns whether the country will now take the necessary steps to keep on the path of democracy. Since 2010 AKP’s practice has given less hope to many people for believing that the party will increase the countries democratic values. This belief has been further confirmed following the party’s response to the June 1st, 2015, elections which resulted in the AKP’s defeat which later turned the country into chaos and bloodshed. Pragmatically, the party seized the opportunity to move itself to the power during the chaos as evident by the election on the 1st November. AKP has consistently ignored many of the democratic values. It is the same party that asked the public to demonstrate in the streets during the attempted coup, but this is not a sufficient indicator to believe this is a historical moment for democratic development.
Reasons to believe that democratic values will not develop is evident by the fact that some of the party’s’ supporters’ engaged in violent attacks against innocent soldiers many who just listened and performed the orders given to them as part of the chain of command. Such violence including beating, insulting, and the beheading of innocent people, as well as chanting religious slogans on the streets, and calling for sharia, has further increased doubts amongst the many to believe that AKP will transfer the stance against the coup into a democratic process.
In order for the AKP to rectify its reputation it needs to do more on the ground, for example, it could start by releasing prisoned journalists and politicians, end the war in the Kurdish region and all Human Rights violations.
The failed coup attempt will force Ankara to review its foreign policy in the region
The AKP has begun to restore the relations with the Israel, Egypt, Russia and even Syria before the coup. The government named this process as increasing of the friends and decreasing of the enemies. Based on this paradigm the AKP has already taken some steps in improving the relations with the Israel and Russia. This will further intensify in coming days. In deterioration of the relations with the Russia, the government started to put all blame on the arrested military officers and the Gulen movement. For instance, Berat Albayrak, Minister of Energy and Natural Resources, stated that they may launch a new investigation about shutting down of the Russian fighting jet. As part of the coup investigation, two of the military officers who shout down the Russian warplane already arrested. To avoid further isolation in the Middle East the AKP will do whatever they can to improve relations with the Russia.
Why Turkish Kurds do not support any party?
The Turkish states since its formation, in 1923, deems Turkish nationalism that denies the non-Turkish ethnicities existence, as one of the foundation principles of the state. Both the secular and conservatives parties have always applied to the nationalism in the determination of Turkey’s internal politics. Including the Turkish military and Gulen Movement, almost all of the state institutions has become part of the state’s assimilative policies against the Kurds. At this point, AKP too is a nationalist party and as its practice clearly shows they ignores granting of the Kurds ethno-national rights. So there is no difference between the AKP, Gulen Movement and the Turkish military concerning to the Kurdish issue. These groups compete over the power with one another, however, shares almost the same political stance regarding the Kurdish question.
Most of the military officers they were arrested, as part of the current coup investigation, were in an active and influential position within the army in the Kurdish region. Many of these officers launched the operations in the Kurdish areas over the last few months, which resulted in total destroy of the many Kurdish places including killings of the hundreds of the civilians and migration of the more the 500 thousands people. During these operations, AKP was in a quite close cooperation with the army.
The Kurds therefore neither wants the coup-minded military nor the AKP. They well know that both of these powers shares the same nationalistic views concerning the Kurdish issue.
Thus, although the Kurds strongly challenges the coup, they are not so happy with AKP government.
Dr Deniz Cifci
Dr Deniz Cifci is a Middle East Analyst and Researcher specialising in ethnic and religious movements in the Middle East, in general, Turkey and the Kurds in particular-with a focus on ISIS, Hashd Al-Shaabi, the Kurds and Kurdish Issues and Turkish Foreign Policy. He worked as a researcher and analyst at many institutions both in Turkey and in the UK. He presents at international, regional, and national conferences. Many of his articles have been published in several newspapers, blogs and political magazines. He has also been invited to several talks on the Kurds, Turkey and ISIS as an expert. He appears on TV channels including BBC, France 24, Islam Channel, Al Mayadeen, TRT Turk, TRT Haber, Rudaw, Kurdsat, K24, Radio Monocle, and The Voice of America and has been interviewed by several newspapers and institutions. He is currently working on his two books titled ‘The Kurds and the Politics of Turkey: Agency, Territory and Religion’, and ‘ISIS and the Kurds: The Roots of Conflict in Syria and Iraq’ for the I.B. Tauris Publishing.