By: Christopher Kozak, Melissa Pavlik, Jennifer Cafarella, and the ISW research team
A cadre within the Turkish Armed Forces mounted a failed coup attempt against Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) on 15 - 16 JUL.
- Shortly before midnight on July 15, units in the Turkish Land Forces and Turkish Gendarmerie seized key positions in Istanbul and Ankara, including Ataturk International Airport,the Turkish General Staff headquarters, and major bridges across the Bosphorus Strait.
- Elements of the Turkish Air Force conducted airstrikes against key government buildings including the National Intelligence Organization (MIT) headquarters, the Presidential Palace, and the Grand National Assembly.
- A statement broadcasted by the coup plotters on national television announced the formation of a “committee of national peace” to run the country and prevent the erosion of democratic and secular values.
- At about 12:30 AM local time on July 16, President Erdogan issued a live statement via FaceTime, calling for “people to gather in squares, airports.” Mosques and political party offices also repeated the call to action.
- By about 8:00 AM local time on the morning of July 16, at least 2,839 military personnel had been detained, including four generals and twenty-nine colonels, according to Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim.
- Prime Minister Yildirim noted on July 16 that clashes killed at least 265 individuals and wounded at least 1,440 others as anti-Coup demonstrators and military personal reasserted control.
The coup-plotter did not receive broad-based support within military ranks, political elite, or from foreign countries. They likely intended to spark popular support for removing Erdogan, but failed.
- Most coup plotters were low-to-mid-ranking officers led by Col. Muharrem Kose, the former head of the legal advisory department in the Turkish Armed Forces, and Gen. Akin Ozturk, former commander of the Turkish Air Force.
- The coup lacked unanimous support among high-ranking officers. Plotters were forced to detain Turkish Chief of the General Staff Gen. Hulusi Akar and other senior officials early in the coup when they refused to cooperate. Other high ranking officers, including Turkish First Army Commander Gen. Umit Dundar and General Zekai Aksakalli, the commander of the military special forces, condemned the coup publically as events unfolded.
- The three main opposition parties – the Republican People’s Party (CHP), the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), and the People’s Democratic Party (HDP) – all publically renounced the coup.
- U.S. President Barack Obama and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry called upon all parties to respect the “democratically-elected” government roughly two hours after the coup broke out. Other countries quickly followed suit.
Context and Implications
Erdogan has been setting conditions against a military coup since the late 1990’s,slowly purging the military. The failed coup demonstrated the success of these efforts.
- The inability of the junior officers in charge of the coup to broaden their support base indicates that Erdogan has the personal loyalty of most of the senior officer corps.
- Erdogan will take this opportunity to further establish his cult of personality in the military by purging the military at lower levels. Erdogan stated: “This uprising is a gift from God to us because this will be a reason to cleanse our army.”
The size and the scale of popular mobilization against the coup indicates that Erdogan’s domestic base is broad and powerful.
- Erdogan effectively used mosques and religious leaders, in addition to traditional party offices, to draw the masses to the street promptly.
- Thousands of civilians poured into the streets in Istanbul, Ankara, and other cities to protest the coup after Erdogan called for mass unrest. Protestors overwhelmed the Turkish military forces and seized the Ataturk International Airport, forcing the occupying soldiers to surrender. Similar events occurred on smaller levels across Istanbul and Ankara.
- Erdogan has now demonstrated the extent of his domestic support and holds a mandate to purge the military, judiciary, and other bodies under the guise of post-coup reforms without significant public backlash.
Erdogan’s victory on July 15 will allow him to finish consolidating power by eliminating rivals such as members of the Gulen movement.
- President Erdogan blamed the coup attempt on a “parallel state” linked to former political ally Fethullah Gulen, a former cleric who lives in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania, and his support base known as ‘the Gulen movement.’ Gulen has denied the charges. Gulen fled to the U.S. in 1999, and in 2014 the Turkish government issued a warrant for his arrest. This occurred after a fallout with Erdogan over Gulen's allegations of corruption against officials close to Erdogan.
- Ergodan is using the allegation of Gulen’s involvement in the coup attempt to justify a sweeping crackdown against the judiciary in addition to the Turkish Armed Forces. The Turkish government dismissed up to 2,745 judges on July 16 due to suspected links to the Gulen Movement. Arrest warrants have also been issued for at least 188 members of the judiciary. This purge follows efforts by the AKP to consolidate control over the court system.
- Erdogan has demanded Gulen’s extradition from the U.S.
Conditions are now set for Erdogan to achieve his goal of transitioning Turkey to an authoritarian regime.
- He will likely use this moment to press for his long-term objective of a constitutional transition from a parliamentary system to an executive presidency under his rule.
- This effort may include a call for new elections that solidify the parliamentary majority currently held by the AKP, allowing it to cross the three-fifths threshold required for unilateral constitutional amendments.
- Erdogan has slowly consolidated control in Turkey through cracking down on media organizations, setting limits on freedom of speech, and broadening anti-terrorism laws. These efforts will likely only increase in the wake of the coup attempt.
- Over the long-term, Turkey will likely trend towards increasing religious radicalization under the authoritarian regime of President Erdogan – raising tough questions for the U.S. and NATO.