The dramatic events in Turkey overnight are confusing, to say the least. All international outlets report that part of the Turkish military attempted to carry out a coup and oust President Erdogan from power.
We are also told the coup appears to have failed, that Erdogan is safely resuming his presidency and that all the conspirators are to be punished – there is talk of the death penalty returning for the case of these plotters.
If you’re confused as to precisely what has transpired last night in Turkey, don’t worry – everyone appears to be equally confused.
A statement claiming to represent the Turkish armed forces claimed to have seized control of the government. In Ankara, army tanks were rolling through city streets, planes flying overhead, and military vehicles quickly surrounded army HQ. In what was almost a civil war like scenario, the intelligence agencies and police forces were authorised by the Prime Minister to fight members of the Turkish military. A rocket was fired into the parliament building. There were gunfights in Istanbul.
There were scenes of the army supposedly taking over the state broadcasters, including the CNN affiliate. The death toll is reported to have been high. Almost 3,000 alleged members of the coup operation are reported to have been arrested, some killed.
Erdogan called on Turkish citizens to go out on the streets and oppose the military takeover, leading to extraordinary scenes of scores of civilians marching, blocking the roads, laying in front of tanks, and even attacking the soldiers (as shown in image below). Last night appears to have confirmed that Erdogan – for all this dictator-like actions and his subversion of Turkish democracy and the principles the modern state was founded on – appears to genuinely have a great deal of popular support.
What unfolded last night appears to have been very dramatic and very unsettling. But there are conflicting views as to what is going on. And too much is still not known. We don’t know who the leaders in this coup attempt were. We don’t know how much of the military was involved or how much of the military stands in solidarity with it even now.
The first thing to acknowledge is that a military coup is part of Turkey’s historical mindset when a government is seen to be failing the people or abusing its power.
There have been such coups before and many would argue one has certainly been on the cards for some time now. The idea of the Turkish military moving in to restore order or democracy is in fact closely linked to the constitution itself.
What’s problematic in this narrative, however, is that the coup leaders – again, whoever they are – are reported to have said they would write a brand new constitution for Turkey once they had successfully ousted Erdogan and his militant Islamist mafia. That’s a little strange – why suggest a new constitution? Why not simply state a protection or restoration of the existing constitution? Or maybe it was misreported. Or maybe it was just a confused statement amid a chaotic situation.
The Constitution of the Republic of Turkey (also known as the Constitution of 1982), is modern Turkey’s fundamental foundation stone, laying out the rules for the state’s conduct and its responsibilities to its citizens, as well as clearly establishing the rights of the people and also clearly asserting that Turkey is a secular, democratic republic answerable to the people.
In fact, defending Turkey as a secular republic – particularly against militant political Islamism or any attempts to turn the country into a religious state – is regarded to be the job of the Turkish military.
Apart from possibly Lebanon, it is difficult to think of any ‘Muslim’ society as progressive, modernist and liberal as Turkey has traditionally been, particularly as it is also a democracy. This makes Turkey a relatively unique society in the world and a positive example of how moderate Sunni Islam and modern democratic and secular government and principles can work effectively in tandem and for the good of a society.
At a time when Muslim countries elsewhere are either harsh dictatorships, nations in a state of collapse or war, or aspiring-but-failing quasi-democracies, a Turkey true to its principles would stand as something of a shining beacon of both secular democracy and the modern-day capacity for a Muslim society to exist effectively and happily in that state of secular democracy.
Also given its unique position as the literal bridge between Europe and the Middle East, such a Turkey would, in these highly toxic, unstable and increasingly sectarian times, be all the more important and valuable a society and nation with a great capacity to play peacemaker and bridge-builder.
Instead Turkey is now governed by an increasingly undemocratic, overly religious and aggressive state that is seeing the society polarise and destabilise, while also engaging in illegal operations abroad and – as a NATO member – facilitating terrorism against its neighbour, Syria.
The reality is that Turkey, which for decades has sought to be a secular democracy that keeps religion at a safe distance from the affairs of government, is now being run by an increasingly dictatorial leadership that is surrounded by equally religious, Islamist conservatives who most likely regard the country’s secular constitution a nuisance. Control of the media and virtually all state institutions also means that the real dangers of this state of affairs are seldom discussed openly.
President Erdogan is a dictator in all but name. His regime has been using false-flag terrorism against its own citizens, shutting down media organisations, censoring (and even killing) journalists, carrying out purges of academics and political opposition, attacking and oppressing liberals and progressives, violating the principles of the Turkish constitution (and even seeking to change it), completely reorganising state institutions, as well as engaging in illegal hostile actions against Syria. The present Turkish state also stands accused of supporting and collaborating with the ISIS terror group.
If, for the moment, we assume all things are as they seem and take this story at face value, the Turkish military would have every business stepping in to remove a corrupt government, stabilise the country and restore the secular democracy to its proper form.
A lot of people are saying ‘well, a coup is not the way – if you want to change the government, you do it in elections’.
That, however, is naive in this sort of situation: how do you remove a regime that has taken almost total control of all state institutions, including the courts and the law, and that has frequently used violence against protesters and political opposition? It’s precisely the Emperor Palpatine scenario. And elections can be rigged – last year’s elections in Turkey are highly questioned, particularly as there was an election in June which was nullified after Erdogan’s AKP Party didn’t get the result it wanted.
It seems logical therefore that a military coup could be the only way to restore Turkish society and prevent this going any further. And in Turkey, the military is regarded as the guardian of the constitution and the principles of the secular republic: again, in essence, the military is expected to step in when a government is seen to be threatening that constitution or going off-rail.
At first glance, this is what appeared to be happening last night. And many would say ‘not a moment too soon’.
Turkish army officers and others have been accused of plotting against the present state on several recent occasions. Most recently, in September 2012, 324 soldiers were sentenced to terms of imprisonment ranging from 13 to 20 years, allegedly for plotting to overthrow the current leadership. Highly placed officers – including former chief commanders in the air-force and the navy have been sentenced to 20 years‘ in prison. One can imagine that these current coup plotters will receive very harsh treatment for their operation.
But, as much as I would love to see Erdogan gone and the old Turkey restored, it isn’t that simple: and we should always be cautious when observing situations like this one.
The first problem is the question of who exactly was behind this coup attempt? Who was in charge of the military figures? And again, how much of the military did they represent?
A statement from the military group read out on NTV television said: “The power in the country has been seized in its entirety.” But the question of who represents that group was acknowledged by all international media to be ‘uncertain’. And obviously – given how things turned out later – this was a false statement anyway.
And what if there is far more to this event than meets the eye? There are two other possibilities.
As Wily Loman has pointed out, Peter Korzun of the Strategic Culture Foundation posted an article in which he called for the Turkish military to stage a coup and take control from Erdogan’s regime. Neo-Con (and pal of the likes of Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld) and former Pentagon official Michael Rubin has also been talking about an imminent military coup in Turkey; the same Rubin who part of the royal fuck-up in post-war Iraq and was also a staunch advocate for the Neo-Nazi coup in Ukraine in 2014.
Erdogan, I am reminded by reliable sources, has refused to take out another IMF loan once Turkey had paid off its previous one. And in his opposition to Kurdish autonomy or a ‘Greater Kurdistan’ state, he is opposed to the partition of Syria, Turkey and Iraq – something Washington think-tanks and Zionist strategists are very keen on.
Could this coup attempt be foreign-sponsored? Could this be Washington secretly trying to remove Erdogan?
If so, they would deny it; but it has been apparent more and more that Washington and NATO has been falling out of love with Erdogan and his regime, despite the role Erdogan’s Turkish State has played in NATO’s destruction of Syria. With a divided, volatile population and an increasingly dictatorial government, could it have been decided that it was better to remove Erdogan, who might now be seen as a liability? This is the theory Loman is adopting on his blog. I’m not sure I agree with it; but there is logic to this thought.
Remember that Washington and NATO have a history of disposing of their ‘friends’ when the time is right.
Just think back to Saddam. Saddam was an ally of Washington against Iran and the Ayatollah and was armed and propped up by the Americans for many years… until the Neo-Cons decided to destroy him and his Iraqi state completely. History is riddled with this kind of shit. Even Gaddafi – though not an ‘ally’ of Washington or NATO per se – was attacked and destroyed by NATO at a point where his regime had been cooperating with Washington and the West in the fight against terrorism and Al-Qaeda.
In short, if it’s part of the plan or the perceived ‘common interest’, Washington wouldn’t see any problem in moving against its own ally.
There is no proof of that as yet. But it is a possibility. And one wonders what Erdogan’s regime would do if it discovered this to have been a foreign-backed coup. Wily Loman wrote last night, as the coup was still unfolding; ‘What’s at stake here is nothing short of earth-shattering. Turkey is a major power in NATO. If this coup fails and it turns out via interrogation and torture that the US backed this coup attempt, Obama’s destabilization efforts in Syria would be over. And we have nukes in Turkey right now not to mention a number of soldiers, pilots and advisors scattered all over the place. Erdogan says it was the Gulenists who are behind the coup and since we are behind Gulen, it could get real messy real quick.’
I’m not sure I agree with Wily Loman’s overall take on what’s going in Turkey, but he is absolutely right to raise that question regarding Washington and foreign sponsorship. Washington’s list of secretly-backed coups is very long: and Erdogan’s regime might be seen as a liability to NATO. As much as I loathe Erdogan and what his regime has done to Turkey, what those in Turkey who do support him love about him the most is that he is seen as a Turkish ‘strongman’ in the mold of a Putin or a Saddam – and as a leader who won’t be bossed around or manipulated by foreign interests or manipulations; not from Washington, nor the EU.
The explanation being forwarded by Erdogan in Turkey is that this coup attempt was orchestrated by his chief political opponent.
Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag reportedly blamed the coup on Fethullah Gülen, a Turkish preacher currently residing in the US. A former ally of President Erdogan’s AKP party, Gülen fell out of favor in 2013. But Erdogan’s people WOULD say that. Him saying it doesn’t prove anything.
That said, a situation where someone like this was remotely supporting the operation is the way the US would do it if it wanted to: in 2011, Libyan defector Khalifa Haftar – who had been living in Virginia, right next to CIA Headquarters – was used by Washington to promote and guide the armed uprising against Gaddafi happening two continents away. And once Gaddafi’s army was beginning to buckle under the assaults from both NATO and Al-Qaeda, Haftar was transported into Libya by the US to lead the uprising.
The third theory being propagated is that Erdogan and his people staged this ‘coup’ themselves as a false-flag.
It does seem odd that it was over so quickly; and that a military coup that was claiming to be in control of the country would allow Erdogan to waltz back in in a matter of mere hours. They were reported to have had tanks outside Istanbul’s Ataturk International Airport, and yet the Sultan-President was able to return to Istanbul and the ‘coup’ was over – again, in just a matter of hours.
There are good reasons for Erdogan’s people doing this.
If there were genuine fears for a long time that a coup from the military was coming – which, after all, is what the military in Turkey is supposed to do as the guardians of the state and the constitution – then *staging* a false coup would weed out many of the potential ‘traitors’ in the military who might’ve thought the coup was real and acted accordingly.
Even failing that, this event gives Erdogan’s people the basis to begin a thorough purge of the military and make sure no coup can happen again.
It also strengthens his position propaganda-wise as well, as he is seen to emerge as the great ‘strongman’ who couldn’t be overthrown – thus validating his position and deflating any hopes among his opponents, as well as the more liberal and democratic sections of Turkish society, of removing him or changing the direction of Turkish society.
A Turkish economist and international development expert notes, ‘The coup attempt is very puzzling. For one thing, it seems to have been very poorly planned. For example, most TV channels were left operating and there does not seem to have been an attempt to take Erdogan in.’
In short, some are predicting this ‘failed coup’ is in fact paving the way for a full dictatorship and lockdown under Erdogan and his regime. Basically, having already taken full control of every other Turkish institution – the judiciary, the police force, the media, academics – this was the Erdogan regime’s move to eliminate the final, and most important, institution in Turkey: the military.
Also, it is difficult to know where the infamous Turkish ‘Deep State’ stands in all of this: one would assume it’s with Erdogan and the state, which may now be on the brink of Absolute Power, but we can’t be sure.
All of this being said, I have no idea which theory is correct or what really happened overnight.
I am in fact mostly leaning, for now, towards a prima facie reading of the situation: that this was simply an attempted coup by a section of the military to end Erdogan’s increasingly dictatorial reign and try to restore law, order and human rights to the chaotic country.
Aside from the fact that military coups for removing corrupt governments are an established thing in modern Turkey, the main reason I currently believe this to have been the case is because the coup plotters were reported on multiple occasions last night to have stated they were doing this “to reinstate constitutional order, human rights and freedom.”
That would be a very odd thing to have them say if it was Erdogan secretly behind it – as it would imply, logically, that Erdogan’s own regime is NOT constitutional and doesn’t respect human rights or freedom (which is actually the truth – but it’s not a truth Erdogan would want to put in people’s minds).
Either way, while I have no idea what really just happened last night in Turkey, this coup attempt – genuine, staged or foreign-backed – is just about the worst thing that could’ve happened in Turkey now that it has failed. Because it gives Erdogan and the AKP more propaganda power; and moreover, the momentum and justification to conduct a final, comprehensive purge of the military to make sure there can never be another coup attempt.
That could essentially ensure the changes Erdogan’s regime has made to the Turkish state, society and constitution are long-lasting.
Yet, just to add to how confused I still am watching all of this, it does appear that the Erdogan regime does have a lot of popular support. And a coup (foreign-backed or purely domestic) becomes ethically tricky when the government has so much support from the people.
This may not be over yet.
However much the military is now purged and brought into line, there may still be enough sharp division forming in the military – just as in society – to propel Turkey closer to the Civil War scenario that many have been fearing for some time already.
As for what really happened yesterday in Turkey, more information will emerge in coming days: however, you may have to decide for yourself what you think this was – because information coming from the current Turkish state itself certainly can’t be trusted.
Also, it has to be said, watching these unsettling reports and images from Turkey, as tanks and soldiers took to the streets and tried to impose Martial Law, one can’t help but wonder if this is a glimpse of things to come in the West, given the mounting unrest and the fears of a collapsing EU.