Oliver Tempest | Military coup rocks Turkey, takes Erdogan's government by surprise

Military coup rocks Turkey, takes Erdogan’s government by surprise

July 15, 2016 6:27 PM (UTC+8)

 

ISTANBUL–An apparent attempted coup by elements in the Turkish Armed Forces rocked Turkey unexpectedly late on Friday evening, affecting the country’s two main cities, Ankara and Istanbul.

Streets were closed as were the bridges across the Bosphorus in Istanbul and Istanbul and Ankara airports. Turkey’s state radio and television went off the air for three hours. But other broadcasters continued, though their output suggested that they were as confused as anyone else about the course of events in the country.

Around midnight, an announcement on Turkish State Radio and Television said that the Turkish Armed Forces had taken over and that a body calling itself “The Peace in the Country Council” had taken over the government and declared martial law.

Turkish military stand guard near the the Taksim Square as people wave with Turkish flags in Istanbul, Turkey, July 16, 2016.   REUTERS/Murad Sezer
Turkish military stand guard near the the Taksim Square as people wave with Turkish flags in Istanbul, Turkey, July 16, 2016. REUTERS/Murad Sezer

Restoring ‘Peace at Home, Peace Abroad’

The announcement, which was unsigned, said that the armed forces would attempt to restore peaceful conditions in the country and the principles of “Peace at Home, Peace Abroad” cherished by Kemal Ataturk, Turkey’s founder in an apparent reference to the various violent internal conflicts in which Turkey is currently embroiled. Government figures suggest that 600 or 700 soldiers and police have died fighting Kurdish militants this year.

One ominous sign as far as the would-be coupmakers are concerned is that President Erdogan has not been arrested and is appealing to his supporters and opposition parties to rally to the defense of parliamentary democracy.

Erdogan rallies supporters

TV stations showed the president appealing from a cell phone on FaceTime to the people to go into the streets and squares and demonstrate on behalf of democracy. The president is believed to be staying on holiday on the coast of Western Turkey. There was no explanation for the apparent absence of normal presidential communications support.

“I appeal to the leaders of all political parties who believe in democracy to support democracy,” Erdogan said. Using FaceTime he told reporters that he had not faced any attempt to restrain him so far.

The president, who is attempting to create a broadly Islamist and strong presidential executive regime is generally thought to have the backing of about 50% of the population and his call raises the specter of clashes between the makers of the attempted coup and his civilian supporters if the putsch doesn’t collapse quickly.

The signs, however, are that voices favorable to the president and the ruling AKP are now increasingly dominating the broadcast media and Internet.

Turkish military block access to the Bosphorus bridge, which links the city's European and Asian sides, in Istanbul, Turkey, July 15, 2016.  REUTERS/Stringer - RTSI72C
Turkish military block access to the Bosphorus bridge, which links the city’s European and Asian sides, in Istanbul, Turkey, July 15, 2016. REUTERS/Stringer – RTSI72C

Sloppy coup?

Compared to Turkey’s military coups in 1960 and 1980, today’s attempted takeover looks relatively amateurish, suggesting that it is probably led by a group of junior officers rather than the top generals. A statement from the government news agency Anatolia says that General Hulusi Akar, the chief of general staff, is being held hostage by other officers. There was no sign that a news blackout, traditionally a feature of a successful Turkish military coup, had been imposed and TV channels and websites continued to discuss the situation.

Meanwhile, the commander of the first army, General Umit Dundar, has condemned the coup and says it only the has the support of a small group of officers. He called on any soldiers supporting the coup to return to their barracks. General Zeki Aksakal, Commander of Special Forces in the General Staff, has also appeared on television to condemn the coup attempt.
The leaders of the main opposition parties, (CHP and MHP and HDP) have all followed the AKP in condemning the coup and proclaiming their attachment to democracy.

Under these circumstances the prospects of the coup-makers’ ability to take control of the country looks highly doubtful and might depend on the use of wide-scale force — something which would almost certainly be fatal to their chances of success.

Local party chairmen of the AKP sent out SMS messages appealing to the population to follow Mr Erbakan’s call and take to the streets and support the constitution and the ruling party.

Government blames Sufi cleric

Speaking on television, the Minister of Defense, Fikri Işık, blamed the coup attempt on supporters of the exiled Sufi cleric Fethullah Gülen who has lived in the United States since 1999. Several groups of officers in the armed forces have been arrested in the last few week accused of supporting Gülen–who strongly denies all claims of involvement in illegal activities. in December 2013, groups of his supporters in the judiciary and the police rocked the government when they attempted to round up and arrest relatives of ministers and other figures close to the AKP government on corruption charges.

The government rejected the charges and purged the civil service of supporters of Gülen, saying that the anti-corruption operations amounted to an attempted coup. This week the government announced that it had completed legal moves to demand the extradition of Gulen from the United States to face trial in Turkey.

The existence of groups of officers apparently loyal to Gulen in the armed forces came as a considerable surprise since the Turkish officer corps has always been regarded as staunchly secular and opposed to all varieties of Islamic politics.

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