By Amity Saha*
Turkey, a country overlapping Eastern Europe and Western Asia, is having an event-filled year in 2016; one which has seen two general elections, overthrowing of a Prime Minister, finally a wave of attacks liable on the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and Kurdish militants. Now, a military coup attempt was seen when a section of the Turkish Armed Force claimed that they have totally taken over the administration of the country to re-establish the constitutional order, human rights and freedom, rule of law and general security. This attempted Turkish military coup however, tumbled in the early hours of July 15, 2016, after crowds responded President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s call to take to the streets to backing him.
While the coup had failed by the morning of July 16, the circumstances surrounding it continue to project uncertainty. But, this is not the first time that Turkey’s military or some military officials have done something like this. In fact, in 1960, the military had ousted Turkey’s civilian government about four different times. Turkey, a NATO member state, is a crucial companion in U.S.-led efforts to overthrow Da’esh which is currently controlling regions in Syria and Iraq. Turkey has permitted American jets to use its Incirlik air base to fly missions against these extremists.
The formation of the modern Republic of Turkey in 1923 occurred after the Turkish War of Independence (1919-1922) that was led by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk and his colleagues in Anatolia. Turks have an undefined relationship with their military.The Turkish military is shrouded in the tradition of sacrifice, but also has a rather unpleasant past of being figure of subjugation. Military leaders in the earlier coups had worked with the support of Turks who saw them as protectors from chaos and corruption. But, then again, their cruelty was often demonstrated.
The Prime Minister and key ministers were executed in the 1960 military takeover in Turkey. Many cases of disappearance and extrajudicial killings were reported in 1980 when another coup took place. At the same time, this is also true that the military enjoys reverence and vast economic resources in Turkey. In fact, being in the military in Turkey is quite like a rite of passage for almost all men. Soldiers died in fighting with Kurdish rebels are bigheartedly greeted as martyrs of the country.
However, this time the attempted coup turned out to be quite baffling. It seemed to have been very poorly planned. While most of the TV channels were operating well enough, there were also no plots to take Erdogan in.
President Erdogan is blaming the coup on a Gulenist faction within the military. Even previously the President had accused Fethullah Gulen of running a parallel state within the state. Gulen is a US-based former Imam who was once connected to Erdogan. Gulen has a fair number of supporters in the military. The military may be Gulen’s last upholder of strength in Turkey since support from other branches of the government such as the police, judiciary, and media have already been expunged. While it is not clear as to who was behind the coup, it is sure that the government will use this as an opportunity to launch an even bigger attack on the Gulen movement.
Another theory that is doing rounds in Turkey is that this was a coup staged by Erdogan himself, designed to pave way for his dictatorship. But this doesn’t seem to be a reasonable hypothesis especially as Erdogan was taking initiatives with Russia and Israel to strengthen the economy. Everyone knows that even a failed coup would cause much destruction to the economy. Already, Lira, the Turkish currency, has plunged 5 per cent — its biggest fall since 2008 with the muddled scenes of rebel soldiers taking to the streets of Istanbul and Ankara on the very first moment of Friday, 15 July, when the coup was staged.
So if we want to identify the causes behind this sudden coup, what can be said about them? Many can say economic unrest, pressure from refugees etc. are the reasons behind this. But, the reality does not coincide with these speculations. Some kind of internal power struggle between unidentified actors might have triggered the coup.
What type of changes will this coup convey? It is pretty much clear that this will open the way for total domination of Turkish politics by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The constitutional changes he wants to make will be much easier for him to bring about than ever before. That will make him essentially the one and only politician in the country who will get to call the shots. Either way, the balance of the democratic future has been destabilized in Turkey.
*Amity Saha is a Research Assistant at Bangladesh Institute of Law and International Affairs (BILIA). She can be reached at: [email protected]