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The Failed Coup Attempt – or the Dawning of Sharia Law in Turkey?

The defeat of the coup in Turkey threatens Turkey's conversion from a secular national state into a Muslim Sunni federation.

Elton John’s song proclaims that “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting” but a certain section of Turkey’s Armed Forces did not heed these words and prematurely staged a coup attempt on Friday Night . . . and quite predictably, these soldiers failed and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (aka the Prez) and his ruling Justice and Development Party (or AKP, led by the hapless PM Binali Yıldırım) have now emerged stronger than ever.

On Friday, 15 July 2016, a number of soldiers in Turkey apparently decided that the time was ripe for staging an armed insurrection to bring a halt to the increasing power wielded by the Prez and his AKP, bent on turning the country into a pious Muslim nation inhabited by docile believers ready to act in accordance with the wishes of their political and religious leaders. Around 11 PM, heavily armed soldiers closed down access to the two main bridges across the Bosphorus in Istanbul. All the while, low-flying military jets were hovering overhead. About an hour later, the state broadcaster TRT was seized by members of the junta and proceeded to have a written statement read on air by the newscaster Tijen Karakaş: the “Turkish Armed Force have taken over the control in order to restore constitutional order, democracy, maintain human rights and freedom again.”

Karakaş declared that the country had been taken over by the ‘Council for Peace in the Country’ (or the “Yurtta Sulh Konseyi,” a clear reference to one of Atatürk’s many well-known phrases). The statement read by Karakaş made clear that the coup plotters regard the AKP-led government as having eroded the democratic and secular rule of law in the country: the ‘Council for Peace in the Country’ has “completely taken over the administration of the country to reinstate constitutional order, human rights and freedoms, the rule of law and general security that was damaged.”

The statement also added that the ‘Council for Peace in the Country’ would respect the freedom of Turkey’s citizens, irrespective of religion, race or language. But the Prez and his AKP henchmen were not going to take this lying down, and as the coup plotters neglected to shut down other media outlets or even the internet, the hapless PM and his boss proceeded to communicate directly with their base, urging their supporters to ignore a curfew and take to the streets. In addition, the AKP-led government also mobilized the network of mosques throughout the country to spread the word via their sound systems. While these events were taking place, the Prez himself was in the south-west holiday resort of Marmaris. And, using the latest technology available, he made a televised address, via his mobile phone. Next, Tayyip Erdoğan flew on to Istanbul, saying that his residence in Marmaris had been bombed after he left.

The Prez Strikes Back

In response to these words of encouragement, AKP supporters started flooding the streets, imbued with a religious zeal and unperturbed in their love for Tayyip Erdoğan. The conscripts manning the tanks patrolling the streets and guarding strategic points were hesitant and unwilling to shoot their fellow citizens. One such soldier, manning a tank on the Bosphorus Bridge surrendered only to have his throat slit by zealous AKP supporters, shouting “God is great” (or ‘Allahu Akbar’), as reported by the independent media outlet Odatv.

At the same time, on social media messages displaying pictures of captured soldiers allegedly being subjected to torture in mosques were also doing the rounds. Meanwhile in Ankara, the nation’s capitals, various MP’s, including members of the opposition, congregated in the TBMM (or Parliament). In response, F-16 jets proceeded to bomb the structure on three separate occasions, with the politicians inside seeking refuge in the underground shelter. This unprecedented action left the public-at-large speechless, as Turkey’s parliament building had never before been subject to a military strike. When his plane got to the airport in Istanbul, the Prez declared the following: “What is being perpetrated is a treason and a rebellion. They will pay a heavy price.”

On Saturday, 16 July, the BBC stated that the Commander of the First Army now appointed acting Chief of General Staff “Ümit Dundar said [that] 104 coup plotters had been killed and 1,563 arrested in a night of gunfire and explosions in Ankara, Istanbul and elsewhere. A further 90 people died and 1,154 people were injured as thousands of Turks heeded President Erdogan’s call to rise up against the coup-plotters. It is not known who was behind the attempted putsch.” The hapless PM Yıldırım then went on to announce the establishment of a no-fly zone above Ankara, adding that army commanders, including Chief of Staff Hulusi Akar, are on duty working to stop the “illegal military action.”

The Prez himself was also quite buoyant on Saturday, happily disseminating an sms text message to mobile phones all across the nation: “Valuable Children of the Turkish nation. This movement has usurped the state’s armed vehicles and weapons in Ankara and in Istanbul, [executed] by a narrow cadre, acting like in the 70s [and executing] an uprising against the nation. Take hold of your democracy and your well-being noble Turkish nation. I am calling upon you to get out on the streets and take possession of your nation against the action of this narrow cadre, that thinks that the Turkish people will accept [their movement]. Take hold of your state [and] nation.” At the same time, the police has shut down a number of thoroughfares in Istanbul, with a view to thwarting any possible movement by the Armed Forces.

A Coup that was No Coup

The hapless PM declared on television that “[s]ome people illegally undertook an illegal action outside of the chain of command.” This statement seems to imply that the coup plotters are nothing but a bunch of frustrated officers and their hangers-on, acting outside the bounds of the military system and lacking any serious support. And, as if providing Yıldırım with a helping hand, the White House quickly issued a statement, indicating that “[t]he president and secretary agreed that all parties in Turkey should support the democratically-elected government of Turkey, show restraint, and avoid any violence or bloodshed. The secretary underscored that the State Department will continue to focus on the safety and security of U.S. citizens in Turkey.”

In this way Barack Obama and John Kerry all but underlined the fact that the July, 15 attempted coup had been undertaken with no previous American support, coordination or even knowledge. In direct contrast to the 12 September 1980 coup, which was undertaken by General Evren with the full support and knowledge of the United States. As I wrote some time ago, Fuat Avni tweeted as long ago as Thursday, 23 June 2016, that “[a]ctions will be taken that will bring the country to the edge of a civil war. Explosions, conspiracies, the burning of vehicles will follow one another.” At the time, I brought this tweet in connection with the triple suicide attack on the Istanbul Atatürk Airport . . . But the anonymous whistleblower might very have been tweeting about this military putsch-gone-wrong. Particularly, if one considers the timing.

At the beginning of next month, the High Military Council of Turkey (or YAŞ, in acronymized Turkish) is set to convene, and, it is expected that a large number of officers will be made redundant then. In other words, the Turkish state is set to engage in a cleansing exercise, removing any and all opponents of the AKP-led government. This coup-that-was-no-coup then provides ample ammunition for a thorough culling of the ranks, only to have these replaced by a cadre of officers more amenable to the AKP . . . and, as such, the Prez as well Hapless have been pointing the finger across the Atlantic at the shadowy figure of Fethullah Gülen and his supposed terror organization FETÖ (Fettullahçı Terör Örgütü or Fethullahist Terror Organization), insinuating that the coup plotters are part and parcel of this shadowy, clearly elusive, and possibly even non-existent, organization. Already on Friday night, at 22:46, the AKP MP for Afyon, Ali Özkaya took to twitter to denounce Gülen and his nefarious organization for having brought about this coup attempt to topple the democratically elected AKP-led government.

Still, there are those who regard the whole coup attempt as an orchestrated affair, aimed at benefitting the Prez and his AKP-led government. A most unlikely commentator like the American Neo-Nazi and white supremacist Andrew Anglin put it like this: “In short, the whole thing could [not] have been better arranged for Erdogan himself, who now looks like a hero of the people.” And, is has to be said that in the aftermath of this failed coup attempt the AKP support will undoubtedly surge to previously unknown heights and the polarizing figure that is Recep Tayyip Erdoğan will start enjoying even higher approval ratings.

In fact, Erdoğan is now also being referred to as Turkey’s Commander-in-Chief, which would indicate, among other things, that he regards the attempted coup as a personal attack on his figure. One could argue that, whatever the coup plotters’ motives might have been, the end-result of their actions will be an even more wholehearted and enthusiastic acceptance of Tayyip Erdoğan’s policy of Sunnification and possibly a rather swift dismantling of the nation state that is Turkey . . . . to be replaced by an “Anatolian federation of Muslim ethnicities, possibly linked to a revived caliphate,” as well as possible return of Shariah to Turkey. Whether these conditions would be in line with Atatürk’s well-known dictum “Peace at Home, Peace Abroad” is anyone’s guess however . . . 

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Can Erimtan
Dr. Can Erimtan is an independent scholar residing in İstanbul, with a wide interest in the politics, history and culture of the Balkans and the Greater Middle East. He attended the VUB in Brussels and did his graduate work at the universities of Essex and Oxford. In Oxford, Erimtan was a member of Lady Margaret Hall and he obtained his doctorate in Modern History in 2002.

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