Though there are still many unanswered questions, since the collapse of the attempted coup it has become possible to answer many questions both about the coup and about the general situation in Turkey. It is also possible to make some educated guesses.
- The US was almost certainly not involved in the coup.
As the coup was underway there was speculation that it was launched because of the steps Erdogan had recently taken towards a rapprochement with Russia. However, as I discussed previously, the scale of the coup points to months or at the minimum weeks of planning. The timing of the coup makes it virtually impossible that it could have been organised so soon after Erdogan took the first steps to reopen dialogue with Russia by sending his apology to Putin for the SU24 incident.
In addition US reaction to news of the coup was not consistent with the US being involved. The invariably pattern of US supported coups is that they are timed to take place in the aftermath of political protests against the government the US wants overthrown, thereby making it easier for the US to represent the coup as a defence of democracy rather than its overthrow. The US then almost immediately signals its support for the coup as it is underway, generally blaming the overthrown government for the fact it is happening.
None of this happened during the attempted coup in Turkey. All the indications on the contrary suggest that the US and EU were taken by surprise by the coup. The fact French diplomatic missions in Turkey closed on 13th July 2016 – i.e. Just before the coup got underway – was almost certainly connected to the Bastille Day holiday rather than to foreknowledge of the coup.
Though the US almost certainly was not involved in the coup, it will undoubtedly be concerned by what is happening in Turkey. Erdogan is altogether too erratic and impulsive a leader to be considered by the US a reliable asset and relations between him and US President Obama are known to have been strained. Erdogan for his part is known to be unhappy with the US, and it is not impossible that he may blame the US for the coup. With Erdogan already complaining that the US is providing asylum for Fethullah Gulen – the man he accuses of being behind the coup – it is not impossible that in the aftermath of the coup relations between Turkey and the US could deteriorate further.
- The coup was supported by the entire military.
Whilst the coup was underway the Turkish government insisted that only a faction of the military was involved in the coup and that it was acting outside the chain of command, and that the greater part of the military remained loyal.
This is not believable. The only troops visible during the coup belonged to the coup plotters. There is no information that these troops were resisted at any time by other military units loyal to the government. Not a single high ranking officer publicly dissociated himself from the coup whilst it was underway. Whilst some members of Turkey’s senior military leadership were arrested by the coup plotters in Ankara, it is striking that not a single commander of a single Turkish military unit anywhere else in Turkey publicly pledged his loyalty to the government or offered Erdogan the support of his troops.
By contrast the coup plotters were able to deploy troops in both of Turkey’s two biggest cities – Ankara and Istanbul – and bring tanks and other armoured vehicles onto the streets, use helicopter gunships against the Turkish parliament, and declare martial law across the whole country. Moreover, and contrary to claims that the air force remained loyal to the government, there is no doubt the F16s which in the early hours of the coup were seen flying over Ankara and Istanbul were supporting the coup.
The coup plotters were also able to obstruct social media and the internet and interfere with broadcasts by state television.
The coup plotters were also able to bomb the hotel where Erdogan was staying in what was clearly an attempt to kill him, and for some hours were able to prevent his aircraft landing anywhere in Turkey. Indeed Erdogan’s position for some hours looked so desperate that there are credible reports that he asked for asylum in first Germany and then Britain.
All this points to a coup which had the overwhelming backing of the armed forces. The coup was not surpressed by the army. Rather it crumbled in the face of civilian resistance organised by the government and the Islamic clerical authorities who called their supporters onto the streets.
The fact that the coup had the overwhelming support of the military should make one skeptical of Erdogan’s claims that the Gulen movement was behind it. Erdogan has in recent years used the Gulen movement to try to represent himself as the target of a huge sinister conspiracy being organised against him by a mysterious exiled Islamic cleric. In that way he is able to represent his opponents as tools of this conspiracy, thereby casting doubt on their motives whilst denying the true level of their support.
Erdogan is using this device again to isolate and discredit the coup plotters. In reality it is simply not credible that Gulen could orchestrate a gigantic conspiracy involving the entire Turkish military from his distant exile in the US. As it happens he has denied doing so and has condemned the coup.
- Erdogan retains wide support in the country.
This is often denied but the facts speak for themselves. In the face of a coup by the army large numbers of people were prepared to risk their lives by flooding onto the streets to resist the coup and support Erdogan and the government.
Erdogan has many opponents and critics in Turkey. However he retains a critical mass of devoted support from the population and in the showdown with the military this proved crucial. However the coup shows that in the face of hostility from the army it is this core of population that is the only factor that is keeping Erdogan in power.
- Erdogan will try to use the coup to tighten his grip on Turkey.
There are already reports of a major purge of the Turkish judiciary underway, and no doubt a purge of the army will follow. With the defeat of the coup there is no force in Turkey that can prevent this. However one side effect of the defeat of the coup and of the purge is that it will demoralise the Turkish army. Its ability to conduct military operations in places like Iraq and Syria has for the time being at least been diminished.
There is a temptation on the part of Erdogan’s many external critics to regret that the coup against him failed. That temptation should be resisted. Like him or not Erdogan is Turkey’s constitutionally elected President whilst the history of coups in Turkey has been – to say the least – unhappy. The coup in 1960 resulted in two decades of instability and political violence, whilst the coup in 1980, though it may have averted a civil war, was nonetheless an exceptionally brutal affair, which left behind it wounds that have still not fully healed. In light of Erdogan’s popularity had the coup against him succeeded it would have been bound to have been followed by years of fierce repression by the military of his supporters, which could only have destabilised Turkey further. This at a time when there are violent jihadi groups already on the scene waiting to capitalise on any instability.
In the event the coup failed. Like him or not Erdogan has survived and for the time being at least he is here to stay.