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The Coup in Turkey: First Thoughts

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of this site. This site does not give financial, investment or medical advice.

It is still too early to say definitely that the coup against President Erdogan in Turkey has succeeded.  Latest reports speak of armed clashes between the military and Turkish civilians opposing the coup.  It is still possible the coup could fail.

However the fact Erdogan has been unable to go on national television and has had to address his followers via an interview with CNN Turk conducted via a mobile phone and FaceTime suggests he is losing control.  The fact that he is also calling on his followers to take to the streets to protest the coup – as opposed to calling on them to remain calm – also suggests that he is losing control and that the military are no longer obeying him.  NBC news citing a US military source says President Erdogan’s plane was refused landing rights at Istanbul airport.  If so that also suggests he is losing control.

Regardless of the success or otherwise of the coup, as an EU official has pointed out, this is clearly a well-orchestrated coup carried out by a large section of the military with no evidence that any part of the military is so far opposing it.  In fact there are even reports that Turkish military units are being withdrawn from Iraq and are being transferred to Ankara to support the coup.

There is insufficient information to date to say who the coup plotters are and what their intentions are.  However it is possible to make some educated guesses:

(1) This is clearly a carefully planned affair prepared in great secrecy and involving more than one branch of the Turkish military.  Over the long period of his rule Erdogan had built up an elaborate intelligence network within Turkey precisely to protect himself from a coup like this.  He also has the support of the police, which he has packed with his supporters.  That despite all of this a coup seemingly involving the whole military has been launched points to a widespread and well organised conspiracy.

That points to a coup that has been in preparation for months.  If so then it is unlikely the coup was precipitated by Erdogan’s recent apology to Russia for the November SU24 shoot down as many are speculating.  On the contrary it seems more likely Erdogan made that apology because he sensed the situation with the military was deteriorating and took the step to appease them.

That would incidentally explain the apology, which seemed so out of character than no-one – least of all the Russians – expected it.

It is more likely that what precipitated the planning for the coup was talk at the beginning of the year that Erdogan was planning to send Turkish troops to Syria to help the rebels there.  Proposals for a military intervention in Syria are known to have been unpopular with the Turkish military, risking as they did a clash with the Russians just weeks after the SU24 shoot down, and might have been the event that triggered planning for the coup.  However for the moment that is only a guess.

(2) Erdogan has blamed the Islamic Gulen movement for the coup.  Whilst that is possible, it seems more likely that the coup plotters are Kemalist officers.  Their announcement reads as follows:

“Turkish Armed Forces have 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.  All international agreements are still valid. We hope that all of our good relationships with all countries will continue.”

This is secular language making no reference to Islam more consistent with Kemalist officers than supporters of the Islamic Gulen movement.

As to what the future holds for Turkey, whilst predictions are difficult, there has to be serious concern for the future of the country.  

In 1960 the Turkish army overthrew a previous Islamist oriented Turkish leader – Prime Minister Adnan Menderes – eventually having him executed.  That set in train a political conflict in Turkey which by the late 1970s had brought Turkey to the brink of civil war.  Another coup followed and it is only relatively recently that the situation in Turkey had seemed to stabilise – only to be destabilised again by the increasingly whimsical policies Erdogan has been following. 

The situation in Turkey today looks if possible even more precarious than it did in 1960, with jihadi violence becoming widespread, a rebellion by the Kurds gathering pace, and Turkey embroiled in the war in Syria. 

It will take great political skill and courage to overcome this crisis and at present it is not obvious where that will come from.


The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of this site. This site does not give financial, investment or medical advice.

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