Commentary, Politics

5 Questions: The July 15 Coup Attempt

12 min read

On the night of July 15, 2016, an organized junta embedded in the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) attempted to stage a coup against the Turkish government using terrorist methods.

1. What is the Gulenist Terror Organization/Parallel State Structure (FETÖ), the main actor of the July 15 coup attempt, and why did it try to stage a coup?

On the night of July 15, 2016, an organized junta embedded in the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) attempted to stage a coup against the Turkish government using terrorist methods.

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has stated that this junta was controlled by the Gulen Terrorist Organization (FETÖ). The General Staff of the TSK released a statement, published on the official website of the TSK, describing the coup attempt was an “attempt of treacherous terrorist members of the illegal organization (FETÖ).”

Similar expressions were also used in testimonies given to public prosecutors by high-ranking military commanders detained in the coup investigation. According to news reports, the aide of Chief of Staff Hulusi Akar confessed to “being a member of FETÖ and to having wiretapped Akar under the directives of FETÖ’s high-ranking members (abis,‘big brothers’).”

In addition to this, the leader of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP)  Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım, and the leader of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), Devlet Bahçeli openly stated similar views regarding the coup attempt. Their statements show there is a consensus of opinion that FETÖ is the main actor of the coup attempt.

We can say that the organization enacted a three-stage plan on the night of July 15.

The first stage was taking control of the General Staff. With this aim, FETÖ members forced the commanders-in-chief of the military, including the Chief of Staff Hulusi Akar to sign a coup manifesto. In this way, they could claim that the coup was staged and agreed upon by the chain of command.

The second stage involved taking field control of Turkey. Some military units supporting the coup would mobilize to deter forces from acting against the perpetrators. This was done by bombing the headquarters housing the armed officers who could resist the coup, such as the Special Forces, Police Special Operation Forces and National Intelligence Agency (MIT).

The Bosphorus and Fatih Sultan Mehmet Bridges were closed off in order to prevent anti-coup mobilization. The attempt by the perpetrators to enter the national broadcaster TRT building and force the anchorwoman to read the coup manifesto was a manipulation aiming to show the coup had succeeded. The junta controlled by the FETÖ also bombed the Parliament and the Presidential Complex and opened fire against civilians and security forces resisting the coup attempt in order to try and project their own strength. In addition to this, the putschists carried out an assassination attempt against President Erdoğan, who was staying at a hotel in Marmaris at the time of the coup. Together, these armed interventions left more than 200 people dead and 1,491 wounded.

The third stage was the founding of a commandership of martial law and establishing of a new political and social order. However during the first two stages, MIT, Special Forces, Police Special Operation Forces and a strong civil resistance thwarted the attempted coup.

The perpetrating FETÖ movement first emerged as an “Islamic faction” under the leadership of Fethullah Gülen, an advocate of religious rhetoric, and quickly moved to infiltrate the Turkish  bureaucracy, politics, social life, and businesses.

The aforementioned group created a parallel organization in key posts of the state, especially in areas related to security and civil bureaucracy. For long, the group acted more like a messianic organization rather than a simple Islamic faction and functioned in secrecy within state institutions.

The first signal that the group wanted to participate in a struggle for power was their attempt to arrest the head of MIT, Hakan Fidan. Between December 17 and 25, the organization activated its cells in the judiciary and police bureaucracy and became one of the most important sources of bureaucratic tutelage. The December 17-25 coup attempt was an effort by the organization  to topple the government via judiciary forces. Following this period, many of the organization’s plots were revealed and it began to lose its legitimacy in the eyes of  Turkish society and politics.

Many successful operations have been conducted in the last three years against the organization, which is also known as the Parallel State Structure. A number of FETÖ members fled abroad and started lobbying against Turkey rather than  of remaining in the country and continuing a legal fight to be acquitted of the legal investigations.

After a number of similar failed attempts to topple the government, FETÖ radicalized and tried to hinder the government’s fight against terror organizations operating within its borders. Having thus far failed  in every attempt to overthrow the government, the organization took a new step that can be defined as “kamikaze” in nature on July 15.. Members of FETÖ embedded in the military tried to stage a coup outside the chain of command. This attempt has become the most explicit proof that FETÖ is an armed terrorist organization. This attempt cannot be compared to what the country experienced in 1960, 1971, 1980 and 1997 when either a coup succeeded or the country was threatened by a military memorandum.

2. What are the reasons this coup attempt failed?

This question can be answered by addressing four factors.

The first is that the nation resisted the coup by taking to the streets upon President Erdoğan’s call. From the very first hours, the Turkish people gathered at critical points that had been invaded by the coup units. They placed heavy construction vehicles and cars at the entrance of barracks and prevented more coup units from taking to the streets. This resistance was critical areas such as airports, bridges, security units and the Presidential Complex in preventing the coup from being effective. The fact that civilians stood strong against heavily armed soldiers and against the coup units contributed to the superiority of the security forces over the coup soldiers.

Even though coup soldiers succeeding in forcing TRT’s anchorwoman to read their statement, the public did not listen and instead entered the TRT headquarters, forcing the coup soldiers to surrender. In short, the people used every means available to them, without using any weapons, and did not cause any damage to public areas, private or state buildings. This was a good example of an effective resistance.

The second factor was the strong leadership of President Erdoğan. While tensions were running high, the President called upon the Turkish people to protect their democracy via television and radio, openly stating that he would stand strong against the coup. This move was pivotal in the coup’s failure.

The fact  that the President  took the great risk of coming to Istanbul during a time when pro-coup F-16 warplanes were airborne provided an important source of motivation for the Turkish people; the President embraced the nation during his arrival at  the airport. Further resistance from the TSK, the police and MIT,  led to the success of the people and encouraged the Turkish nation.

The third factor that led to the failure of the coup was the commitment of the government to not back down to this act of terrorism. In the first hours of the coup attempt, Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım stated that the government would stand strong against the coup, a position that was embraced as well by key ministers. This emboldened governmental institutions to mobilize against the coup. Both the President and the Prime Minister directed the operation successfully and provided excellent communication with the Turkish people; this was very important for the collective process which resulted in the successful operation against the coup.

The fourth factor that prevented the success of the coup was the initiative of security forces. Police units, the Police Special Operations unit, and MIT used every means available to create pressure  against the coup soldiers. Furthermore, the fact that many units within the military resisted the coup, especially within the Special Forces, and that the major commanders gave anti-coup speeches, prevented the coup. All of these factors stand as the strongest proof that such ill founded moves stand no chance of interfering in Turkish politics.

3. Has the coup attempt been completely repelled; why are people still in the streets?

When we look at Turkey’s recent history, we can see that coup attempts, in some circumstances, succeed during the aforementioned second wave. In 1953, Iranians resisted for days against the coup, but after they were convinced that the danger was over and withdrew from the streets, Mohammad Mosaddegh was overthrown by the coup’s second wave. In addition, although the coup attempt in Turkey was repelled on March 9, 1971, the coup succeeded three days later on March 12. This is still vividly remembered by the Turkish nation.

The resistance of the President, people, government and security units against the coup attempt show its effects from the first hours. The coupist soldiers gradually retreated from the institutions and streets they occupied. On the morning of July 16, Gülenist troops blocking the Bosphorus Bridge retreated, which indicated that field control had been secured. However, the President called for people to not leave the streets and they listened to his wish, which is noteworthy.

The methods resorted to by FETÖ caused people to act cautiously. Even though field control was established against the coup forces, it is hard to argue that the danger is completely eradicated. The first wave of the coup attempt was disrupted, yet some alarming incidents took place. Mobility was observed in Malatya 7th Air Base, an operation was launched in Konya 3rd Air Base, and the gendarme commander resisting detention at Istanbul’s Sabiha Gökçen Airport ordered his subordinates to open fire.

In the last three years, the Turkish public has witnessed the integration and organization of FETÖ involvement in many illegal activities. It is thus essential to confront and override the people affiliated with FETÖ in the judiciary branch and other bureaucratic institutions. In this sense, the public has some explicit expectations. They expect those involved in the coup to be tried and penalized, which would deter them from similar acts in the future. In this scope, people have explicitly sided with the reintroduction of capital punishment.

4. How could the international dimensions of the coup attempt be interpreted?

The international dimensions of the coup attempt can be assessed on two levels.

The first level is the image of Turkey before the coup. In this frame, the allegations suggesting Turkey’s aid to DAESH was part of a smear campaign against the legitimacy of the democratically elected President and government. Also, possibility of a  coup has been highlighted during the last few months in the U.S. media. It is hard to claim that these processes were planned and weaved together in practice. However, it is noteworthy that the analysts and media outlets siding with the coup are the same. While the resistance against the junta was still ongoing, Fethullah Gülen gave an interview on July 16, in which he asserted that Erdoğan directly supports DAESH; this is a meaningful move against the Turkish state..

The second level was the responses of international actors when news of the coup attempt spread. Particularly the U.S the EU and other Western states, with whom Turkey has good relations, were expected to issue statements siding with Turkey and its democratic values. Unfortunately, these countries did not immediately offer such acts of support. They did not show any inclination to support the democratic and legitimate government of Turkey.

The first official statement from the U.S. finally came from Secretary of State John Kerry. Kerry said they hoped for stability and peace for Turkey, a statement that did not problematize the coup attempt or support the democratically elected government. Although Obama’s solidarity announcement came later, these expressions should have been included in the country’s initial response. The first reaction of the EU was also weak and belated. Furthermore, certain high-ranking generals in the Pentagon spread rumours that the coup attempt had succeeded and expressed their support for the coup, which contradicted the will of the legitimate government and people of Turkey. The UN’s draft to condemn the coup attempt faced the obstacle of Egypt’s veto; Egypt is currently ruled by General Sisi, who is himself the perpetrator of a coup against a democratically elected government. The reactions of these institutions, which express their liberal and democratic values at every opportunity, did not show up for the Turkish public.

On the other hand, the first reactions from Azerbaijan, Somalia, Africa and the Middle East were in support of the Turkish President and government.

As the coup attempt was repelled in Turkey, new factors  on an international stage came into play. Stratfor revealed the coordinates of the presidential airplane’s flight, which was then in route from Marmaris to Istanbul. This constituted a threat. On July 18, WikiLeaks announced via twitter that they would release approximately 100,000 documents about Turkey, thus affecting the current turmoil in the country.

5. How can the request for Gülen’s extradition from the U.S. be assessed?

One of the most important aspects of dissolving terrorist groups is deactivating the leading cadre. With the disruption of the coup attempt, FETÖ’s passivization process will be accelerated. In this sense, the extradition of Gülen has a vital role to play in the dissolvement of the terrorist group. In his speech on July 16, Erdoğan repeated this request. Justice Minister Bekir Bozdağ also stated that required procedures are being implemented for extradition.

In fact, Turkey has been requesting the extradition of Gülen for a long time but the U.S. has not yet answered to the  request. Kerry stated that they will cooperate  in coup investigation and underlined the topic’s legal aspect by expressing the condition of tangible evidence as a precursor for Gulen’s extradition. U.S. Ambassador to Turkey John Bass also pointed to three fundamental factors that will influence U.S. action on this matter: .

The first is the disinformation of Gülen proponents. The second is allegations over the presumptions that the U.S. is behind the coup. The most decisive step to refute this presumption will be to all the  extradition of  Gülen to Turkey. And the third is that the U.S. ready to cooperate to extradite Gülen as long as the requirements of the countries’ extradition agreement are met. Turkey and the U.S.A. have had a mutual agreement of extradition of criminals since 1980. So the legal ground of the extradition is ready. However, the political aspects of this issue are influential and the political initiative of U.S. decision makers should not be downplayed.

Source: setav.org/en

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Veysel Kurt completed his BA at Uludağ University, International Relations Department in 2006 and received his MA degree from İstanbul University, Social Sciences Institute in 2009. Kurt is currently a PhD candidate and works on authoritarianism and civil-military relations in the Middle East. He has authored various articles and commentaries on political science and international relations.