Coups in Turkey are strangely as common as turkey and stuffing. The first coup of the Turkish republic occurred in 1960 when the military overthrew the government and established martial law. The coup was in response to escalating tension between opposing political parties that threatened civil war on the country. The military took over under Cemal Gursel. Gursel rejected a dictatorship that was offered to him and instead, asked for help in establishing an honest and just democratic order.
The latest coup in 2016 cannot be paralleled to the coups of old.
Ten years later, the military officials were not satisfied with the political strife growing due to government inaction. The government was unable to pass legislation because of the growing bitterness between political parties. In 1970, the armed forces delivered an ultimatum to the current president demanding a stronger control of the government as well as proposed socio-economic reform. These demands were not taken into account and the military led the country’s second coup, taking over the government to establish a working government. During this coup, the legislative and executive officials were ousted and new elections eventually took place.
Just ten years later, the government of Turkey was overthrown by political anarchy. After five days of political anarchy and strife, the military Chief of Staff General Kenan Evren declared the military would respond accordingly. The military set up a new regime that included civil order, national unity, and a secular state that was based on social justice and human rights. The political anarchy was triggered by high levels of inflation and unemployment levels reaching 20-25 percent. The country was placed on martial law in some areas for over a year. Following this coup, the world began to think that the government in Turkey was finally workable. For the next thirty years, the government existed without being militarily overthrown.
From these coups, the Turkish armed forces began to represent the guardians of democracy. The military leaders of this group were highly respected and only stepped in when things went terribly wrong. Although favorable at the time, this view of the army has faded due to the latest fiasco.
The latest coup of 2016 cannot be paralleled to the coups of old. The difference is that in the coupe of 2016, there was less support, and less reason to stand against the government. Where Recep Tayyip Erdogan only won by 51 percent of the votes, he still held the majority in Turkey. Erdogan was a seasoned political officer in Turkey with over twenty years of experience, ranging from local to national government. However, his record is not perfect. He is known as a ruthless leader. Earlier this year, Erdogan ordered the resignation of Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu just six months after the Prime Minister led their political party to a major electoral victory. In June it was feared that Turkey was heading back down the road to despotism run by Erdogan.
Earlier this month something different happened in Turkey. An unusual coup occurred. This was not unusual due to the amount of time that had passed, but it was unusual because of its type, and way it was carried out. The government of Turkey in 2016 has been under some strife, but not terribly so. There has not yet been insurrection with the Turkish people. The recent threats have been between Turkish security forces and Kurdish militants in the south, as well as a growing pressure from Russia following the death of a Russian pilot last year. However, these threats are not from within. They are not threats to the rights of the country or the democracy. Where the threat of Erdogan’s increasing power was looming, it was not threatening by the time of the coup. If anything, the coup led to a stronger power grab and a more potentially dangerous situation. It simply occurred too soon. The military, fearing that the president would head down a dark path, attempted to strike before the situation got worse. In doing so, the military did not heed the lessons of the past. The past coups waited until the government fell on itself before acting. This way, the people could see the need for the coup.
The coup was allegedly in support of Erdogan’s political opponent — Fethulla Gulen.
Opponents to Erdogan’s rule believe that the coup has opened the door for Erdogan to remove any political opposition that he had, and strengthen his hold on the country. As of now he has detained over 60,000 individuals and shut down over 1,000 schools believed to be involved in the coup. Turkey officials believe that the “state of emergency” that Erdogan has declared may be to quash the coup, but it has also been used to suspend rights and bypass parliament for the administration, in Erdogans increasingly noticeable grabs for power.
Conspiracy theorists are beginning to wonder whether this coup was planned by Erdogan so that he could consolidate his power. Since this coup has been so different from the previous coups, this is a possibility. In the end, the most powerful message that stopped this coup was the push from unarmed citizens to take to the streets in order to turn back the forces seeking to overthrow the government. Innocent lives were lost in this push, but the people were acting to save their democracy — something that is seen as the highest importance to the future.
A coup is usually supported when there is interior strife — not exterior strife. The coup that occurred this month — unlike the ones of the past — did not seek to regain democracy in Turkey or fight corruption in the government. This time, there was no support by the entire military either. The small contingent force that led the coup surprisingly did not even send a list of demands to the existing government beforehand. Instead, the coup was allegedly in support of Erdogan’s political opponent — Fethulla Gulen.
Gulen is a Turkish preacher, former imam, writer and political figure. He was the founder of the Gulen movement in Turkey. While his writings may have sparked the group of soldiers to begin the coup, the thought of him leading it are stretched, since he lives in the United States.
The United states has enough options in the area to choose a different location, however, the base in Turkey has proven to be a great place to fight ISIS forces in Syria.
Since Gulen lives in the United States, Turkey is asking the United States to extradite him back to Turkey to face charges. The United States has refused, and in response, the Incirlik Air Base has lost power. The base has sustained itself on generator power for the time being, but the question becomes; how long will the government choose to power this base before relocating to Quatar? The United States has enough options in the area to choose a different location; however, the base in Turkey has proven to be a great place to fight ISIS forces in Syria. Most of the bombing attacks occur from this strategic airfield.
Where these attacks could occur from carriers or other airfields in the middle east, the move may be more toilsome than short term generator power. The larger question is whether Turkey wishes to anger both the United States and Russia or to appease one of the two superpowers. Between the downed Russian plane and the lack of power in the United States air base, Turkey continues to lose a lot of credibility in the global political market.