The effort by junior Turkish military officers to replace the Erdogan government in the dead of night led to tense standoffs and global confusion. Foreign governments, caught off guard by the event, were uncertain who was in control of Turkey. On social media, #TurkeyinCoup trended worldwide, while live coverage broadcasting soldiers and tanks on the streets of Istanbul absorbed everyone’s attention. It was perhaps the first coup people could follow in real-time through video uploads and social media updates posted by residents in Turkey. The coup in Turkey failed, in part because of these new realities.
In the initial phase of the coup, soldiers published a statement claiming they were taking control of the country. They announced their goal was to safeguard freedom and democracy. Additionally, they reassured the world that they would abide by all existing treaties. Simultaneously, soldiers captured the state media channels, blocked the Bosphorus strait highway, shut down social media to some degree, and initiated a curfew asking all residents to remain indoors.
The coup plotters made fatal flaws in those initial hours. Some errors and oversights could have been avoided, other incidents were unexpected and reacted to poorly. Launching a 20th century style military coup in the 21st century brings challenges that were not anticipated.
Traditionally, successful coups in the Middle East share a familiar pattern. Tanks roll into the street before dawn, the state media is put under the coup’s control, and the presidential palace is seized with the president in custody before the sun rises. It was not an uncommon occurrence, in Syria for example, for the people to go to sleep with one president and wake up the next morning with another. Turkey has its own traditions when it comes to coups, but these principles remain constant in almost any context.
The coup plotters did choose the correct time: late at night. Check.
They did take the state media tower. Check. But wait.
In the 21st century, private media plays a greater role in public perception than state channels. It would have been wise for the officers to take CNN Turk, and other private media outlets, early on. It was through private media and the multimedia platform Facetime that Erdogan was able to instruct his supporters to take to the streets. Mosques sounded the call to prayer as a rallying cry for Erdogan’s Islamist supporters, and they responded by confronting the soldiers.
By the time the soldiers realized their error and captured CNN Turk, based in the capital of Ankara (where the coup held out longer than in Istanbul), news of the coup was pervasive and the tide had already begun to turn against it.
Additionally, and perhaps most perplexing, the coup soldiers in Turkey did not seize the President or Prime Minister. In fact, it doesn’t appear they made a sincere attempt to take into custody any high level political officials from the AKP. It’s not clear they made contact with opposing political parties, either. Hours after events were unfolding, all major political parties came out in support of the government.
The coup did not have enough support within its military ranks, reported in the Associated Press. They hadn’t captured the president or prime minister, pro-government supporters were mobilized through uncontrolled media platforms, and coup soldiers, brave and naive, were not willing to shoot the Erdogan supporters confronting them. They instead fled the airport they initially controlled. In other areas, they laid down their arms, and were arrested, beaten, tortured, and some even killed on the spot by Erdogan supporters as a result.
There were key moments that could have changed the balance, but likely would have led to a more protracted and bloody conflict. The use of force to defend the airport and Bosphorus highways, and shooting down Erdogan’s plane when he attempted to land in Istanbul, would have alarmed the international community, and could have set off more violence. The officers initiating the coup were not prepared to prevail by any means necessary.
A new dawn has risen in Turkey, where any opposition to Erdogan will be harshly cracked down on, whether it be supporters of Fethullah Gulen, a cleric who lives in the U.S. and is the leader of an Islamist political group opposed to Erdogan, secularists, opposition political parties, military officials the AKP is unconvinced support them, or journalists–any opposition will be cracked down on. In the BBC it has been reported over 6000+ arrests have already been made. Erdogan and the AKP have reached further into the machinations of State and society than any other Party before. In the aftermath of this poorly planned and executed coup by junior officers, attempting to pull off what their fathers and grandfathers had done when the nation’s balance of power had been disrupted by senior politicians before them, all of Turkey will suffer the consequences.It has been reported that thousands of judges, prosecutors, and military officials have already been arrested.