What we know about last night's attempted coup—and what is likely to come nextby David Barchard / July 16, 2016 / Leave a comment
A midnight awakening to news of a coup attempt was probably the last thing that anyone expected in Turkey on Friday evening. Yes, the country is generally agreed to be in a dire way politically, facing armed challenges from the Islamic State, Kurdish militants, and (the government claims) a little-known Sufi movement led by an exiled clergyman living since 1999 on the east coast of the United States. Moreover the drift towards an Islamist-flavoured authoritarian political system still carries on and several opposition parliamentarians seem poised to face court proceedings, if not prison, for things they have said in speeches.
But when around 11 pm on Friday evening, the prime minister, Binali Yildirim, announced that an attempted coup was apparently under way, there was general incredulity. Turkey’s military once dominated the country’s life, a praetorian force which civilian party politicians were unable (or perhaps unwilling) to stand up to. But when Islamists came to power in 2002, the military despite obvious unhappiness did not step in—and between 2008 and 2012 their power was broken by a series of arrests and trials on trumped up conspiracy charges which President Erdoğan himself eventually moved to quash.
I witnessed Turkey’s last full scale military coup on 12th September 1980. It was announced just before dawn and had been carried out with careful planning and forethought. The politicians had already been locked up and spirited away. Martial law was already in force throughout the country. A junta was announced. There were tanks at every street corner and a national curfew. And above all the military takeover of 1980 took place at a time when national politics were completely deadlocked; the economy was in ruins; and ordinary Turkish people craved strong government and stability and so accepted the change, at least initially, with a huge sigh of relief, not least because the military stressed that everything was happening “within the normal chain of command.”
None of that applies to July 2016. The coup makers struck strangely in the late evening rather than before dawn. They did not manage to close down television and the social media. They did hold a few key points—the bridges across the Bosporus—but they botched an attempt to seize the Gölbaşı Satellite groundstation outside Ankara and so broadcasters carried on though 42 people were killed in the battle for the station. They seem not to have arrested any politicians, least of all the head of state and the prime minister.