Military Coup in Turkey
On Friday, July 15th, 2016, some members of the Turkish military attempted a coup in Turkey in efforts to remove Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (of the AK Party) from power. While the military aimed to take over key locations in the country, the Turkey military coup did not work; Erdogan, while on vacation, was able to Face Time a message to supporters to go into the streets and tell the military what they thought about what was transpiring. Citizens rushed to areas such as Taksim Square, the Ataturk airport in Istanbul, among other places to show their support for Erdogan. Police loyal to Erdogan fought with military members, leaving many dead.
Erdogan was able to survive the coup, and in the aftermath has went to great lengths to not only increase his control of the country, but has done so in a continuing authoritarian manner (which has led to criticisms of international countries, hurting international relations with Turkey). This military coup came as quite a surprise to many, in part because of Erdogan’s popularity. While behaving very authoritatively in recent years, from the perspective of getting civilian support for a coup, “Erdogan’s hawkish stances toward foreign policy and domestic insurgents have arguably made him more popular than ever. His ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) scored a conclusive win in November’s snap parliamentary elections. Though his administration has become increasingly repressive, it has managed to do so while maintaining strong public support. Erdogan does not resemble the highly unpopular leaders typically challenged in coup attempts against democracies” (Bell & Powell, 2016). Again, there are many within Turkish society who do not like Erdogan. But he–and the AKP–continue to win elections. At least enough public support is there, which made an unchallenged military coup all the more difficult for those involved.
Plus, the economic indicators seem to favor the incumbent AKP government, and Erdogan and AKP have been given a lot of credit for the Turkish economic growth.
Post-Military Coup in Turkey
While it is still unknown as to who exactly was behind the greater plan to remove Erdogan from power (Basaran, 2016), Erdogan began a massive crackdown following the attempting military coup in Turkey. In the week that followed the attempted military coup, Erdogan, following a meeting with the national council, along with national ministers (Sariyuce & Dewan, 2016) announced a three month state of emergency in Turkey. This “allows the president and cabinet to bypass parliament when drafting new laws and to restrict or suspend rights and freedoms” (BBC, 2016). Erdogan announced the state of emergency, saying that “all the viruses within the armed forces will be cleansed” (BBC, 2016), and called for a complete overhaul of Turkey’s armed forces (Toksabay et. al, 2016). He said that “”The purpose of the declaration of the state of emergency is, in fact, to be able to take the most efficient steps in order to remove this threat as soon as possible, which is a threat to democracy, to the rule of law and to the rights and freedoms of the citizens in our country” (Sariyuce & Dewan, 2016).
In his first interview following the Turkey coup attempt, Erdogan said that “It is very clear that there were significant gaps and deficiencies in our intelligence, there is no point trying to hide it or deny it. I told it to the head of national intelligence” (Nakhoul, et. al. 2016).
In addition, Erdogan closed over 600 schools following the attempting military coup (BBC, 2016). Many of these schools were ran by the Hizmet Movement, a social movement under the cleric Fethullah Gulen. However, this number rose as the days went on.
It has been the educational institutions that have received the most amount of Erdogan’s (negative) attention following the failed coup in Turkey. If the coup was the “cancer,” then, as Koru & Yilmaz (2016), write, for Erdogan, ” the chemotherapy appears to be focusing on education. Of the 67,000 people suspended in the first 10 days of the state of emergency, at least 42,700 are from the Ministry of National Education. By decree, 1,043 private schools have been closed and expropriated, and 15 universities and 109 student dormitories have been closed. All of the country’s 1,577 university deans have been asked to resign, though many presumably will be allowed back once their records are cleared. Meanwhile, Education Minister Ismet Yilmaz has announced that the government will hire more than 20,000 new teachers this year to make up for the loss.”
The purge on the educational institutions in Turkey is more than merely countering a coup; it is going against Erdogan’s rival, Fethullah Gulen.
Erdogan and Fethullah Gulen
One of the primary targets of Erdogan post military coup in Turkey has been Fethullah Gulen and the Hizmet movement. Erdogan and Gulen have been at odds for years (Muedini 2015). Originally allies, the two have had an increased rift, with Erdogan believing that Gulen has been behind a major corruption probe that went after several AKP members and Erdogan allies (for a detailed discussion of the relationship between the AKP and Hizmet, see Muedini, 2015).
In recent years, Erdogan has not only increased his distrust of Gulen and Hizmet, but has labelled the group a “parallel state” in Turkey, and also a “terror organization,” and has repeatedly called for Gulen to be extradited from the United States to Turkey.
This failed coup attempt in Turkey has only further emboldened Erdogan to go after Gulen and his supporters in Turkey. Erdogan has felt that Gulen has had backers throughout the military, judiciary, and civil society, and has worried about a challenge to his authority.
Erdogan used the failed coup attempt as justification to go after the Gulenists throughout Turkey. As Nakhoul et al (2016) write: “The Gulen movement would be treated as “another separatist terrorist organisation”, he said, drawing a parallel to Turkey’s fight against Kurdish militants over the past three decades. “We will continue the fight … wherever they might be. These people have infiltrated the state organisation in this country and they rebelled against the state,” he said, calling the actions of Friday night “inhuman” and “immoral”. He compared the Gulen movement to a malignant cancer in the body that could spread and return if not eliminated.” And, for the most part, Erdogan is getting the support to do this. As has been noted, “Much of the Turkish public and the main opposition parties have rallied around the government despite their differences. Gulen and his congregation seem to be everyone’s scapegoat” (Tharoor, 2016). Tharoor (2016) goes on to say that “there is little sympathy for the Gulenists among the wider Turkish public, even among those who are opposed to Erdogan’s increasingly authoritarian style. Opinion polls indicated vast majorities pinning the coup on the cleric and his followers.”
As the BBC (2016) noted: “Extending the clear-out to include the education sector, university rectors have been asked by the Higher Education Council to “urgently examine the situation of all academic and administrative personnel” linked to what it calls the Fethullah Terrorist Organisation (Feto) and report back by 5 August.”
Erdogan and his loyalists have tried to find other ways to gain support for the idea that Gulen was responsible for the military coup. For example, among other things, on July 25, 2016, Ibrahim Kalin, who is the spokesperson for Erdogan, published an opinion piece in the New York Times calling for Gulen’s arrest. Among other things, Kalin wrote that: “Testimony and evidence obtained from coup plotters point to Fethullah Gulen as the leader of the coup attempt, which was planned and staged by his followers within the army. Levent Turkkan, aide-de-camp to the chief of staff for Turkish armed forces, Gen. Hulusi Akar, confessed to being a member of the Gulenist group after he was arrested, adding that he executed orders from his Gulenist superiors. Generals leading the coup also urged General Akar to speak to Fethullah Gulen, who runs a covert empire from his mansion in rural Pennsylvania, hoping to persuade him to join in their rebellion, according to General Akar.”
On The same day, the New York Times published Gulen’s opinion piece entitled I Condemn All Threat’s To Turkey’s Democracy in which he began the piece by saying, “During the attempted military coup in Turkey this month, I condemned it in the strongest terms. “Government should be won through a process of free and fair elections, not force,” I said. “I pray to God for Turkey, for Turkish citizens, and for all those currently in Turkey that this situation is resolved peacefully and quickly.” While he stressed that he and Hizmet were not connected to the coup, he did continue to criticize Erdogan’s rising authoritarianism in recent years.
He also replied to the calls of extradition by saying that “Turkey’s president is blackmailing the United States by threatening to curb his country’s support for the international coalition against the Islamic State. His goal: to ensure my extradition, despite a lack of credible evidence and virtually no prospect for a fair trial. The temptation to give Mr. Erdogan whatever he wants is understandable. But the United States must resist it.”
Yet, Erdogan and his backers continued to limit Gulen’s influence in areas such as domestic and international education. Gulen’s network of schools has long concerned Erdogan, as he has worried that students who went through these schools, now holding high-ranking professional positions, under Gulen’s guidance, were responsible for the coup.
In addition, following the failed military coup attempt, Erdogan spoke with foreign governments of countries in which Gulen has set up private schools. In Somalia, where “Barely 12 hours after a failed coup in Turkey, Somalia’s cabinet met in Mogadishu to consider a request from Ankara to shut down two schools and a hospital linked to Fethullah Gulen, the Muslim cleric Turkey blames for the attempted putsch” (Sheikh, 2016). Then, “Ethem Barkan ÖZ, Turkey’s Ambassador to Morocco, reportedly said…that Turkey is ready to cooperate with Morocco to shut down the institutions of Fethullah Gülen, the alleged mastermind of the July 15 abortive coup d’état aimed to overthrow Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The ambassador said that Turkey is at the disposal of the Moroccan authorities to collaborate in an effort to shut down Fethullah Gülen’s institutions” (Igrouane, 2016).
Again, to understand the influence of Hizmet and the schools in Turkish civil society, one has to look at the way these institutions are structured. This is not just about education, but also a form of Islamic community. As Koru & Yilmaz (2016) write: “the Gulenists’ educational system reached into all aspects of life. Each boy would be assigned an abi, or “older brother,” who would mentor him in his studies and also endeavor to shape his character. When girls were incorporated, they were each assigned an abla, meaning “older sister.” They would be typically only a few years older than their pupil, such as a university student mentoring a high school student. This gave members of the movement a strong sense of belonging throughout their lives and established a clear hierarchy and ideological unity.” Furthermore,
“Gulen’s winning formula was to collect funds from the devout to offer free, or discounted, educational opportunities in schools presented as entirely secular, indeed with an emphasis on the teaching of science, in which Islamic practices are propagated very gradually by the friendly persuasion of slightly older students in private chats…with student housing both scarce and expensive in Turkish cities, Gulenist lodges offering free rooms served to convert tens of thousands of graduates into his devotees, many of them ready to do their bit after graduation by contributing funds, helping to establish schools or teaching in them, or by working in the media to good effect. Others did more than that, successfully infiltrating the Turkish officer corps by outmaneuvering its no-beard and no-headscarf rules with the blessing of Gulen, who no doubt justified such concealment with his own interpretation of the Islamic tenet of taqiyah.” (Luttwak, 2016).”
Given the vast secular nature of Turkey (going back to Ataturk), Gulen attempted to build his influence outside of the direct purview of the secular military. However, over time, this reclusive, less direct nature of society building worried Erdogan. A lecture by Gulen (seen below) about the importance of gaining reach in different aspects of society has been viewed as one reason why both the military, as well as Erdogan today distrusted Gulen’s intentions.
Was Gulen Responsible for the Military Coup?
There is no evidence to suggest that Gulen had anything to do with the military coup in Turkey. As Joshua Hendrick states in a Huffington Post interview by Charlotte Alfred (2016):
There is no evidence that has been made public. There’s a handful of anecdotes ― individuals confessing to be members of the movement ― and plenty of conjecture, but not a lot of evidence. Even so, there’s certainly enough circumstantial evidence to demand an investigation.
If you want my opinion on whether Gulen was behind it that’s a separate question. It’s not a well-kept secret that members, affiliates or loyalists to Gulen have occupied a number of positions in state institutions for decades ― and that swelled in the AKP-era from 2002.
Yet, if this was perpetrated by the movement it is so against everything they claim to stand for, such as conflict resolution and peace. The coup was also poorly conceived and carried out ― it was so inept that even the chain of command among the coup plotters was broken. You can say many things about the Gulen movement but you can’t say they’re disorganized. So, the coup is contrary to their aims and their organizational structure.
Fethullah Gulen was interviewed by Fareed Zakaria on his CNN show GPS. Here, Zakaria asked Gulen if he had anything to do with the military coup in Turkey, to which he replied that their might have been some a part of the coup attempt that were sympathetic to Hizmet and Gulen, although he was in no way behind the coup. He said “”If there is anything I told anyone about this verbally, if there is any phone conversation, if one-tenth of this accusation is correct … I would bend my neck and would say, ‘They are telling the truth. Let them take me away. Let them hang me” (Sanchez, 2016). He also called for an international investigation to the coup attempt (Sanchez, 2016).
Yet, in early August of 2016, a court in Istanbul issued a warrant for the arrest of Fethullah Gulen for the attempted military coup that took place in Turkey (Washington Post, 2016).
Human Rights Violations Following the Military Coup in Turkey
According to the human rights organization Amnesty International, some detained following the failed coup attempt suffered numerous human rights violations at the hands of authorities in Turkey. For example, the length of time holding detainees suspected of a crime went from 4 days to 30 days. Amnesty also had reason to believe that authorities committed acts of abuse, with included torture and raping of suspects held following the coup (Jones, 2016).
Additional questions about the government’s process following the coup included arrest warrants for dozens of journalists, which included “Prominent commentator Nazli Ilicak” (BBC, 2016). It is important to note that “She was fired from the pro-government Sabah daily three years ago for criticising government ministers who are under investigation for alleged corruption” (BBC, 2016). This is not uncommon for Erdgoan in recent years. He has been willing to go after those critical of him and his government.
Turkey and the United States
One of the other interesting stories with regards to the attempted military coup in Turkey is the relationship between Erdogan and US leaders. Shortly following the failed coup attempt, Erdogan demanded that the United States extradite Gulen to Turkey. However, Secretary of State John Kerry explained, among other things, that the US did not receive a formal extradition request from Erdogan or any other Turkish governments in years past).
In early August of 2015, the United States leadership continued to say that not enough evidence exists to extradite Gulen to Turkey for the military coup (Barrett & Entous, 2016). It was reported on August 4th, 2016 that Mark Toner, a spokesperson for the United States Department of State was quoted as saying “”The Turkish authorities (made) several deliveries of documents to us and we’re in the process of going through those documents…” (Newsweek, 2016). Toner went on to say that, with regards to the first set of documents, that they “did not, we believe, constitute a formal extradition request” (Newsweek, 2016).
Tensions between Turkey and some within the United States have increased after Erdogan has criticized the US because of Gulen, saying that ““The putschist (Gülen) is already in your country, you are looking after him. This is a known fact,” Erdogan said. “You can never deceive my people. My people know who is involved in this plot, and who is the mastermind. With such statements, you are just revealing yourself. Turkey will not be duped” (Durando, 2016). These statements were quickly criticized by US representatives. For example, “The White House flatly denied Erdogan’s claim on Friday. Deputy Press Secretary Eric Schultz said the U.S. was one of the first countries to condemn the failed coup, and noted a successful one would have put American troops serving in Turkey at risk.“It is entirely false. There is no evidence of that at all,” Schultz said. “We feel that talk and speculation along those lines is not particularly constructive” (Durando, 2016).
Furthermore, some members of the United States have been critical of the authoritarian crackdown in Turkey, which included a purging of the military. As Gutman (2016) writes: “The purge of the Turkish military ranks is “something to be very, very concerned about,” said Gen. Joseph Votel, the commander of the U.S. Central Command, which overseas military operations in the Middle East. “We have certainly had relationships with a lot of Turkish leaders, military leaders in particular,” Votel told the Aspen Security Forum on Thursday. “I am concerned that it will impact the level of cooperation and collaboration that we have with Turkey, which has been excellent, frankly.”” Interestingly, Erdogan is blaming Votel for “taking sides” in Turkey’s domestic situation (Sonne & Nissenbaum, 2016) and also issued the following comments: ““Instead of thanking this government for thwarting this coup attempt, and for (maintaining) democracy, you are standing by the (plotters)” (Durando, 2016).
However, Votel was not the only official to speak on this issue. For example, James Clapper, who serves as the Director of National Intelligence, shared a similar sentiment, saying that ““Many of our interlocutors have been purged or arrested. There is no question that this is going to set back and make more difficult” [for the U.S. objectives in the Middle East] (Gutman, 2016).
Interestingly, “one pro-government newspaper accused retired Gen. John Campbell,who oversaw the U.S. military coalition in Afghanistan until March, of working with the CIA to stage the coup. Mr. Campbell said in an interview that the accusation was “absolutely ridiculous” (Sonne & Nissenbaum, 2016).
There were questions as to whether this is who Erdogan was referring to when he suggested that Gulen was merely a pawn of a “mastermind” behind the coup attempt (which some suggest he might be referring to the West, or the United States government) (Mostoller, 2016).
Yet, as we see, the crackdown because of the failed military coup in Turkey has not stopped.
Further Crackdowns in Turkey
The failed military coup in Turkey has led to additional actions by the state. For example, on August 16th, 2016, it was reported that Turkish police went into offices of the supermarket retail company A101, as well as ” a healthcare and technology company on Tuesday, arresting dozens of people in some of the biggest raids on private businesses since last month’s failed coup” (Butler & Gumrukcu, 2016). According to Turkish authorities, the raids took place because of the belief that these companies offered support to Gulen (Butler & Gumrukcu, 2016). According to reports, “A101, which operates thousands of stores across Turkey, said financial crimes police searched its Istanbul headquarters for six hours on Tuesday morning. It had cooperated with police and its businesses continued to operate, the company said. A101 said it had no “corporate, financial or trade links” to any illegal group, although it acknowledged that now-defunct Islamic lender Bank Asya had once been a shareholder. The bank was founded by Gulen’s followers and later seized by regulators, and is now being wound down” (Butler & Gumrukcu, 2016).
On the same day, “Turkish police raided the counter’s biggest courthouse and two other halls of justice in Istanbul…detaining dozens of judicial personnel…” (Butler, 2016). There were a total of 176 arrest warrants; 136 of the people were put into police custody during the raid (Butler, 2016).
On September 14th, 2016, it was reported that Turkey officially and formally requested to the United States that they extradite Fethullah Gulen back to Turkey (Hayden & Radia, 2016). This was the first formal request by Turkey; all of the prior calls where not done through formal channels.
It was also during this period that the criticism against Erdogan’s response to the military coup in Turkey increased. From mid-July to mid-September, over 100,000 people were arrested or they were fired from their positions. Anyone with any remote association to Gulen can be rounded up or fired; even relatives of those suspected are not safe from arrests (Arango, Yeginsu, & Timur, 2016).
As Arango, Yeginsu, & Timur (2016) write: In its early stages, the purge was supported by many of Erdogan’s opponents, who long chafed under what they called the president’s growing authoritarianism but who said Gulen’s influence within society needed to be wiped out. Now, though, many have turned against the president, saying he is using the failed coup as a pretext for enhancing his power and is wielding a state of emergency to target critics of all stripes, beyond the rule of law.
Interestingly, some officials within the state have admitted as much, saying that they indeed may have overextended their reach, and thus, “Prime Minister Binali Yildirim has said crisis centers will be set up in every Turkish province to handle claims from those who feel they have been unfairly accused” (Arango, Yeginsu, & Timur (2016). Unfortunately, “Erdogan and his subordinates have been unapologetic about the severity of the purges, and they contend that most, if not all, of the people under suspicion for connections with the plot have been treated fairly” (Arango, Yeginsu, & Timur, 2016).
Gulen himself continued to criticize the military coup in Turkey. In a pre-recorded video at the Philadelphia Council on World Affairs, Gulen said:
Right now, all critical voices are silenced in Turkey and only the voice of those in power is heard. Consequently both Turkish people and outside observers are misled. The misperception about the coup continues because there is only one voice. The government interprets everything according to their calculations. They are using this event to express the antipathy they already had against Hizmet movement. The coup attempt is serving to justify their plans to persecute Hizmet movement. International observers rightfully pointed out that the lists of people to be dismissed, detained or arrested were ready. Indeed this is a display of hate and rage that has been harbored by them but they acted so prematurely that they did not realize how this would be perceived. Experts and observers ask: How can you round up thousands of people the morning after the coup attempt calling them coup perpetrators, kicking them out of their homes, declaring them monsters? You pick up people, men and women, from their homes and subject them to despicable treatment. Their enmity was such that they could not even plan this persecution properly. The social historians and social psychologists of the future will analyze these events and these days will be recorded as dark pages in world history.
The failed military coup in Turkey continues to drive Erdogan’s policies towards the Gulenists, but also others who are critical of the Turkish government. For example, in November of 2016, the Turkish government went after an opposition news outlet, holding Akin Atalay of Cumhuriyet. According to reports, “Atalay was taken into custody at Istanbul’s main international airport after arriving from Germany, said Cumhuriyet, which also saw nine of its staff arrested…” [in early November” (Gunes, 2016). Again, Erdogan has been going after the media, with “more than 100 journalists have been arrested while 170 media outlets including newspapers and broadcasters have been closed down” (as of November, 2016) (Gunes, 2016). But this is not the first time Erdogan has went after Cumhuriyet. For example, “Cumhuriyet’s exiled former editor-in-chief, Can Dundar, fled to Germany earlier this year while appealing against a prison term for revealing state secrets. Dundar was given nearly six years behind bars for a story about a shipment of arms intercepted at the Syrian border, which had prompted a furious Erdogan to warn him he would “pay a heavy price” (Reuters, 2016).
Then, also in November of 2016, the government suspended hundreds of organizations that it claimed were tied to either Gulen, ISIS, or the PKK (Reuters, 2016).
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Washington Post (2016). Read the transcript of Fethullah Gulen, controversial cleric, talking about Turkey’s failed coup. Available Online: http://apps.washingtonpost.com/g/documents/world/read-the-transcript-of-fethullah-gulen-controversial-cleric-talking-about-turkeys-failed-coup/2148/
Washington Post (2016). The Latest: Turkey issues arrest warrant for US-based cleric. The Washington Post. August 4, 2016. Available Online: https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/middle_east/the-latest-austrian-leader-suggests-turkey-eu-bid-reset/2016/08/04/db146616-5a2e-11e6-8b48-0cb344221131_story.html