While the coup – which was carried of by a junta outside the chain of command – was a short lived failure it came as a huge shock as it was something that nobody in the country was expecting.
Turkey is facing a lot of challenges: the country is very polarized, there is a deteriorating security situation, and many people in the country are unhappy about the leadership of President Erdogan and the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) which has become increasingly authoritarian, cracking down of critiques and undermining the rule of law.
However, for Turks (broadly speaking) the country’s history of a number of very painful and traumatic military interventions has left a deep scar. Therefore I was not surprised to see such strong and united opposition to this attempt with both supporters of Erdogan and the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), and those that do not support him, in some cases detest him, taking to the streets to demonstrate their opposition to the coup and standing up for democracy. Indeed possibly the only good to come out of the whole horrible episode is the unity shown by all parties in parliament to stand against the coup attempt and defend democracy together. This is something very rare in Turkey.
Nevertheless the incident has been the most significant challenge to Turkey’s democracy in years. President Erdogan and members of the government have pinned the coup on the Gulen movement. Erdogan was until a few years ago in good relations with the Movement which supported the AKP when the party first came to power in 2002 and for many years thereafter.
However, in December 2013 relations significantly soured with ties between the two becoming increasingly acrimonious following a corruption scandal. Erdogan and his government accused the Movement trying to bring down the government by creating a “parallel state” by infiltrating the justice system, the police and other apparatuses of the state.
The Movement is now referred to as a terrorist organisation (FETO) in Turkey and over the last couple of years there has been a huge purging of businesses owned by supporters of Gulen as well as people believed to be linked to the Movement from the judiciary, police, academia, army, etc.
While it is true that the Movement had supporters in the military, given the Movements already weak position and tarnished image in Turkey and the increasingly negative view of the Movement by the Turkish population, it is difficult to understand why they would carry out such a crazy act that was destined to fail. For sure their already difficult situation became a million times worse. It remains to be seen whether the US will agree to Ankara’s demands to extradite the Movements leader, Fethullah Gulen, back to Turkey.
If they do not, there risks a souring a US-Turkey relations – including Ankara preventing the US from using the Incirlik airbase for operations in Syria. Hence the US finds itself in an uncomfortable situation.
Erdogan will emerge from this incident politically hugely strengthened. I would like to see President Erdogan use this experience to build national reconciliation, to unite the country and build bridges. However there is also a real possibility he will use this situation to consolidate his power which may help to bring about his dream of creating an Executive President in Turkey closer