Turkey: a lesson in how not to coup

Turkey’s calamitous coup has done no more than give their democratic despot justification for his sins


Image: PresidentofRussia

Turkey has a long history of military coups. However, one thing is immediately apparent about this one; those who did the plotting have made some horrendous miscalculations. Whilst they professed to be defending the constitution of Turkey, acting in the face of perceived despotic power-grabbing by President Erdogan, they have in fact driven the population into the arms of their power-hungry elected leader.

The coup itself appears to have come as an almost total shock to everyone, but so far there appears to be only one winner: Erdogan. Despite his actions in recent years to strategically entrench his position in power, such as closing down several independent newspapers, detaining journalists, and using violence within the country as a way to limit the political power of other parties, he ended up representing the side of democratic government last night. In launching their coup, the army officers were counting on the population to rise up with them. They needed the civilian population to treat their troops as their friends by virtue of having the president as a shared enemy. Given that the population rose up, they were right to think that the population would respond to the coup. They simply failed to realise that the population would be joining the side of their elected government.

Their fate was all but sealed when all the political parties, including the Presidents’ AKP and the pro-Kurdish HDP condemned their coup as an attack on democracy. Then, when the loyalist elements of the army began to get a handle on things, the plotters were swiftly proven to be small in number, lacking the manpower to take over the entire country as they claimed to have done. In fact, they could barely control strategic locations within Istanbul and Ankara.

Whilst a well-planned attempt, the coup appears to have had the opposite result to that desired; Erdogan’s position is strengthened, and his increasingly authoritarian government has been justified to his people. The various moves that may once have looked like the paranoid attempts of a despot seeking to establish themselves now look like the justified response to the threat of an army attempt to overthrow democracy, and replace it with a military government. Turkey has had experience with such things in the past, and the citizens do not want to risk returning to that time. Better the devil you know and can hope to depose in a democratic election, than the one who rolls the tanks onto the streets of the capital and fires on civilians after all.

There is already talk from Erdogan of reinstating the death penalty, and a suitable scapegoat for the plot has been found in a cleric in self-imposed exile by the name of Fethullah Gulen. This comes despite the fact that Gulen has already distanced himself from the coup attempt in a post on Twitter, citing the horrors of having lived through several military governments as a very good reason he would never have wished the coup to occur.

Now, Erdogan has a strong reason, and almost certainly the backing to become yet more authoritarian in his rule. Some of the coup forces appear to be fighting on at the time of writing, and there are reports that they have seized a navy frigate, as well as several military helicopters and attempting to claim political asylum in Greece. The Turkish government has called for them to be returned to face justice, and given that pictures of decapitated soldiers have been appearing on Twitter as the result of mob justice from AKP supporters, said justice is likely to be swift and brutal. At this point, any trial would likely be for show; the fate of those involved in the coup who were captured does not look likely to be a pleasant one.

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