A reach for democracy and secular law 19

A nationwide curfew was imposed as a section of the armed forces claimed to have taken the country over. The coup leaders seized national television and the phone network. Gunfire was heard in Ankara and military jets flew low over Ankara and Istanbul where the bridges over the Bosphorus were blocked. In Istanbul, Turkish Gendarmerie and soldiers blocked entrances to bridges over the Bosphorus while tanks blocked Ataturk airport. A TV announcer read out a statement saying that a “peace committee” had taken over the country against autocratic rule and will write a new constitution restoring democracy, whose institutions have been eroded by autocratic rule, and restore secular law.

It was a great aim, a brave attempt – but it failed.

Now Turkey is less likely to be secular and democratic. 

DebkaFile, which we quoted above, assesses the event and analyses why the attempted coup failed:

The Turkish armed forces’ attempt to overthrow the authoritarian rule of President Tayyip Erdogan was largely extinguished Saturday morning July 16 after less than 24 hours – due to three major miscalculations:

1. They first seized the country’s power centers and state television when their first priority should have been to immobilize Erdogan who was out of the capital on vacation.

2. Although out of control in Ankara and Istanbul, he used his mobile phone to reassert his authority through a private television station and called on the people to take to the streets in protest against the plotters. Civilians responded by surrounding the tanks and tying them down until loyal troops moved in.

3. They relied too heavily on the air force to cow the regime, the jets zooming low over the two main cities while the two main airports were closed.

It was soon evident that control of Turkey’s skies was no guarantee of control of the ground. Indeed, the coup leaders did not prevent him from landing at Ataturk airport and declaring immediately that he was in charge, demonstrating that he was on top of events.

In the clashes that followed, Gen. Umit Dundar, the newly appointed acting chief of the general staff, said more than 190 people died in clashes: 41 police officers, two soldiers, 47 civilians and 104 people described as ‘‘coup plotters”. Dundar said officers from the Air Force, the military police and the armored units were mainly involved in the attempt.

At the same, the attempt by part of the Turkish armed forces to topple Erdogan in the name of democracy and the return of “secular law” was impressive and evidence of social and political malaise under his rule. It was led by at least half a dozen generals, as may be judged the arrest of Gen. Memduh Hakbilen, the chief of staff of Turkey’s command for the important Aegean region, among the more than 1,500 alleged plotters and the suspension of another five generals.

That elements of the air force joined the attempted uprising is unprecedented in Turkey, whose army is NATO’s second largest.

Erdogan will no doubt want to know why his MIT intelligence failed to scent the conspiracy afoot.

He will certainly lose no time in executing a massive purge of Turkey’s armed forces, and especially the air force and intelligence arms, after accusing the coup leaders of treason.

Erdogan has been steadily taking steps to re-create an Islamic state. He wants to reverse the modernizing reforms that Kemal Ataturk effected after Turkey, as an ally of Germany, was defeated in the First World War. He dreams of reviving the Ottoman Empire, perhaps seeing himself as Sultan (who was also titled Caliph). He has built himself a new palace in Ankara, and announced that it will be the center of government.

Predictably, President Obama is on the side of the would-be dictator against the side that reached for democracy. 

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Erdogan’s new presidential palace in Ankara

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President Erdogan in his new palace

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President Erdogan among guards dressed in the uniforms of Ottoman soldiers