A Guide to the Crisis in Turkey: What We Know So Far

The developments in Turkey during the past week have been increasingly fast-paced and hard to follow. The lack of international press in Istanbul at the time of the coup attempt, as well as the lack of English language media analysis has made the disbursal of information incredibly difficult. I have collected a comprehensive list of the coup’s events, the international response, and the subsequent crackdown in the hopes of contributing to the largely incomplete analysis that I have seen so far.

On July 15, 2016 major parts of Turkey’s military command structure moved to intervene and take control of the civilian government in an attempted coup d’état. The rushed coup attempt was carried out with the stated intent of stopping the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) government from further eroding the secular institutions, an aspect of Turkey’s founder Mustafa Kemal Atatürk’s Kemalism and a role that the Turkish Military has long seen itself as defending. Additionally, elements of the Cemaat Movement of Fethullah Gülen allegedly organized support for the coup, as their influential socially minded Islamic organization has been increasingly persecuted by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Government.

According to details that appeared on July 19, Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (Millî İstihbarat Teşkilatı), intercepted messages exchanged between coup plotters around 5 p.m. on July 15, ten hours before the coup was to begin. Despite later confessing to MIT agents, members of the high military command — including former four-star air force Commander Gen. Akın Öztürk — refused to appear on television or to sign documents claiming responsibility for the coup.

According to the Al-Monitor, on the evening of July 15, “Gen. Abidin Unal, and other key air force generals would all be at a wedding, which would give the air force freedom to act against the government. Turkish media reports said that the coup leaders “had informed all participating units that they would launch operations at 5 a.m., and that as of 6 a.m. there would be a nationwide curfew.” writes the Al-Monitor’s Metin Gurcan.

The coup attempt happened prematurely, while many, including myself were out enjoying a Friday night in Istanbul. The attempt failed within the first several hours as the coup plotters had made no concrete plans to take control of the media, giving the government time to react. Prime Minister Binali Yildirim held an impromptu press conference at 11 p.m., declaring that elements of the Turkish Armed Forces had, in his words, “dared to revolt”. Soon after, Erdogan was able to call supporters to the streets during primetime in a now infamous FaceTime call to Turkey’s CNN affiliate. Subsequent attempts by the military to take control of state media were prevented by pro-government protesters after several state channels were taken off the air.

Turkey has a long history of coups d’état including two so called post-modern coup operations in 1997 and 2007. In the wake of the 2007 warning from the Turkish Armed Forces High Command Erdogan called protestors to the streets by the millions the support democracy, defeating the military’s attempt to dissolve his government. In the wake of those protests Erdogan won a super majority in parliament in early elections and held a constitutional referendum.

The aftermath of the July 15 coup attempt will likely be much different. In recent years the rhetoric from pro-government media has consistently framed the struggle for the government’s agenda as threatened by the parallel and deep state (whose very existence is questioned by many). This coup attempt is not only a validation of the government’s often paranoid rhetoric, but a confirmation of Erdogan’s authoritarian tendencies. The Gülen Movement and its members are blamed by the government for masterminding the coup attempt . However deep their involvement, the extradition of Fethullah Gülen from his self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania is a central objective of the Turkish Government, leading some officials to blame the U.S. for the coup (though the U.S. Ambassador denies the U.S. was aware of the coup before military actions began), and leading to significant security concerns for U.S. citizens living in Turkey.

There is little chance that the AKP will see the coup as an opportunity to engage the opposition. In fact, the newly created political space to remove the government’s enemies from positions of influence has already led to a dramatic crackdown. Much like revolutions and coup attempts in Egypt and Iran, extremist elements and reactionary measures are far easier for governments act upon after the initial instability is brought to light. The chance that a power struggle within the ruling party or military could lead to a permanent state of emergency or a far more radical right-wing government has increased with the suspension of the E.U. charter on human rights and aspects of the Turkish constitution on the 21st of July. The government’s actions during the three-month state of emergency will be a critical test of Turkey’s governmental and economic resilience.

Although the international community has urged restraint, Turkey’s opposition parties, the U.S., Russia, and Iran have all reaffirmed support for the elected government in Turkey.

As of the morning of July 20th, the Turkish Government’s purge includes:

Additionally, the government has moved quickly to pass a legislative agenda that has led to sweeping legal changes in the country including:

(Parts of this reference list were collected by SVENNE)

Further Reading and Additional Perspectives:

Al-Monitor: Fethullah Gulen stirs fresh tensions between Ankara and Washington and What went wrong with Turkey’s WhatsApp coup

City Lab: Istanbul, the Day After

Hurriyet: Turkey’s Longest Night

War on the Rocks: Turkey’s Last Coup: What I Saw in Ankara

The New Yorker: Ataturk vs. Erdogan: Turkey’s Long Struggle and The H-Bombs in Turkey

Foreign Policy: If the Coup had Succeeded Would the U.S. Have Played Along?