Turkish Coup Attempt Fails; Erdogan Returns After Crowds Answer Call To Streets
Turkish Coup Attempt Crumbles
In an event not seen in since 1997, military factions in Turkey tried to seize control of the country on Friday night, setting off a scramble for power and plunging a crucial NATO member and American ally into chaos in what is already one of the world’s most unstable regions. However, by Saturday morning President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose whereabouts were unclear and was rumored to have been on vacation when the coup attempt began, flew to Istanbul Ataturk Airport, signalling that the coup had failed.
“A minority within the armed forces has unfortunately been unable to stomach Turkey’s unity,” Erdogan said at the airport, after the private NTV network showed him greeting supporters. Blaming political enemies, Mr. Erdogan said “what is being perpetrated is a rebellion and a treason. They will pay a heavy price for their treason to Turkey.”
In essence, thanks to the very poorly planned coup – which some have suggested had been orchestrated by Erdogan himself – has given the Erdogan regime legitimacy to accelerate the recent trend of converting Turkey from a parliamentary into a presidential regime, thus granting himself even more power as a result.
As the NYT adds, there were strong indications that coup leaders, at a minimum, did not have a tight grip on many parts of the country. One could go further and say that the military never really had much control anywhere. Supporters of Erdogan took to the streets of Istanbul early on in the coup hours to oppose the coup plotters, and there were scattered reports some of its leaders had been arrested.
Martial law was declared in the country, although few if any casualties were confirmed, despite constant media reports of clashes between the army and the protesters.
President Erdogan, an Islamist who has dominated politics for more than a decade and sought to exert greater control over the armed forces, was forced to use his iPhone’s FaceTime app from an undisclosed location to broadcast messages urging the public to resist the coup attempt.
In one of the night’s more comic moments, before returning to Istanbul Erdogan appeared in a video call to the studio of the Turkish sister channel of CNN, where an announcer held up a mobile phone to the camera to show him. He called on Turks to take to the streets to defend his government and said the coup plotters would pay a heavy price.
“There is no power higher than the power of the people,” he said in a night of wild confusion and contradictory accounts of who was in control. “Let them do what they will at public squares and airports.”
After Erdogan appeal for people to take to the streets, many of his followers obeyed his orders and mosque loudspeakers exhorted his supporters to go out and protest the coup attempt. The state-run Anadolu News Agency said 17 police officers had been killed in a military helicopter attack by coup plotters on a police special forces headquarters outside Ankara, although that has not been confirmed. There were also reports that fighter jets had shot down a military helicopter used by coup plotters. CNN Turk reported that 12 civilians were killed in an explosion at the Parliament building.
During this time, foreign support poured in from both neighbors such as Greece and Russia, all the way to the US. The United States Embassy said in a statement that “shots have been heard in Ankara” and urged Americans to take shelter. Social media outlets worked intermittently or were blocked. The US state depratment later said that it would only support the democratically elected regime. Senior Pentagon officials in Washington said they were still trying to determine what was occurring in Turkey. They said the United States had not adjusted its military posture in the region.
The Defense Department has roughly 2,200 uniformed military personnel and civilians in Turkey. About 1,500 of them are based at Incirlik, an air base in southern Turkey near Syria. The United States has used the base to launch airstrikes against the Islamic State. Since March, Incirlik has been on an “elevated force protection level” amid concerns that militants were targeting it. Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter in May ordered all family members of military personnel based at Incirlik to leave the country.
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The events began unfolding around 10 p.m. Friday as the military moved to stop traffic over two of Istanbul’s bridges, which cross the Bosporus and connect the European and Asian sides of the city.
There were reports of gunfire in Istanbul’s central Taksim Square, where pro-Erdogan supporters had gathered, but there were no reports of injuries, and it appeared that security forces were acting with restraint. On the Bosporus Bridge, which was closed earlier in the evening by the military, there were reports of gunfire as protesters approached, and according to NTV, a television news channel, three people were injured.
What was surprising, is that some prominent military figures spoke out against a coup, including the commander of the First Army, Gen. Umit Guler, who issued a statement, carried by a pro-government news channel, saying, “The armed forces do not support this movement comprised of a small group within our ranks.” One wonders then just how organized and orchestrated this “low level” coup.
Even leaders of opposition political parties, who have otherwise worked against Mr. Erdogan’s government, spoke out against a seizure of government by the military. “This country has suffered a lot from coups,” Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the leader of the main secular opposition party, the Republican People’s Party, known by its Turkish initials C.H.P., said in a written statement, according to Hurriyet Daily News. “It should be known that the C.H.P. fully depends on the free will of the people as indispensable of our parliamentary democracy.”
One thing is undisputed: the coup was poorly organized from the beginning: instead of arresting Erdogan on the spot and taking over all media, while unleashing infantry forces around key choke points, the army was on the defensive almost from the beginning, and was unable to open fire on its own people when the momentum started to slip away.
To be sure, some tried to spin the coup as well-organized. According to Reuters, early in the evening the coup appeared strong. A senior EU source monitoring the situation said: “It looks like a relatively well orchestrated coup by a significant body of the military, not just a few colonels. They’ve got control of the airports and are expecting control over the TV station imminently. They control several strategic points in Istanbul.
“Given the scale of the operation, it is difficult to imagine they will stop short of prevailing.”
Only they did, and dramatically so, failing to show either substantial organization or resolve to push the coup to its end. As a result, as the night wore on, momentum turned against the coup plotters. Crowds defied orders to stay indoors, gathering at major squares in Istanbul and Ankara, waving flags and chanting. The army had lost control just a few hours after the attempted coup started late on Friday evening.
“Some people illegally undertook an illegal action outside of the chain of command,” Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said in comments broadcast on NTV, a private television channel. “The government elected by the people remains in charge. This government will only go when the people say so.”
Shortly after Yildirim spoke, factions of the Turkish military issued a statement, according to the news agency DHA, claiming it had taken control of the country.
“Turkish armed forces seized the rule of the country completely with the aim of reinstalling the constitutional order, democracy, human rights and freedoms, to make rule of law pervade again, to re-establish the ruined public order,” the statement quoted by DHA said. “All the international agreements and promises are valid. We hope our good relations with all global countries goes on.”
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Erdogan blamed followers of Fethullah Gulen, a Muslim cleric who lives in exile in Pennsylvania and who once was an ally before the two had a bitter falling-out in 2013 over a corruption inquiry that targeted Mr. Erdogan and his inner circle, for the coup attempt. Over many years, followers of Mr. Gulen built up a presence in Turkey’s police and judiciary, and Mr. Erdogan blamed them for the corruption probe. Erdogan and his allies then purged the judiciary and the police of those linked to Mr. Gulen, going so far as to call him the leader of a terrorist organization and seeking, unsuccessfully, to have him extradited from the United States. An organization associated with Mr. Gulen in the United States, the Alliance for Shared Values, denied any responsibility for the coup attempt.
It will probably not come as a surprise that Gulen, who has been used a traditional scapegoat by Erdogan in his attempt to grab power, denied any involvmenet and hiw Alliance for Shared Values said it condemns the coup attempt. “We condemn any military intervention in domestic politics of Turkey,” Alliance for Shared Values, group backed by preacher Fethullah Gulen, says in statement on its website.
While the simmer attempted coup is still ongoing in the early hours on Saturday morning, the outcome is clear: it will fail.
Why wins? Why the president of course. As he said during a press conference upon his arrival back in Istanbul in the early Saturday morning hours, the coup is an opportunity to “to purge the military.” Erdogan also vowed to exact “the highest price” from the perpetrators.
Or, to summarize, the military said Erdogan’s power consolidation justifies the attempted coup; Erdogan said the coup justifies further consolidation of power.
Erdogan appears to have won again.
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Below is a timeline of the key coup events as recounted by Reuters. All times GMT.
- 0100 – Erdogan appears among supporters at Istanbul airport, says uprising has been attempted against solidarity and unity of country; says no power is above national will.
- 0045 – Around 30 soldiers, part of faction attempting to carry out a military coup, surrender weapons after being surrounded by armed police in Istanbul’s central Taksim square.
- 0045 – Turkish private broadcaster CNN Turk halts live news broadcast, presenter says soldiers entered studio control room.
- 0027 – Two more explosions hit parliament; member of parliament reached by telephone says lawmakers are hiding in shelters at the parliament.
- 0020 – Turkish official says Erdogan’s plane lands in Istanbul.
- 2352 – Turkish PM says situation under control, blames Gulen movement, declares no-fly zone over Ankara. A U.S.-based organisation close to Gulen earlier denied involvement.
- 2339 – Bomb hits parliament in Ankara, state-run Anadolu Agency says. Reuters witness hears blast in Istanbul.
- 2320 – Kerry says emphasised “absolute support for Turkey’s democratically elected, civilian government and democratic institutions” in phone call with Turkish foreign minister.
- 2313 – Group close to U.S.-based cleric Gulen says accusations it was involved in coup attempt are “highly irresponsible”. Condemns military intervention in Turkish politics, says concerned about safety of citizens.
- 2305 – President Obama says he and Secretary of State Kerry agree that all parties in Turkey should support elected government. Urges restraint, avoidance of bloodshed – White House statement.
- 2304 – State-run Anadolu Agency says 17 police killed at Ankara special forces HQ; no independent confirmation
- 2259 – Turkish fighter jet shoots down military helicopter used by coup-plotters over Ankara, broadcaster NTV says.
- 2251 – Commander of special forces says a group has engaged in treason, they will not succeed. Says military does not condone coup.
- 2247 – PM says gangs and illegal formations are behind coup attempt, and calls it a terrorist act. He says government remains in charge. Urges people to take to the streets.
- 2237 – Commander of Turkey’s First Army, part of land forces responsible for Istanbul and other western areas, said those attempting a coup were a small faction and “nothing to worry about”.
- 2226 – Two loud explosions heard in centre of Turkish capital
- 2208 – Tanks surround Turkish parliament building, open fire. Gunfire heard at Istanbul airport.
- 2203 – Turkish justice minister says members of a movement loyal to U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen in the army are behind the attempted coup.
- 2151 – A military helicopter opens fire over the Turkish capital Ankara, witnesses report an explosion in the capital.
- 2135 – Turkish state broadcaster TRT goes off air, but later starts broadcasting from London.
- 2126 – Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan urges people to take to the streets to protest against what he describes as a coup attempt by a minority faction within the military. Speaking to a CNN Turk reporter via a cellphone video link he says it will meet a “necessary response”. He says he is returning to the capital Ankara.
- 2122 – Turkish PM says on Twitter everything will be done to put down coup attempt, even if it means fatalities. Says sieges are under way at some important buildings, without specifying, but urges people to remain calm.
- 2118 – Presidential source says president and government are still in power.
2105 – Turkish state broadcaster says reading statement on the orders of the military – that new constitution will be prepared, accuses government of eroding democratic and secular rule of law, that the country is being run by a “peace council”, that martial law imposed, curfew imposed across the country.
- 2102 – Head of Istanbul branch of Turkey’s ruling AK Party says soldiers enter party building, told to go.
- 2058 – Soldiers are inside buildings of Turkish state broadcaster TRT in Ankara, TRT correspondent tells Reuters.
- 2057 – Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and other social media restricted in Turkey, say internet monitoring groups.
- 2049 – Turkish presidential source says statement made on behalf of armed forces was not authorised by military command.
- 2047 – Turkish chief of military staff among hostages taken at military headquarters in Ankara, says state-run Anadolu agency.
- 2038 – Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan is safe, reports CNN Turk.
- 2025 – Turkish military says has taken power to protect democratic order. In a statement sent by email and reported on Turkish TV channels, the military says all of Turkey’s existing foreign relations will be maintained.
- 2002 – Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim says attempted coup under way, calls for calm. He says a group within Turkey’s military has attempted to overthrow the government and security forces have been called in to “do what is necessary”.
- 1950 – Gunshots are heard in Ankara, military jets and helicopters seen flying overhead. Helicopters seen overhead in Istanbul.
1929 – Istanbul’s Bosphorus Bridge and Fatih Sultan Mehmet Bridge are both closed. Dogan News Agency footage shows cars and buses being diverted.
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Live feed from Sky News
Here are some thoughts by Russianvids about what is really going on in Turkey in the video below: