18 July 2016

Turkey: What Happened and Who Was Behind the Coup?

Within an hour of the coup attempt making to the airwaves, I knew that this was too amateurish to be a serious operation.

Consequently, I was not at all surprised that the coup unraveled very quickly. It does not take a military expert to figure out that an attempt that consisted of blocking one side of the Bosphorous bridge traffic in Istanbul and reading a rambling nationalistic statement on a state-run TV station (watched by almost no one) was doomed to fail.

In case you wonder what happened, here is what we were told thus far. 

Apparently, a group of disgruntled officers had been plotting a coup for some time and when they found out that a large purge operation within the military was being planned for 16 and 17 July, they decided to execute their coup plan prematurely. The consensus view is that these officers belonged to Hizmet, the social and political movement headed by the reclusive cleric Fethullah Gulen.

It is true that a wave of dismissals and perhaps arrests were going to take place the day after the coup. It was confirmed by different sources after the coup attempt. But the rest of the explanation does not make much sense. 

First, if a large group of officers were plotting a coup, how come none of the intelligence agencies (military or civilian) knew anything about it. Currently, there are 8,777 Interior Ministry officials suspended, 2,745 judges and prosecutors detained, 2,389 soldiers in custody and 103 generals and admirals arrested. 

In fact, this last figure means that one third of the 220 one and two star generals and 10 percent of the 70 three and four star generals of the entire army are now in custody. [Link in Turkish]

There is no way that a conspiracy that involved this many people would leave no intelligence footprint. 

It is simply impossible.

Secondly, it is equally impossible that so many officers in the military were supporters of the Gulen movement. In fact, until the Gezi events in 2013, when Erdogan and Gulen alliance ended, Gulen people infiltrated the police and the judiciary to create a counter force against the largely secular army. It was their bogus evidence and relentless prosecution in the Sledgehammer and Ergenekon trials that decimated the upper echelons of the Turkish military.

It takes decades for an officer to move up to a one or two star general position. How could they have achieved this feat in the span of three short years?

When I ask this question, my Turkish friends roll their eyes to imply that I just don't get it. In the mythical land of the omniscient and omnipresent "deep state" this is of course child's play. In the real world, not so much.

Third, Gulen movement is not what they depict in this explanation: they are best described as Islamist Calvinism.  Hizmet means "service." They believe in education for all, including girls, to emancipate people. They promote business ownership as a way to help other people and frown upon conspicuous consumption. Unlike other Islamist movements, which are ummah-oriented, the Gulen movement is etatist and nationalist, as in, it believes in the unity and sanctity of the Turkish state. 

And crucially, while they might happily fabricate evidence and prosecute people, they have never been involved in or advocated physical violence. 

Fourth, if at least a quarter of the top officers of the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) was involved in this coup attempt, what does this say about the Turkish army's ability to plan and execute a large operation?

Any operation?

Think about it for a second. Apparently, the plotters neglected some basic stuff like getting the support of the land forces and felt that the participation of the Air Force and Gendarmerie was sufficient to control the entire country. If they had secured the cooperation of the army, they could have taken over every city with coordinated action in less than an hour. Instead they had a few planes making a lot of noise and a couple of Gendarmerie tanks to block traffic on a bridge in Istanbul. 

That is it.

More importantly, they did nothing to take MPs, cabinet ministers or the President into custody. Even I, the clueless observer, knew that this was a problem.

They allowed all media outlets to continue to broadcast. They could have jammed the signals, or at the very least turn off the electricity. Of course, the Prime Minister, then the President and then everybody else took to the airwaves to denounce them, as did (eventually) several three and four star generals from the army. 

The plotters also knew that Erdogan's plane was en route to Istanbul from Marmaris and did nothing to stop it. Remember that the Air Force was the lead in this operation and no civilian planes were allowed to fly to and from Istanbul. 

In other words, this was amateur hour and the coup seemed hastily put in motion with little or no planning and a sense that it would all work out in the end.

In fact, my guess is that someone close to power leaked to some officers, including the few Gulenist that may be in the military, that the following day, their career was going to be over as a sweeping purge was in the works. I assume these were disgruntled officers already upset with the current government and they figured that they just might succeed.

In other words, instead of a carefully planned, kept secret and executed operation, it was a Hail Mary play that was pushed upon the plotters in the last minute. And of course, it just did not work.

You need more proof?

Well, let's look at the aftermath and see what happened immediately after this.

Immediately after this comical coup attempt that stopped no one and nothing, except a lane of traffic on a bridge in one city, we were presented with extensive lists that had thousands of names of senior bureaucrats, judges, prosecutors, bankers, police officers and of course military personnel that were going to be appointed to key positions by the coup plotters. 

Which implied that the hapless Clouseaus that couldn't jam TV signals or stop the lone plane hovering above Istanbul skies made extensive lists the night before to name their potential collaborators. 

You can see that these lists are useful for two purposes. One is to prove that this was a well thought out, well planned large scale operation and two, to eliminate anyone on that list. 

These are not just any compilations. There are even one Constitutional Court Justice and several Supreme Appellate Court judges who were sacked and arrested on the basis of those lists.

Here is a funny bit. The military person the lists designated as the head of the coup and the officer who was going to be in charge after the coup was none other than the Chief of General Staff the plotters took hostage at the beginning of the attempt. 

Why would the plotters designate the guy they took hostage right away as the guy who will lead them after the coup? If you go by the Donan Coyle rule, that means the lists and the plotters are not one and the same.

The consequences of the coup also support the same conclusion.

Thanks to the coup, Erdogan achieved several objectives.

One was to shore up the unity of the ruling party. After his heavy handed moves like blocking former President and his long time comrade-in-arms Abdullah Gul from rejoining the party or having his trolls criticize the founders of AKP, like Bulent Arinc or Huseyin Celik, there were talks of a splinter group emerging from the ruling party. This was to be led by Gul and be true to Islamist principles, unlike Erdogan's cynical interpretation of them.

With this foiled attempt, you see Gul throwing his support behind Erdogan and accompanying him everywhere. Which also means Erdogan is allowing him to be present. They were the original Putin-Medvedev road show and they are back.

This is just from yesterday. The guy to Erdogan's left is Abdullah Gul.

The night of the coup Erdogan asked his supporters to go out and confront the army. I actually posted a live picture taken right after he made this demand. 

Not only did they go out but they stood in front of tanks, 
A man stands in front of a Turkish army tank at Ataturk airport in Istanbul

took over army positions and tanks,

People occupy a tank in Istanbul

beat up young conscripts with belts,

or kicked them,

and  they even slaughtered one of them by cutting his throat ISIS-style. [Update: this is still unconfirmed, some witnesses claim that he was simply lynched by the crowd but was not killed]

The following night, Tayyip Erdogan and his Prime Minister Binali Yildirim and his Minister of the Interior Efkan Ala continued to call on their supporters to assert their presence in public places.

They did so unfailingly.

And they were accompanied by 85,000 mosques broadcasting a special pray for martyrs. Non-stop all night long.

In other words, Erdogan has now his own Islamist militia. And on his say so, they are willing to go out and confront any tank, any gun or even their own country's army.

All which in turn means that the coup served Erdogan to consolidate his power. He eliminated internal opposition, both within his own party and in Parliament, he successfully deployed his own militia for the first time and he once and for all vanquished the powerful Turkish army.

He is now the Dear Leader.

I wonder what the coup leaders were trying to achieve. Whatever it was, Erdogan got the last word.

And that makes me wonder who was really behind the coup attempt.

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