The Turkish military-led coup attempt in July caught the eyes of millions around the world. As time progressed and it became clear that the coup had failed, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan began cracking down on thousands of military members, academics, judges and civilians across the country. However, when one looks beneath the surface of the event itself, it becomes clear that the coup could have actually been guided by Erdogan’s own government to justify a major crackdown on political opposition, consolidate more power and chip away at the country’s democracy.
Turkey has had a history of successful military coups, occurring at a rate of about one per decade. Due to this history, many were surprised that the recent coup attempt failed. The coup plotters did not take the fundamental steps necessary to seize power such as arresting Erdogan and other government and parliament officials. The suspected coup plotters also failed to take control of media outlets with the exception of one local Turkish Radio and Television Corp. station and CNN Turk, from which they eventually retreated.
In all of Turkey’s prior coups, cutting communication was essential to taking power, yet Erdogan and his influential ministers were able to make appeals to party loyalists on television. The coup plotters even failed to intercept Erdogan’s plane before he he touched down at the Istanbul airport. It is reported that the main leaders of the coup attempt were in the Air Force and had access to F-16 aircrafts, yet Erdogan was still able to traverse the country by plane without being confronted by military force.
In the aftermath, Erdogan continues to claim that Turkey’s army wanted to overthrow a democratically elected government. There is no physical piece of paper or document that tells us who directly orchestrated this coup, yet Erdogan has used the event as justification for the arrest and imprisonment of many civilians besides military members.
In Erdogan’s own words, “This coup attempt is a gift from Allah.” According to CNN, 35,022 soldiers and 17,740 civilians have been detained while 81,494 civil servants have been fired from their posts. All these arrests were made without charges or substantial evidence, and as recent as September, 1,200 soldiers were released. Through this crackdown, he will face less opposition in the future, while the arrest and subsequent release of military officials is an uncharacteristic reaction.
Yet such a strategy is historically ineffective in preventing further dissent. According to author Naunihal Singh, governments consolidate power following coup attempts rather than turn to outright retribution through mass arrests and executions. Such harsh responses have the potential to inspire countercoups, so governments find subtler ways to reassert their influence over institutions like the military.
Such logic is diametrically opposite to Erdogan’s methodology. When his party, the Islamist-leaning Justice and Development Party, assumed government power in 2002, the military was seen as a guardian of the democratic and secular Turkish state. Yet Erdogan’s power consolidation as president, namely in attempts to revise the country’s constitution, created tensions with top military generals. Therefore, the coup attempt gave him the perfect opportunity to arrest one-third of top military personnel along with journalists and academics.
The ineffectiveness and mismanagement of a coup that was supposedly led by experienced military officials is conspicuous enough, yet in its aftermath, the crackdown and arbitrary arrests of thousands should be evidence enough of what the future of Turkey looks like under Erdogan.
Wasil Rezk is a freshman in the SFS. Nile Scope appears every other Tuesday.
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