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The aftermath of Turkey’s failed coup

Jul 20, 2016

Update from AIJAC

July 20, 2106

Update 07/16 #5

This Update deals with analysis of what happens now with Turkey – both domestically and in terms of its foreign relations – in the aftermath of the failed coup attempt on Friday. (A good general summary and backgrounder on the coup and its aftermath comes from American scholar Michael Rubin.)

We lead off with Dexter Filkins of the New Yorker – a very knowledgeable and erudite reporter. He argues that the remarkable thing about the coup attempt was not that it failed but that there was a faction of the military strong enough to attempt any such thing at all, given the way Turkish President Erdogan has ruthlessly crushed all opponents and critics over recent years. He says Erdogan, as he indicated by calling the coup a “gift from god”, can be counted on to seize the moment to destroy all remaining opposition to give himself near total power. For Filkins’ argument in more detail, CLICK HERE

Next up is Washington Institute Turkey expert Soner Cagaptay, who, in an interview, provides more background both into how the coup happened and what might happen next. He notes that Erdogan’s efforts to counter the coup unleashed a massive concentration of Islamists and even jihadists onto the streets – and Erdogan may use them not only to make himself extremely powerful, but to create an Islamist counter-revolution. He also discusses the implications of the coup attempt on US -Turkish relations and the fight against ISIS. For all of his highly informed analysis, CLICK HERE. Cagaptay also had a good piece in the Wall Street Journal exploring the danger of an Islamist counter-revolution in more depth.

Finally, Andrew Finkel, a correspondent in Turkey for 25 years, argues that the coup can best be understood as a response to an earlier “slow-motion coup” being implemented by Erdogan. He says Erdogan has been methodically taking control of the press, the judiciary and the security forces, and argues the amateurish coup attempt might have been the result of a desperate last effort to stop Erdogan from completely getting the military under his thumb. He also argues that Turkey is important to the world  – and what is going on there, both before and after the coup, is likely to have negative repercussions far beyond Turkey’s borders. For Finkel’s important argument, CLICK HERE

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Article 1

The Purge Begins in Turkey


Supporters of Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan rallying in Istanbul on Tuesday.

The coup in Turkey is over, and now the purge begins.

On Saturday, Turkish soldiers and police—those who had remained loyal to President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan during the uncertain hours of the previous day—were rounding up their enemies across the security services, reportedly arresting thousands. There will be thousands more. In the high-stakes world of Turkish politics—nominally democratic but played with authoritarian ferocity—justice for the losers will be swift and brutal.

The remarkable thing about Friday’s coup attempt is not that it failed but that, after years of Erdoğan’s relentless purging of his opposition, there was a faction inside the Turkish military strong enough to mount one at all.

The confrontation was a long time coming. When Erdoğan first became Prime Minister, in 2003, he was the Islamic world’s great democratic hope, a leader of enormous vitality who would show the world that an avowedly Islamist politician could lead a stable democracy and carry on as a member of NATO, too.

Those hopes evaporated quickly. Erdoğan, who was elected Turkey’s president in 2014, has taken a page from Vladimir Putin’s playbook, using democratic institutions to legitimize his rule while crushing his opponents, with an eye to ultimately smothering democracy itself. Over the past decade, Erdoğan has silenced, marginalized, or crushed nearly anyone in the country who might oppose him, including newspaper editors, university professors, aid workers, and dissident politicians. (What an irony that Erdoğan, who has imprisoned so many journalists, and gone to great lengths to censor Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, may have saved his Presidency by using FaceTime to make an early Saturday appearance on a Turkish television news channel.) President Obama and other Western leaders, seeing Erdoğan as a bulwark against chaos, largely gave him a pass. In his most recent grab for authoritarian powers, Erdoğan pushed through a law that stripped members of parliament of immunity from prosecution, a measure that his critics fear, with good reason, that he will use to remove the few remaining lawmakers who still oppose him.

Then there’s the military. Since the Turkish republic was founded, in 1923, the county’s generals have imagined themselves the ultimate arbiters of its politics, stepping into power—sometimes savagely—whenever they felt the government had become either too leftist or too Islamic. (After the military overthrew a democratically elected government in 1960, the generals executed the Prime Minister.) The military has had a special contempt for Erdoğan, whom they regarded as a dangerous Islamist—but they have proven no match for him.

In 2007, Erdoğan’s henchmen initiated a series of show trials, known collectively as Sledgehammer, in which fabricated evidence was used to remove the top tier of the Turkish officer corps. Hundreds were sent to prison, and the military itself seemed banished from politics forever. Indeed, Erdoğan must have been surprised that there was still a dissident faction of the armed forces large enough to try to bring him down. On Friday, the coup’s organizers didn’t even have the sense to detain the man they were trying to overthrow, and they apparently never seriously contemplated shooting their way into the palace. (After a coup in 1980, the military killed and imprisoned tens of thousands.) In the wake of their failure, the military will be soon be under Erdoğan’s total control, like virtually every other institution in the country.

In his dramatic appearance at Istanbul’s Atatürk Airport on Friday night, Erdoğan blamed the insurrection on the exiled cleric Fatullah Gulen, a reclusive figure who lives in the Poconos. “I have a message for Pennsylvania,’’ Erdoğan said, a reference that must have baffled many non-Turks. “You have engaged in enough treason against this nation. If you dare, come back to your country.”

Gulen, an aging cleric who heads one of the world’s largest Islamic orders, fled Turkey in 1999, when it appeared that the military was going to arrest him. For years, he was one of Erdoğan’s closest allies, helping him in his rise to power. While Gulen preaches a message of love and tolerance, there has often been something mysterious about him and his followers, who do not readily advertise either their affiliation or their intentions. Over the years, Gulen’s followers quietly found positions within many Turkish institutions, particularly the courts and police. (It was the Gulenists who led the show trials against the generals and the press.) In 2008, James Jeffrey, the American ambassador, wrote a memo about the Gulenist infiltration of the Turkish National Police. “The assertion that the T.N.P is controlled by the Gulenists is impossible to confirm, but we have found no one who disputes it,” Jeffrey said.

Then, in 2013, Gulen and Erdoğan split, in what appears to be part of a naked struggle for power. In the years since, Erdoğan has purged the courts and police of thousands of men and women presumed to be Gulen loyalists. It’s hard to know whether Gulen was behind Friday’s attempted putsch, but at this point it seems unlikely. While Gulen’s followers predominated in the security services, they were not generally believed to be a large force inside the military. It seems more likely that the officers who led the revolt represented the remnant of the military’s old secular order. Now they’re finished.

During his speech last night at the Istanbul airport, Erdoğan referred to the attempted coup as a “gift from God.” Erdoğan is usually a precise speaker, but in this case, perhaps in his excitement, he showed his cards. With the coup attempt thwarted, he will no doubt seize the moment. In recent months, Erdogan has made little secret of his desire to rewrite the constitution to give himself near total power. There will be no stopping him now.

Dexter Filkins joined The New Yorker as a staff writer in 2011.


Article 2

Troubling Forces Unleashed in Turkey

Soner Cagaptay

Cipher Brief, July 19, 2016

An in-depth conversation about why the coup happened and what implications it holds for Islamist mobilization in the streets, public perceptions of the military, and cooperation with the United States in Syria.

In an interview with the Cipher Brief, Soner Cagaptay, the Beyer Family Fellow and director of the Turkish Research Program at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, says he finds it “incredibly worrisome” that the failed military coup in Turkey could be the beginning of civil strife in that nation.

The Cipher Brief: Who instigated the coup attempt against Erdogan? Who do you think they drew support from? How is this different from previous coup attempts?

Soner Cagaptay: This coup goes beyond everything we know about the Turkish military in the sense that when the military orchestrated coups in the past, they were usually top down. This time, it seems to have been splintered within the military, with some high level officials taking part, but not the chain of command of the top brass. Definitely not the chief of staff — who was taken hostage by pro-coup forces. So number one, it goes against everything we know about the Turkish military.

Number two, in the past, when the Turkish military carried out coups, it never fired at its own people, and this time the military fired on its own people. This is going to have long-term debilitating effects on the military’s standing.

It’s hard to talk about who is actually behind it. It’s definitely not the Turkish military as a whole but a group within the Turkish military. And it’s not as small as people suggested originally. It’s a pretty sizeable group, for example, 20 percent of all admirals and generals and one-third of all one and two star generals. So it’s a very sizeable population.

Other people say that the Gulen movement was behind the coup, which is going to become an issue because the founder of the movement, Fethullah Gulen, lives in the United States. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan believes that Gulen and the Gulen movement were 100 percent behind this, so Erdogan will press the U.S. very hard for his extradition. That will become a major issue in the U.S.-Turkish relationship.

It used to come up in bilateral meetings, now it’s going to be issue number one. There’s still a slight chance that U.S.-Turkish military cooperation could become hostage in the long-term, including U.S. access to Incirlik Air Base and other bases in Southern Turkey, if Turkey’s demands for Gulen’s extradition are not met.

TCB: Is there any one main factor that drove this coup attempt?

SC: Not necessarily. The motives will not be clear to us for a while.

What is really important is to remember that for a while now, Turkey has been deeply polarized, between supporters and opponents of the ruling party, the AKP. In this coup, the military, which is based on universal military conscription, was the only organization in which all Turks participated until this coup. When the military fired at its own people, it sort of fired on itself. The military is no more a unifying institution. The worry is that there will be civil strife in Turkey. And when that happens, there will not be a military to unify the country.

TCB: How has the coup attempt been viewed by Turkish citizens? Has there been a strong Islamist response from the Turkish government?

SC: Any democratic regime is better than even the best coup. But the aftermath of the coup is troubling, because the forces Erdogan unleashed that prevented the coup are not the forces of democracy and liberalism, nor are they garden variety conservative AKP supporters. Rather, they seem to be Islamists, and in some cases jihadists, who have taken to the streets.

The forces unleashed by Erdogan to oppose the coup including “Islamists and even jihadists.”

That started when Erdogan issued a call on his phone using a Facetime interview to put a social media message out at the same time that the Diyanet, which is a government public office that controls all mosques, asked all imams in the country that they should use their mosques to call for prayer and also to call them to rally in support of Erdogan. So that’s a kind of religious mobilization that we have never seen before in Turkey at least not since the end of the Ottoman Empire.

The call to defend Erdogan was not a call to defend democracy, par excellence, but it was a call for a religious duty to politically side with Erdogan. That mobilization triggered a massive outpour of Islamists and even jihadists to the streets. Those Islamists and jihadists have still not gone back home since. So Turkey keeps having rolling rallies and rolling calls for prayer throughout the day, which keeps both religious excitement up as well as serving as a political call, making it a politico-religious duty to defend Erdogan. This is the most dramatic development, even at least as dramatic as the coup itself.

The coup has unleashed the religious political movement on the streets, which now seems to be rising because Erdogan has been pumping it up. The question is, what happens with it next? Erdogan may instrumentalize that movement, number one, to make sure that the last outstanding pockets of resistance turn themselves in because he is still not fully in charge of the country. Or, number two, he may instrumentalize those sentiments, this religious movement on the street, to build momentum for early elections in which the AKP would get a super majority that would allow them to make changes to the constitution and make him an executive-style president. If Erdogan becomes head of state, head of government, and head of the ruling party, that will make him the most powerful person in Turkey since Turkey became a multi-party democracy in 1950.

Or a third way, whether he will use the force that he has unleashed, which is unique in Turkey in over a century. The last time there was a politico-religious movement in the streets was in the time of the Ottoman Empire when, ironically, there was a counter-coup in 1909 to take out the secular young Turks, which failed. That was the last time, during the counter-coup of 1909, that you saw a politico-religious movement in the streets. We will have to wait and see whether Erdogan instrumentalizes this movement, which we haven’t seen in over one hundred years, to move forward and basically transform what was a religious counter-coup into an Islamist counter-revolution.

The chances of the third scenario seem to be smaller than the chances of the first and the second. But they have never been higher.

TCB: What kind of backlash do you see from the opposition parties and Turks who don’t affiliate with Erdogan’s party?

SC: The opposition parties have stood in support of democracy, which is good. The next takeaway from this is that all Turks of all stripes stand for democracy. The media, even as the coup was unfolding. stood with democracy. Civil society organizations, opposition parties stood for democracy. This was the first time in years that all four opposition parties, which are so divided and despise each other so much that they could not even get together in a coalition government last year when elections produced a split parliament, they now get together and issued a declaration.

Anyone who is not of Islamist or jihadist ilk is choosing to stay at home. They are afraid, they are avoiding being out there because the streets are now dominated, for the first time in 107 years, by Islamists. That’s a very shocking development. It will be a while before the opposition regroups and shows itself on the street.

And if it does, it might not be pretty, because there have already been cases of the Islamists harassing people from the opposition, leftists and others, so you can see even further aggressions. That’s why it’s really important to see where Erdogan will take this Islamist tide next; if he will instrumentalize it and put it back into the bottle like the genie, or if he will let it out entirely.

TCB: What impact will this coup attempt have on the fight against ISIS? How will it impact U.S.-Turkish relations?

SC: The failed plot could not have come at a worse time for the U.S., because this is after the U.S. had worked with Turkey diligently to build counter-ISIS cooperation. That included talks with Turkey for two years. Turkey had finally come on board, first opening its bases to U.S. missions flying into Syria last summer, and coming on board a few months ago in the battle against ISIS in northwest Syria. Turkish-backed rebels supported by Turkish special ops pushing against ISIS in a corridor that ISIS uses for smuggling fighters into and out of Syria, Europe, and Turkey. The corridor is also a major financing lifeline for ISIS. Turkey has been pushing to take control of this corridor. So ISIS has felt the burn of Turkish pressure. In my view, that was the reason that ISIS carried out the Istanbul airport attack — it was direct retaliation for Turkey’s involvement in Syria. The attack also ironically heightened in the Turkish view the threat perception of ISIS, almost aligning it with the U.S. threat perception about ISIS.

So the coup could not have come at a worse time because now, the military is split. The government will want to conduct a full review of the military to see why this happened, who is behind it, and if is there is an ideological or political split. This will mean that they will freeze, at least temporarily, cooperation with the U.S.

It’s not a good sign. I can say that cooperation against ISIS will at least freeze or plateau temporarily and might even be set back because of the fact that the Turkish military is demoralized and the government will roll back or freeze some of its activities. What is more, the military will lose many of its talented officers, some of whom will be implicated in the coup. That will really cripple the military’s ability to do things, to project power. It’s really not good news overall.

TCB: How will this incident affect relations with the EU?

SC: Regarding EU accession, forget about it. That’s basically a joke at this stage.

This has been a transactional relationship, for a while now, with Turkey helping the EU manage the refugee crisis and in return the EU turning a blind eye to Erdogan’s undemocratic transgressions. Now this could be the final nail in the coffin if Turkey brings back capital punishment to execute coup planners. There cannot be accession talks with the EU if they persist with capital punishment. Turkey has not executed anyone since the 1980 coup, but there are discussions about bringing back the capital punishment. Erdogan might do that or might not, but if he does it will be over. This fantasy of EU accession will not be possible because the EU will basically say, “That’s it. Goodbye. Thank you.”

TCB: What effects will this have on the Turkish economy?

SC: Probably not very positive, because Turkey’s long-term stability will now be brought into question.


Article 3

Turkey was already undergoing a slow-motion coup – by Erdoğan, not the army

For the last three years, the Turkish president has been methodically moving to take over the nodes of power

, Sunday 17 July 2016

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan: Had he been staging his own “slow motion coup d’état”?

The coup attempt that night was, by any account, a cack-handed affair. It was an attempt to grab the reins of a complex society with the almost quaintly antediluvian tactics of seizing the state television station and rolling some tanks on to the streets. It is as if the plotters had never heard of social media, while the Turkish president himself to addressed his supporters via FaceTime, urging them out on the streets. Crowds played chicken with the putschists, betting they would return to their barracks rather than have the streets run red with blood. Even then, at least 180 people – civilians, police and coup makers – died.

Indeed, the question is less why the coup failed than why it was ever carried out. If it had an air of amateur desperation, it is because its perpetrators probably assumed that this was their last chance to stop the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan from getting the military completely under its control. At the beginning of August, the military high council will meet, as it does every year, to consider who gets promoted, retired or pushed aside. In the last few days, the pro-government press has been more than hinting that a spring cleaning of the ranks is long overdue.

Indeed, many would argue that Turkey was already in the throes of a slow motion coup d’état, not by the military but by Erdoğan himself. For the last three years, he has been moving, and methodically, to take over the nodes of power.

The pressures on the media have been well documented, as the country slides in international ratings by organisations such as Freedom House, from partly free to not free at all. Opposition newspapers have been taken over by court-appointed administrators. Dissident television stations have had the plug pulled from satellites; digital platforms are no longer seen in people’s homes. Erdoğan curses the very social media which this weekend helped to save his skin.

Increasingly, the government has put the judiciary under its thumb. It is now a brave judge who rules in a way he knows will give official offence. So while the Turkish parliament congratulated itself on a long night’s defence of democracy, many wonder why its members connived in the decline of the rule of law.

And still Erdoğan craves greater authority. Last May, he discarded one prime minister in favour of another more sympathetic to his plans to change the parliamentary system into a strong executive presidency. When the coup plotters stand trial, they may suffer the additional indignation of seeing their attempts to put Erdoğan in his place backfire, by providing a mandate for such increased powers. The president has already promised a purge of those still connected to the exiled dissident cleric Fethullah Gülen – Erdoğanspeak for anyone who opposes his will.

To the outside world, this spectacle should cause dismay. Turkish ambitions to project power, to assist in the fight against Islamic State, to help forge a settlement in Syria will be much harder to realise if the government is at war with its own military and the army at war with itself. A Turkey that governs through consensus is the more valuable ally. The Turkish economy, too, will be more buoyant if relieved of the weight of political risk.

The lesson of the failed coup is that Turkey needs a leader who can bring different sides of a divided society together – or at the very least, one who is willing to try.

Andrew Finkel has been a correspondent in Turkey for 25 years and is a cofounder of P24 – an initiative to support independent Turkish media. He is also the author of Turkey: What Everyone Needs to Know, published by Oxford University Press.




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