News 16 July 2016
Author: Marisa Lee

Here’s what happened in Turkey – and why

Author Marisa Lee
16 July 2016

This weekend saw a crazy upheaval in Turkey, with a group of the military undergoing a coup to try and overthrow their president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Currently, at least 265 people have been killed. At a time where the world is in turmoil over racism and extremist groups, it’s hardly surprising that the military, who many thought had finally been silenced into submission by Erdoğan, decided now was the time to revolt. In case you missed it, here’s what went down.

On Friday evening, news broke out that a military coup may be about to happen, according to two internet monitoring groups. Access to Facebook, Twitter and YouTube was restricted as the news began to be reported across the world.

Army vehicles started to drive through Istanbul, with tanks seen outside the country’s main airport. Military trucks were filmed blocking the bridges connecting the City’s Asian and European sides.

A soldier is filmed telling civilians “it’s a coup, go home” as chaos spreads across Istanbul’s main connective road, Istikal. People ran in all directions, and restaurants and shops closed.

The Turkish military released a statement through state media outlets, declaring that a coup was underway. Sources close to President Erdoğan quickly responded, insisting that the coup failed and that his government would remain in control.

A spokseman for Erdoğan confirmed there was an attempted coup by “a group within the armed forces”, but says it will fail and punishments will be given to those involved.

On Friday night, gunshots were heard in Ankara, Turkey’s capital, whilst military planes flew low overhead. According to Reuters, tanks opened fire near the parliament building, and NTV and local journalists were too reporting about gunfire.

People claiming to speak for the military released a statement on Turkish TV channels, saying that the army had succeeded and taken control of the country. They declared that Erdoğan’s government had chipped away at Turkey’s non-religious traditions, and that Turkey was now being governed by a “peace council”. In response, one of Erdoğan’s spokesmen said that only a small group of the army were involved with the coup, and that he was still leader of the country.

A very long two hours after the military began it’s attempt at overthrowing the president, Erdoğan finally appeared on Turkish TV channels through FaceTime from his holiday in Marsmaris. He called on the Turks (49.5% of whim voted for his party in November) to respond to the coup by protesting in public.

“I urge the Turkish people to convene at public squares and airports,” Erdoğan says. “There is no power higher than the power of the people,” he continues, adding that the judiciary “will swiftly respond to this attack”.

An eyewitness told the BBC that they heard helicopters and gunfire overnight in Marmaris, and Erdoğan later claimed in a press conference that the town was attacked.

TV channels reported that members of the military declared a curfew across areas of the country. This lead to Turks desperately rushing to stock up on food and water and get cash out from banks, fearing a potential institutional meltdown over the next few days.

Overnight,under Erdoğan’s encouragement, large crowds began to gather to oppose the armed forces. Unsurprisingly, confirmed local reports told of fighting, and casualties were reported.

Erdoğan blamed the attempted coup on groups of the military who were loyal to Fethullah Gülen, a US-based Turkish cleric who lives in exile in Pennsylvania. Gülen was an ally to Erdoğan, but became an opposer of him. He leads the Hizmet movement, and frequently accused Erdoğan of trying to destabilise his government. Erdoğan has since asked the US to arrest Gülen.

The military’s grip on key civil institutions like major transport hubs and media companies started to appear less strong than was reported earlier in the revolt.

On Saturday morning, Erdoğan arrived at Istanbul’s Ataturk airport, declaring his government was still leading the country. He swore to round up and punish those behind the coup.

By Saturday lunchtime, the Turkish Prime Minister Binaly Yildirim announced that 161 people had been killed and over 1,440 injured, with 2,839 military personnel arrested. An anti-government group took over a ship at Gölcük naval base and were holding the head of the Turkish fleet hostage.

On Saturday Afternoon, the institutional drama continued as Turkish media reported that 2,2745 judges had been taken off duty. Gülen denied Erdoğan’s suspicions of his involvement in the uprising. Opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu of the Republican People’s party criticised the coup. 

So why did this all happen?

The coup leaders said that they decided their plan of attack in the name of democracy, although Erdoğan was democratically elected as president. When the modern Turkish Republic was founded in 1923 by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, he created a form of democratic nationalism and hardcore rejection of religion named Kemalism. The Turkish military sees itself as the guardian of Kemalism, and since 1960 has overthrown four Turkish governments in the name of keeping Turkey’s democracy from Islamic influence.

Erdoğan’s government poses the same threat to Turkish democracy that the previously overthrown governments did, as he leads the AKP – a moderate Islamist party that has changed Turkish schools to be more Islamist. He’s attempted to restrict Turkey’s freedom of press and has pushed constitutional changes that would give him dangerous amounts of power.