Coup attempt pushed back in Turkey

16 July 2016
Hamza Culin

An attempted coup in Turkey has been blocked by mass mobilisations in defence of the elected government. The coup, reportedly organised by army officers loyal to Islamist figure Fethullah Gülen, started around 11pm on 16 July with a swift attempt to take control of Istanbul and the capital, Ankara.

In Istanbul, troops shut down Atatürk airport by turning the region surrounding it into a military zone. Tanks were stationed in front of the main entrances. The army also sent troops into Taksim Square and blocked traffic at the Bosporus bridges connecting the European and Asian sides of the city.

Troops occupied the Turkish Radio and Television Corporation (TRT), from which the army was able to broadcast a statement giving justifications for the overthrow of the Justice and Development Party (AKP)-led government. These included president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s corruption, the lack of democracy and the government’s inability to defeat terrorism.

At midnight, the Turkish armed forces website claimed that the military had absolute control over the country. TRT and all other Turkish TV channels were promptly taken off air. The impression that the coup leaders were firmly in control was reinforced by the fact that troops were engaged in a hunt for Erdoğan and were besieging the AKP headquarters.

However, Erdoğan managed to conduct an interview via Face Time with CNN Türk. He called for the people to take to the streets to defend the government and Turkish democracy – a very ironic request, given Erdoğan’s history of quelling anti-government protests.

Nonetheless, in a matter of minutes, people started congregating in Taksim Square. The military was put on the back foot as soldiers seemed reluctant to shoot at protesters. Gunshots were fired in the air in a fruitless attempt to disperse the growing crowds. Similar crowds were gathering in squares and streets across the country. Within an hour, tens of thousands were rallying in Istanbul, Ankara and Gaziantep.

The protesters resisting the coup in Istanbul had their first victory at Atatürk airport, where, after a few hours of tense confrontation with the army, they managed to force the troops to withdraw. Similarly, in Taksim Square, the troops were quickly outnumbered by protesters and were forced to flee, in some instances even abandoning their armoured vehicles. In Ankara, the troops did not find it any easier.

The initiatives by citizens to resist the coup made it possible for sections of the state still loyal to the government to go on the offensive. Special forces were sent to arrest the troops and officers involved in the coup attempt. Factions within the military that were passive at the beginning began to move into action. Finally, Erdoğan appeared at Atatürk airport to give a victory speech. By around 5:00am, the coup attempt was over.

This recent attempt is only the latest episode of a long history of successful and attempted coups by the Turkish Armed Forces, or sections within it, since 1960. However, this is the first coup attempt against the ruling AKP.

The tens of thousands who mobilised and defeated the military today might have not all been AKP supporters, but they were all against a military dictatorship that would have taken Turkey back to the time when citizens were tried in courts martial for speaking up against the state.

Most people in Turkey do not have favourable memories of the successive military regimes that ruled the country. They were always characterised by brutal repression and rampant corruption.

While Erdoğan and the AKP might have been saved this morning by the Turkish masses, the thing to be celebrated is the heroic fight put up by ordinary people to defend what remains of democracy in Turkey – the same democracy that Erdoğan and the AKP have been undermining since they gained office.

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