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Friday, 4 November 2016

Turkey before and after July 15: The story of a failed coup

Yaprak Gürsoy (Academic Visitor, St Antony’s College, Oxford and Associate Professor, Istanbul Bilgi University)

On 2 November, four senior members of SEESOX at St Antony’s College, Ezgi Başaran, Mehmet Karlı, Deniz Ülke Arıboğan and Yaprak Gürsoy, spoke on the 15 July 2016 coup attempt in Turkey. The director of SEESOX, Othon Anastasakis, chaired the seminar, which mostly focused on the events of the coup, but also touched upon the political, economic and social aspects of Turkey before and after the botched putsch. 

The seminar started with Ezgi Başaran, a prominent Turkish journalist, describing in detail the events of the night of the coup. The presentation was particularly rich in providing facts and in explaining the surprise and disbelief of many Turkish citizens in the first few hours of the coup. Başaran summarized the main differences between the July 15 putsch and the previous coups in Turkey, pointing out that people going out to the streets to protect the elected government, as well as the unanimous resistance against the coup among the political parties, were unique to the recent attempt. Although opposition to the coup was common, there is still no consensus over political issues, which results in the continuation of political conflict. In her talk, Başaran referred to some of the groups that are part of the conflict, namely the AK Party government, the Gülenists, and those who were charged in the Ergenekon and Balyoz trials based on fabricated evidence. The relationship between these groups has taken several twists and turns over the last decade. The government and the Gülen network are in a power struggle today and the coup attempt was the latter’s last effort to unseat the former.
In his talk, Mehmet Karlı discussed the evidence that linked the Gülen movement to the failed coup. Karlı, who is an assistant professor at Galatasaray University and a renowned lawyer, first pointed out that 65% of the Turkish public is convinced that Fettullah Gülen is behind the coup attempt. Karlı explained the reasons for this belief. Among macro-level reasons are the following:

1. The Gülenists in the armed forces needed the coup because they were about to be dismissed from the military. No other group had a pressing need to intervene.
2. The Gülenists were the only people in the military who were cohesive enough to carry out such an illegal plan. 
3. Some Ergenekon and Balyoz suspects knew about the Gülenist officers and their plans, and had warned the public and authorities of the approaching danger.
4. Over the years, some Turkish citizens have had firsthand and negative experiences with the activities of the Gülenists, especially in the judiciary and police forces.

Karlı also talked about the results of the coup investigation so far as micro-level reasons for the belief that the movement staged the coup. However, Karlı cautioned the audience that the evidence is still very fresh and can change in the future.

Deniz Ülke Arıboğan, an eminent professor of international relations at Istanbul University and the former rector of Bahçeşehir University, argued that the 1960, 1971, 1980, and 1997 military interventions occurred in Turkey when these five preconditions were met:

1. Political instability
2. Economic fluctuation
3. Rising security threats
4. International recognition for a coup
5. The existence of an ambitious and devoted military staff

Arıboğan showed that these conditions were not evident before the final coup attempt. Although since 2013 certain events can be interpreted as changes in the political and economic environment, there was no “instability” in Turkey before the putsch. The same government had been elected to power in the last elections and there was no economic crisis. Moreover, the international community was not particularly supportive of a coup in Turkey. The most serious issue prior to the coup was certainly the rising security threat due to terrorism. The coup plotters were also not marginal in terms of their numbers once it is considered that only around 20 officers led the 1960 coup. Thus, except for the 3rd and 5th preconditions, the right circumstances had not materialized before the July 15 attempt, which explains the coup’s failure.

The last speaker in the seminar was Yaprak Gürsoy, who is an associate professor at Istanbul Bilgi University and an expert on military interventions. Gürsoy explained that one obvious reason for coups to fail is poor planning and execution. The chances for a coup to fail increase if it is staged mostly by middle ranking officers and if these officers cannot signal to their comrades that they will be successful. This was what happened in the Turkish case. However a thorough study should also take into account the context in which the coup took place. Following Samuel Finer’s disposition and opportunity model, Gürsoy argued that the disposition to intervene in Turkey has not changed much over the years, but the opportunity structure has closed since 2007. Political elites (including the opposition parties), the top brass of the military, and public opinion have decisively condemned the military’s involvement in politics. This is partially why if the coup had succeeded it would have resulted in a bloody and repressive regime. However, the fact that there was no opportunity was quite well known and it was obvious that the coup would have failed or triggered a civil war. Then why did the coup plotters risk the attempt? Gürsoy concluded that the only reasonable explanation we have at the moment is that the putschists were desperate because they were going to be dismissed from the military for being Gülenists.

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