On July 15, 2016, elements of the Turkish military conducted an unsuccessful coup within their own country. Their goal, to restore the rule of law and democratic elements within their government, was ultimately unsuccessful. Hundreds of participating service members were arrested to include colonels and generals, as well as judges at all levels up to the Supreme Court in an immediate crack down by the government. In the United States, the concept of a coup is entirely foreign, but for many countries, the military has long considered itself protector of the people and filled the role to ensure the government, ensuring that the government does not cross the line, and restoring peace when they do. Somewhere along the lines though, this one went bad.
Those forces attempting to overthrow the government initially established themselves in security positions around the main city by employing armored vehicles and aircraft. The airport and major bridges were secured, followed by the seizing of what were deemed key infrastructure locations such as the news outlets. At the highest point, the leaders announced that they had secured the government and were now in charge.
Unfortunately for them, the outpouring of support seen in previous coup attempts did not come, with people flooding out into the main streets and protesting the attempt. Before the next day was over, hundreds of soldiers had surrendered, police and rebel soldiers would exchange significant gunfire, and more than two hundred civilians would die in the clashes.
Some of the soldiers captured would later claim that they believed they were taking part in legitimate military exercises instead of a coup. This disconnect, if valid, would be a demonstrated example of the complexity of military service, where one is directed to perform an action, and not to disobey a superior officer. At the airport alone, more than 650 soldiers and a colonel were arrested.
This is not the first coup in recent history for the region though. After the Ottoman Empire collapsed, the first President of Turkey declared the new ideology to follow Kemalism, or a separation of religion from government in terms of education and culture. Since then, a successful coup in 1960 resulted in the overthrowing of the pro-Islamic leader and a return to Kemalism.
Turkey entered a recession in the early 1970s culminating in 1971 when the Prime Minister was provided a memorandum by the Chief of Staff demanding a “strong and credible government inspired by Atatürk’s views.” The prime minister resigned before the coup could occur – becoming known as the coup by memorandum. This recession continued through 1980 when the military once-again dissolved the government, an act that led to many years of economic growth.
Finally, in 1997, as the Islamic Welfare Party grew in popularity, military generals provided the government with a list of recommendations to close religious schools across the country and ban head scarves. The actions were agreed to, but the prime minister resigned as well.
Each of the examples of the government being overthrown were opportunities for the military to unite with the country’s founding principle of Kemalism. The difference between them and the July 2016 coup attempt is it simply did not gain the popular uprising and military support on a large enough scale to effectively complete the plan. The results may be much more punitive and negative as the government cleanses the military and judicial ranks of all those it deems pro-coup. The future for Turkey is uncertain as the country stands on a razor edge between ostracizing foreign countries and its own military.
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