Sunday

21st Apr 2019

Opinion

Turkish coup was blessing for Erdogan

  • The coup played to president Erdogan's success. (Photo: Wikipedia)

It is now a year after Turkish democracy survived a military coup, but fell victim to another, which it was not familiar with.

On the fateful night of 15 July, 1.5 percent of the Turkish military tried to topple the democratically elected Turkish government with a planned coup that seemed doomed to fail from the very beginning. However, 250 innocent souls lost their lives.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

Seasoned observers of Turkish politics were trying to understand why on earth an army as experienced as the Turkish military in staging coups and toppling governments would choose 10pm on a Friday night to block only one direction of the Bosporus Bridge and start a coup attempt.

Meanwhile, president Erdogan had already started naming and blaming the alleged culprits. When the events were unfolding, he was quite sure that the self-exiled Muslim cleric, Mr. Fethullah Gulen, was behind the coup.

We need to give due credit to president Erdogan. He became quite successful in his two very basic goals right after the coup. First and foremost, for putting all the blame squarely on the Hizmet movement, led by Gulen, and then carrying on a huge cover-up to hide other segments of the coup plotters.

Unconvinced US and EU

The problem is, while he has been quite successful in Turkey - he was not able to convince many in Europe and in the US.

Now that it is the anniversary of the botched coup, the Turkish government is doing its best to launch afresh another wave of persuasion by publishing articles written by ministers, and organising panels at think tanks.

Yet, Europe still seems not to be buying the narrative of the Turkish government that it was Gulen who ordered the coup. Although the EU believes that Gulenists were involved in the coup, it is not convinced that they were the only group and that the order came from the leader of this religious community.

Intcen, the EU’s intelligence centre, in its report published both on EUobserver and The Times, said the coup was staged by a range of opponents to Erdogan and his ruling AK Party.

The secret report said: "It is likely that a group of officers comprising Gulenists, Kemalists, opponents of AKP and opportunists were behind the coup. It is unlikely that Gulen himself played a role in the attempt".

In March, the German intelligence chief, Bruno Kahl, in an interview with Spiegel, was asked if he believed Gulen was behind the coup - as claimed by president Erdogan.

"Turkey has tried to convince us of that at every level but, so far, it has not succeeded," was Kahl's reply.

Then, the Spiegel journalist told him that what he was saying about the coup did not "sound like the kind of vast conspiracy that president Erdogan always claims." Kahl's answer: "The consequences of the putsch that we have seen would have happened anyway, if perhaps not as deep and radical. The coup was likely just a welcome pretext."

On 24 July last year, the German magazine Focus ran a story claiming that the British intelligence service GCHQ had intercepted the communications of the Turkish government on the coup night.

The British service reportedly learned that the Turkish government was giving instructions both to put the blame categorically on the Hizmet movement and to start the unprecedented purge. The Focus story has still not been denied.

There are other official documents that challenge the narrative of president Erdogan on the coup, such as a report by the British foreign affairs committee of the House of Commons.

'Controlled coup'

As one year has passed since the coup, the conviction in Europe about it deeply contradicts that of Erdogan.

The common belief is that the coup was neither staged by Erdogan himself, nor ordered by Gülen, but Erdogan knew it, let the tanks roll and designed it to remodel the Turkish state. It was led by a coalition of Kemalists, opportunists, secularists and Gulenists.

As Martin Schulz, the European Parliament's president at the time, aptly put it - the coup was not well-prepared at all, but the response was meticulously drawn up.

Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the leader of the main opposition party, CHP, keeps calling the events of 15 July "a controlled coup".

There are still many questions that need to be answered, yet the two most important personalities that could shed light on that night, the chief of staff, general Hulusi Akar and chief of intelligence, Hakan Fidan, refused to attend the hearings in the Turkish parliamentary commission created for the coup. The letter sent to the commission by General Akar created more questions than answers.

Erdogan famously called the coup "a gift from God". Right after the putsch, a quarter of Turkish judges and prosecutors were dismissed, and many ended up in jail.

The government is pushing ahead the greatest purge the Turkish republic has ever seen as of today, with no end in sight. Some 150 thousand people have been sacked from their government posts. Around 50 thousand people are in jail, of which 17 thousand are women and there have been at least 500 babies born in prisons.

According to Stockholm Center for Freedom - a rights advocate organisation created by exiled Turkish journalists in Sweden - there are currently 200 journalists behind bars in the country. This figure makes Turkey the champion of journalist jailers, well ahead of China.

Some 189 media outlets have either been seized or banned after the coup, while 35 percent of the journalists lost their jobs.

Most shockingly, the chief of staff publicly declared that only 1.5 percent of the Turkish army had joined the coup and most of them were privates.

According to chief of staff registry, there are currently 356 generals in the Turkish military. The number of generals who have been arrested after the coup is 167, which means 47 percent of the top brass is behind the bars. If only 1.5 percent of the military joined the putsch, why has almost 50 percent of the top brass been arrested?

And if 50 percent of the generals joined the coup, how come it collapsed so quickly?

These are still very legitimate questions that beg answers, while the wave of purges, arrests and detentions target not only Gulenists, but all those who dare to criticise Erdogan.

Selcuk Gultasli is a journalist. He was Zaman's Brussels bureau chief until the newspaper was taken over by the Turkish government.

Overcoming the plot against Turkish democracy

One year after an attempted coup, what Turkey needs is not biased and groundless criticism but more cooperation, dialogue and understanding, writes its Europe minister Omer Celik.

Turkey's accelerated drift from Europe

Turkey's path towards EU membership seems harder than ever in the past 54 years, after Erdogan, this week, threatened to "wave" goodbye to the bloc.

Juncker: Death penalty will end Turkey's EU bid

Turkish president Erdogan said he would reinstate capital punishment, for people behind last year's failed military coup. But European Commission president Juncker says the move would end Turkey's bid to join the EU.

EU and Turkey fail to defuse tensions

A "high level political dialogue" ended with tense exchanges at a press conference over the human rights situation in Turkey.

Press freedom and the EU elections

We are campaigning for the next European Commission to appoint a commissioner with a clear mandate to take on the challenge of the protection of freedom, independence and diversity of journalism.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  2. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  3. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  4. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  5. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  9. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  10. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  12. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan

Latest News

  1. Romania drafts EU code on NGO migrant rescues
  2. Bulgaria, Hungary, and Malta shamed on press unfreedom
  3. EU drafts $20bn US sanctions list in aviation dispute
  4. Brunei defends stoning to death of gay men in EU letter
  5. US Democrats side with Ireland on Brexit
  6. Wifi or 5G to connect EU cars? MEPs weigh in
  7. How Brexit may harm the new EU parliament
  8. EU parliament backs whistleblower law

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  3. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID
  6. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership
  7. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson
  8. Platform for Peace and JusticeTurkey suffering from the lack of the rule of law
  9. UNESDASoft Drinks Europe welcomes Tim Brett as its new president
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers take the lead in combatting climate change
  11. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament takes incoherent steps on climate in future EU investments
  12. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersSeminar on disability and user involvement
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersInternational appetite for Nordic food policies
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Nordic Innovation House in Hong Kong
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region has chance to become world leader when it comes to start-ups
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersTheresa May: “We will not be turning our backs on the Nordic region”
  6. International Partnership for Human RightsOpen letter to Emmanuel Macron ahead of Uzbek president's visit
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsRaising key human rights concerns during visit of Turkmenistan's foreign minister
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersState of the Nordic Region presented in Brussels
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersThe vital bioeconomy. New issue of “Sustainable Growth the Nordic Way” out now
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic gender effect goes international
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersPaula Lehtomaki from Finland elected as the Council's first female Secretary General
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic design sets the stage at COP24, running a competition for sustainable chairs

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us