While on its face, the notion that elements in the Turkish military loyal to President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan deliberately launched a “fake coup” to justify a crackdown on Erdoğan’s enemies sounds farfetched, the belief is taking hold not only among Turkey’s staunch secularist minority and followers of Pennsylvania-based cleric Fethullah Gülen, but also among those who know the Turkish military well.
I asked people who firmly believe that the coup was not what it appeared to explain why they cannot take the notion that what occurred on Friday was a genuine military coup seeking to oust the president. Here is what they said:
- The military would never start a coup at 10 pm on a Friday. In 1980, the coup began on a Sunday at five in the morning.
- The military—if it had been a true coup—would have immediately shut down airspace, borders, the internet, and all media outlets.
- The first move would have been to go after the leaders, not to block bridges in Istanbul when it was known that the president was in Marmaris.
- The military would have informed allied commands and NATO as soon as the operation was underway.
- To arrest hundreds if not thousands of officers and judges would have required putting together a list and, again given past precedent, that would have taken at least two days.
- The notion that the president could get on CNN-Türk through FaceTime without prior coordination, and then have other channels on air soon after would have required pre-arrangement.
Another liberal wrote how:
- “I just received a SMS calling on all citizens to join forces of the defense of iron will and occupy all streets and squares.” Such mobilizing emails and instructions usually take prior coordination. When Erdoğan had his supposedly spontaneous temper tantrum at Davos several years back, text messages went out in advance to supporters too rally at the airport, the metro hours had been extended in advance for that day only, and thousands of Palestinian flags suddenly materialized at 3 am.
Personally, I’m not sure I believe the conspiracy, a variant of which we sometimes hear with regard to Iran: “Iran couldn’t have been behind the plot to kill the Saudi ambassador in Washington because the Quds Force would never be that inept.” Sometimes, people are simply incompetent, or operations dod not go according to plan.
If there is any truth to the conspiracy, then not only is Erdoğan mad, but U.S. intelligence and Turkey-based diplomats are out of their depth.
Regardless, one thing is clear: the aftermath of this weekend’s events. As another Turk wrote:
This event gives Erdoğan reason to suppress all the opposition including civic leaders, journalists, officers, professors, government employees and all. Already, the government is calling on all the people to protest it in the streets. It is implicitly encouraging the jihadists, including Islamic State sympathizers to go out, raid the homes of secular people, beat them and kill them. Now that an atmosphere of terror has been created, I do not want to predict what will happen next.
And, as my first interlocutor quoted above observed:
It is 3 am now and all his [Erdoğan’s] people are on the streets intimidating the rest of the nation. These people are all men, with beards and strange hair—looking very un-Turkish. [They] have knives in their hands for intimidation purposes. (Yesterday, these people cut the head of a soldier on the Bosphorus bridge in Istanbul). Thus the target is clear: They are taking over the nation with all of its institutions.