t 10:30pm on 15 July, armed soldiers swarmed upon Istanbul’s Bosphorus bridge, blocking its access and declaring to drivers: “There is curfew, everybody go home.” Their motives appeared disconcertingly ambiguous.
“Both bridges in Istanbul have been blocked by Turkish military. Reason unknown,” tweeted one bemused observer.
“Military doing a show of force, low-flying jets etc,” tweeted another.
For many civilians, the sudden appearance of the military was one that could only be intertwined with a terror threat, the recent attack at Istanbul International airport still haunting the public consciousness. The reality – a coup d’état that, for those few hours, overpowered Istanbul – initially appeared an object of ridicule.
Speaking to The Guardian, journalist, Aslı Aydıntaşbaş discussed the sense of disbelief that descended upon her dinner party that night. “Someone asked: was it a coup? But we all laughed – it was meant as a joke. This was thought to be such a thing of the past.”
The events in Istanbul on Friday night have marked one of the bloodiest points in 21st century Turkish history with 265 people killed and over 1,400 injured in the ensuing violence.
Crackling over Facetime on CNN Türk, the absent President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan gave a rallying cry for democracy, urging: “There is no power higher than the power of the people.” His calls were quickly answered. Thousands of government supporters took to the streets in a bid to reclaim the city; opposition leader, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, condemned the coup via Twitter; meanwhile former President, Abdullah Gul warned: “Those who attempt to overthrow the government should go back to their barracks.”
President Erdoğan’s rapid reclamation of the city has – for some – signalled an inspiring celebration of democracy by the Turkish people. NATO chief, Jens Stoltenberg, lauded “the strong support shown by the people and all political parties to democracy and to the democratically elected government of Turkey.” It was a sentiment that was echoed by numerous global powers, including America, Germany and Russia, all of whom expressed the need for stability and solidarity in the current climate.
However, this unified front is one that appears to have been uttered through gritted teeth and clenched fists, more akin to a group of bitchy schoolgirls than suited diplomats. Where once Erdoğan’s party, the AKP, was touted as a model for Middle Eastern politics, pledging to promote freedom, end poverty and end corruption, Erdoğan’s presidency is now riddled with controversy. His authoritarian views have attracted criticism from across the West, from the government’s extensive use of censorship to the patriarchal culture that remains entrenched within his society. Indeed, the notorious Ergenekon and Sledgehammer trials between 2008 and 2012, alongside his opposition to the moderate-Islamist movement, Hiznet, have been viewed as evidence for Erdogan’s conservative megalomania, utilising democracy as a mere guise to impose tyranny.
this unified front is one that appears to have been uttered through gritted teeth and clenched fists
Such criticisms, however, have only been exacerbated by the framework of instability that has wreaked havoc upon the region. Erdoğan’s involvement in the Syrian conflict, coupled with the looming threat from Islamic State and the Kurdish PKK has mutated to form an ideological grenade that has only been biding its time.
The result? A wannabe coup that many have condemned as a “study in ineptitude”: the military embodiment of Rob Kardashian, soon to be overlooked for the ruthless glamour of its older, more successful sisters – in this case, the four military coups executed between 1960 and 1997. The troops’ seizure of state media, TRT, was hardly an inspired stroke of military genius worthy of Les Miserables, but a half-hearted attempt for power, inspired by dusty 1970s videos and crumbling textbooks. It is an event that could easily be brushed aside in the grand scale of Middle Eastern politics, forgotten amongst the war and bloodshed of Turkey’s neighbour states.
However, although hardly a lesson in military strategizing, the events of Friday night are an alarming example of a country imperilled and alienated from the cultures it must co-operate with. As the fallen star of the Ottoman Empire, Turkey’s location, teetering upon the delicate cusp between Europe and Asia, manifests a potent struggle within its own national identity. Although possessing greater political security than its war-ravaged Asian counterparts, Turkey still lacks the freedoms encapsulated by its European allies. Indeed, as the channel through which many refugees and jihadists pass, this discrepancy is made even more transparent, with Turkey posing as a mere passing point between the places they leave and the countries for which they aim.
Turkey still lacks the freedoms encapsulated by its European allies
For The New York Times journalist, Jenny White, Friday’s coup was central to the resolution of this conflict, placing Turkey “squarely in the Middle East.” However, such an explanation is one that grossly simplifies the cultural repercussions of the coup: one motivated not by stark ambition, but panic. Photos that have circulated of the rebels depict, not pitiless mercenaries hell-bent on power, but young, cowering teenagers, blindly playing a part in a scenario they hoped might have a prettier outcome. The attempted coup was not an attempt to regain sovereignty from an autocratic ruler or Western forces (as seen in Iraq or Syria), but about fortifying Turkey’s position against extremism and violence, forever in the shadow of European pressure.
In the face of threat, where Europe has turned to the far-right, with UKIP, the French Front National and the Dutch Freedom Party experiencing unprecedented popularity, Turkish plotters turned to the military: an organisation that, until the leadership of the AKP in 2002, wielded great political influence.
Although the attempted coup is one that has severely threatened
Turkey’s political advancement, its rapid resolution cannot be viewed as a victory for democracy. Erdogan’s crass condemnation of the rebels as a “virus” depicts a tactless incomprehension of his own status as a product of the electorate. Meanwhile the arrest of 6,000 ‘plotters’ has only offered the President an excuse to further wield authoritarianism, this time in the name of national security.
Although the Turkish government may have breathed a sigh of relief that crisis has been averted, Erdogan’s inevitable backlash is one that risks exposing the blatant wounds of his country to those willing to take advantage. As such, the coup may not merely be a blip for Turkish instability, but the beginning.