“Democracy is like a train; you get off once you have reached your destination.”1
~ Recep Tayyip Erdogan, President of Turkey
Make no mistake about it, last Friday’s apparent coup attempt by elements of the Turkish Army to oust budding Islamist dictator Recep Erdogan was a disaster for the West and for Kemalist, which is to say, “secular” Turkey, and a boon only to the – speaking of Erdogan – murderous lunatics and fanatics that Islam has been throwing up with increasing frequency and virulence over the last several decades.
But what actually happened concerning the “coup?” On that matter there is little information, and less of it reliable. We have little idea about units involved and not a lot more about personalities. The most we can really say with any confidence is that there was an apparent attempt at a coup, apparently against the government of Recep Erdogan, that some hundreds of people – some two hundred and sixty-five at a recent count – were killed, that Erdogan was never successfully arrested, that the chief of the Turkish General Staff, Hulusi Akar, was arrested, that crowds, undeterred by the military presence, ignored or, rather, defied, the coup plotters curfew, and that the coup failed.
We know that, after the event, the Erdogan Government and the AKP, the Islamicist party that he heads, have managed to arrest with commendable alacrity a large number of soldiers and to dismiss almost three thousand judges and prosecutors.2 We also know that Erdogan’s popularity has risen.
We know that before the coup attempt, indeed, since he arose to national level in politics, Erdogan hasn’t missed a step or jumped that democracy-train’s rails in his non-stop efforts to ride democracy exactly as far as he wanted to go and then to get off, taking a burka-clad Turkey with him.
We also know that it is not merely a precedent, not merely a pastime, not merely a clever thing to do, but also a sacred constitutional responsibility for the Turkish Armed Forces to plot to overthrow the civilian government at need; need being when said government has become a threat to the constitution.
We can further be confident that the Turkish Armed Forces know how to launch a coup, and were almost certainly preparing one, as the constitution tacitly requires them to do and as they have before, some four or five times since 1960. Moreover, they have done so before – two or three times in arms and twice more subtly, in words3 – with confidence and competence, two things not in obvious surplus on the 16th of July, 2016.
So what are the possibilities?
A. The coup attempt could have been more or less spontaneous, incited by word that Erdogan’s government was about to start arresting soldiers that either adhered to liberal Islamic cleric, Fethullah Gülen, or on some other pretext.
B. It could have been preplanned for a later date and only moved ahead because of the fear of arrest.
C. It could have been a small scale plot, as per B., above, but one of which Erdogan was fully apprised, and the timing of which he was able to control by issuance of arrest warrants, as per A. and B.
D. It could have been, start to finish, Erdogan and his party’s attempt at a Reichstag Fire, a staged incident, employing ignorant dupes, started and sabotaged in order to justify massive repression, bloodshed, and tyranny. You know; getting off the train.
E. It was a subplot of a larger Armed Forces-run plot for a real coup.
We can probably dispense with D right off; conspiracies of this kind are too difficult of execution, too unlikely to come off well, that it’s not for anyone but a fool to try. Erdogan may be many things, and is possibly all of them, but a fool he is not. Likewise, one is inclined to discount E. Again, when the Turkish Army decides to do something it tends to do it forthrightly, competently, and without any undue restraint. If the Turkish armed forces as a whole had been not just doing the planning for a coup, but had such plans and preparations for execution well in hand, or, at least, well advanced, then the coup actors’ calls for assistance and support would not have been so ignored and the streets of Turkey would have seen enough soldiers on them, quickly enough, that defiance would have been unlikely in any case, and massive in no case.
A and B are both plausible, and there is evidence for both of those and C, but I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that what really happened was C, that there was a plot on a minor scale, that Erdogan knew about it in considerable detail, that he let it go forward intending to dictate by his actions the time for the coup, and at the worst possible time for the coup, and that he was prepared to countercoup and to take full advantage of the opportunities that would open to him via a successful countercoup.
None of the evidence for C rises above the circumstantial, of course, but taken together, the body of evidence is persuasive. Consider: 1) Erdogan was out of town at the precise right times, yet, 2) he was able to get back to Istanbul at the precise right times, while 3) easily avoiding capture, 4) having lists already prepared of military officers to dismiss, very nearly the entire Turkish officer corps above the rank of captain, I’ve heard, and 5) also had extensivelists of prosecutors and judges to purge.
That last one is the most persuasive to me, because we don’t have any evidence that the judges or prosecutors had anything to do with the coup. Mere opportunism? Maybe, but the speed of the thing and the thoroughness, given the lack of time…no, I’m not buying opportunism; Erdogan was ready! Why? Because he knew! How? Because he was forewarned, possibly well in advance, even as to timing because he dictated the timing.
Photo by Defne Karadeniz/Getty Images
Tom Kratman is a retired infantry lieutenant colonel, recovering attorney, and science fiction and military fiction writer. His latest novel, The Rods and the Axe, is available from Amazon.com for $9.99 for the Kindle version, or $25 for the hardback. A political refugee and defector from the People’s Republic of Massachusetts, he makes his home in Blacksburg, Virginia. He holds the non-exclusive military and foreign affairs portfolio for EveryJoe. Tom’s books can be ordered through baen.com.
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