Crossing the Line: A Failed Coup in Turkey

Now that the dust has settled over last Friday’s failed military coup attempt in Turkey, we are beginning to witness the full extent of that failure. With Istanbul and Ankara back firmly in his grasp, the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan – nominally led by Prime Minister Binali Yildirim – has begun a wide-ranging purge of suspected dissidents, including the firing of 9,000 police officers, the suspension of almost 3,000 judges, and the arrest of 6,000 military personnel, including 103 generals and admirals. However, much remains unclear. Who were these coup plotters? Erdogan has blamed the supporters of his former political ally Fetullah Gulen, who currently resides in the United States. Why did they do this now, after almost 14 years of Erdogan rule? And what does this mean for Turkey and Erdogan going forward?

Coups are hardly a rare occurrence in Turkish history. Since 1960, the military has ejected civilian governments about once every ten years. However, this coup was different. First, according to Senior Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near Eastern Policy and Cipher Brief expert Soner Cagaptay, “normally Turkish military coups are top-down affairs, but this time it seems to have been a splinter group within the military… perhaps 20 percent of all generals and admirals.” Rather than pit the government against the military as a unitary institution, this coup only mobilized that minority splinter group. Its success depended on the rapid capture of key institutions, including the media, and government officials. In failing to accomplish either of these objectives, the coup plotters quickly lost the momentum, which might have attracted more military leaders to their cause.

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