On Friday around 10pm local time, rumors started to circulate on Twitter about unusual military maneuvers in Istanbul, Turkey’s largest city, and Ankara, Turkey’s capital. By 11pm local time, the Turkish Prime Minister, Binali Yildirim, had appeared on television and confirmed that an attempted coup was underway.
Throughout Friday night into Saturday morning, certain factions of the military tried and failed to wrest control of the country. The situation is still very much developing, and there are still many unanswered questions, such as who led the coup and why they decided to launch it at this precise moment.
But there are two interrelated questions that help make sense of what transpired: why didn’t analysts see this coup coming; and why did the coup fail so dramatically?
Most analysts believed a coup was unlikely for the same reasons the coup ended up failing: the current political mood of the country does not favor the army. The Turkish military was once the most trusted institution in the country. It was genuinely perceived by most Turks, liberal and conservative, to be a guardian of Turkey’s democratic institutions. For decades, Turkey’s military acted as a check on executive power, launching coups whenever they felt the executive was gaining too much personal power or when political chaos was spiraling out of control.
But, trust in the military fell dramatically in 2007, after its leadership was accused of and put on trial for plotting a coup. In what now seems to be an extremely ironic twist, the previous coup plot appears to have been completely fabricated. After the government of then Prime Minister and now President Recep Tayyip Erdogan fell out with the Gulen movement, whose members were apparently instrumental in planting evidence of the purported coup, the accused generals were exonerated and released.
Since the last full coup in 1980, Turkish society has changed dramatically. In the wake of that coup, the Turkish economy was opened up to the outside world, and so was Turkish society. Turks are more wealthy, educated and cosmopolitan than they have ever been. They are also more fiercely committed to preserving democracy, even if that means supporting a leader that they genuinely despise.
Over the course of the coup attempt, I heard the same line repeated over and over again by liberal, secular Turks who regularly criticize the government: we don’t like Erdogan, but we can’t support his removal by undemocratic means like a coup. The lack of support from even the large proportion of Turks who are unhappy with the direction the country is headed in, combined with what appears to be the lack of a comprehensive government takeover plan, meant this coup attempt was doomed from the start.