On September 30, Turkish journalist Ahmet Şık spoke to a packed seminar room at Harvard University as part of the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs’ annual “Turkey in the Modern World” seminar. Şık is a longtime critic of the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his party, the AKP, and has been arrested and tried multiple times because of his work. Şık was jailed for a year in 2011 as a result of his then unpublished book The Imam’s Army, which examined the Gulen movement’s penetration into the Turkish government and security forces. At the time, the Turkish government used the book to connect Şık to an alleged secret, anti-government organization known as Ergenekon.
Despite, or perhaps because of, the current media repression in Turkey, Şık has spoken openly about how the attempted coup played out, in his view, including at the Harvard event.* His conclusions are based on his own observations, as well as his sources in Turkish political circles.
Şık believes the roots of the coup attempt lie in the break between the Turkish government and the Gulen Movement. He does not, however, agree with the Turkish government’s description of the coup attempt as a purely Gulenist plot. Şık believes those involved have a much more complex set of backgrounds and motives, and likely include ultra-nationalists, Kemalists, and Gulenists united in their shared opposition to Erdogan and his government, as well as their overtures to the Kurdish PKK guerrilla organization.
According to Şık, the Turkish government was likely alerted to the imminent coup attempt about 4 or 5 pm local time on July 15. Once the alarm was sounded, the head of the Turkish intelligence services, Hakan Findan, paid a visit to the general in charge of Turkey’s land forces. Together, these two men decides to suppress the coup attempt by relaying orders down the ranks (Şık did not specify what kind of orders these might have been). Şık believes that between the time the coup plot was uncovered and the rebellious officers began to move on Istanbul and Ankara, that is between approximately 4 and 10 pm, there were ongoing negotiations between the Turkish intelligence services and civilian government and nationalist officers who were part of the coup alliance. The coup failed not because it was poorly planned, or civilians took to the streets to oppose it, but, rather, because the Turkish government successfully broke the alliance between the non-Gulenist officers and those affiliated with the Movement.
One of the crucial pieces of evidence, or lack thereof, is the fact that no organizational chart or plan for the planned military junta has surfaced since the coup was foiled. Such a chart has been a crucial part of every other coup plot in Turkish history. Şık believes this is evidence the Turkish government is trying to cover up the extent of the coup and the specific officers involved.
The picture Şık paints of Erdogan and the AKP is very different from their portrayal in the Turkish and international media, since the coup attempt. In Şık’s version of events, Erdogan is still in power only because a compromise was reached with the Turkish military’s nationalist and secularist elements. According to Şık, between the time when the coup was uncovered and when it was crushed, Erdogan’s government likely secured its survival by agreeing to give the military more influence in government decision-making.
Instead of crushing the military’s remaining independence, the failed coup, in fact, has brought the Turkish military back into the political system.
*Şık gave Muftah permission to publish his remarks at Harvard.