On the night of July 15, thousands of Turkish soldiers tried to topple the elected government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Erdogan fled before troops ambushed his hotel in the resort town of Marmaris; he had learned of the plot not from his intelligence chief, but from his own brother in law. The convoy of Prime Minister Binali Yildirim was attacked, but he escaped unharmed.
The coup attempt, according to the Turkish government, was undertaken by followers of Fethullah Gulen, a reclusive Islamic scholar who resides in Pennsylvania. It was reported that 8,651 soldiers participated in the putsch, which left at least 238 people dead and which was condemned by nearly every segment of Turkish society. The government’s response was swift: 149 generals have been sacked; 66,000 public servants removed; and 2,000 judges and prosecutors arrested, dismissed or suspended.
The speed and ferocity of the events of July 15 leaves a question hanging in the air – what might have happened had the coup succeeded? Scroll.in put this question to five observers.
Barcin Yinanc, op-ed editor, Hurriyet Daily News
In order to speculate about what would have happened if the coup had been successful, we need to assume that it was staged by the Gulenists as there is a significant amount of evidence pinpointing at the brotherhood.
First of all, in the immediate aftermath of the coup, Turkey would have succumbed to civil war, since not only the supporters of the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, but most of its secular opponents as well would have resisted the coup.
If the plotters had been successful, it would have meant the end of the rule of law in Turkey. Some might argue that the rule of law was already problematic here, but there would have been a huge difference, since any element of the rule of law would have ceased under the Gulenists. Their past track record – for example, the legal cases that targeted the military – show that they have no difficulty in twisting law to silence dissent.
Finally, contrary to their propaganda, they would have moved to impose an Islamist way of life on the whole society, ending all tenets of secularism in Turkey.
Halil Berktay, historian and emeritus professor, Sabanci University
After 14 years of peaceful evolution under the AKP towards a more civilian, more democratic Turkey relatively free of the overweening tutelage of the military-bureaucratic establishment, what we experienced on July 15-16 was an armed attempt at counter-revolution.
It was spearheaded by an ominously significant number of divisional or brigadier (one-star and two-star) generals belonging to the Gulenist congregation, and imbued with a cultic belief in its founder, Fethullah Gulen, as the new mahdi [the guided one] of Islam.
This was their inner ideology that strongly bound them in their shadowy drive to conquer the machinery of state from the inside, though at the same time it was so bizarre as to be never capable of being publicly propagated or creating a mass following.
Neither could it serve as a platform for shaping a new, hitherto unseen Gulenist type of Islamic state. This is why the Gulenists have never had an explicit outer ideology or (apart from conquering power) a clear-cut political project.
Instead, even during the 24 or 36 hours of their abortive coup their best hope lay with attracting the old-style Kemalist (at least non-AKP) from top ranks of the Army to their side. If they had succeeded even temporarily, as hinted by their fanatically brutal treatment of the top brass the night of July 15, they are likely to have launched a vicious wave of violence and bloodshed directed primarily at the government that would have been unimaginably worse than anything the government is now doing in a legitimate retaliation that is, unfortunately, much deprecated by the West. President Erdogan would have been murdered, as well as most ministers and the rest of the AKP leadership, plus the bulk of the pro-government media (I suspect that legitimist intellectuals like myself, unimportant though I am or we are, would not have been spared either).
If they had half-succeeded but failed to achieve complete control, civil war would have been the interim outcome. Eventually they would have aimed at restoring, together with their “real Kemalist” allies, the sort of authoritarian-modernist ancien régime, with perhaps a Myanmar-like Ataturkist facade, that might have been more to the West’s liking, though with themselves supremely ensconced in key controlling and further self-aggrandising positions.
Selcuk Altun, novelist
Thank God it didn’t happen once again! However there are many dark clouds in our horizon. Considering the level of mystery and chaos, it is too early to speculate. Anything said would be unripe, misleading or unfair...
Karabekir Akkoyunlu, Centre for Southeast European Studies, University of Graz, Austria
Had the coup attempt succeeded, Turkey would have been plunged into violent and unpredictable instability. The coup lacked popular support. The bombing of the Parliament utterly shocked the nation. Had the coup won on the night, the junta would have had great difficulty claiming legitimacy to govern and establishing control over the country. It would have faced stiff resistance from opposing factions of the armed forces, the police and parts of the population.
Given Turkey’s involvement in the Syrian civil war, the existing threat from ISIS and the ongoing conflict with the PKK [the Kurdistan Workers’ Party], this would have plunged the country into civil war and added to the regional conflagration, with grim repercussions for security and stability beyond Turkey’s borders.
We know from past experience that the junta would dish out brutal and fake justice, creating new resentments and tearing apart Turkey’s already tottering social contract.
It would create a “martyr of democracy” out of President Erdogan, whose autocratic and divisive leadership is very much to blame for the insecure and undemocratic environment Turkey already found itself in before July 15.
The coup has thankfully failed, but it has still managed to push Turkey into the abyss by dealing a huge blow to its democratic struggle.
Given the politicised nature of the justice system, the draconian powers Erdogan has accumulated overnight and the fanatical support behind him, it will be even more difficult now to criticise him and stand up against the regime’s excesses without being branded as a “coup supporter” and punished severely.
Pelin Opcin, director, Istanbul Jazz Festival
That’s a question that I wouldn’t even want to think about. A successful coup would have been a devastating step back in the history of Turkish democracy, and thankfully, it didn’t succeed.
As a culture and arts professional (and a conscious optimist and believer in democracy), I have to learn to adapt to various circumstances. This optimism is essential, since we work for the good of society. We believe in the unifying and healing power of the arts – this belief leaves little space for horror-infused fear and paranoia.
In our work in the culture and arts field, we have faced a great many challenging situations – financially, logistically, and even politically. We never gave up; instead, we became more creative in finding ways to continue to do what we do – that is, provide the finest medium possible for artistic expression. In challenging circumstances, artistic work reaches new levels, and takes on cutting-edge forms. My organisation, the Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts, founded in 1973, has survived a number of difficult political climates and even a military coup: it held its ninth festival only nine months after the coup of 1980. As long as artists and audiences remain unified in a mutual understanding about the essential freedom of artistic expression, there is always hope.