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Five Years On: July 15, 2016 Faux Coup and the Veil of Secrecy

Since the founding of the Republic of Turkey, people of Turkey have not been strangers to myriad social, economic and cultural milestones and crises. Yet, none but one of those crises has been so disparaging with a massive fallout. The failed coup attempt on July 15, 2016 proved to be a watershed moment in the contemporary history of Turkey.

Metaphorically, Istanbul was not aware that it would change the fate of the country and the region once again because the coup plotters seemed to have purposefully chosen the old Ottoman capital as the starting point to ‘overthrow’ the government in Ankara. As the coup was staged to fail, it expectedly came loose right at the point where it started. After the conquest of Constantinople in 1453, Istanbul had not witnessed such a day and night of light and thunder like on July 15-16, 2016. While the city’s conquest by the Ottomans started a new epoch, the failed coup attempt was meant to become a milestone of the dark days to come.

Due to the effects and consequences of this event in the history of Turkey, Turkish republican history most likely would be divided in two segment as BC (before the coup) and AC (after the coup). July 15 changed and upset many things in Turkey irreversibly with painful memories. In all other crises, the nation was united to overcome the problems but, for the first time, the nation has been united to deepen the very crisis by volunteering in the consequences of the failed coup attempt in the modern Turkish history.

In all other crises, the fault lines were factors like economy, politics or bad governance and people in general saw the way out in the democratic change of the governments and acted accordingly. Yet, this time and for the first time, even though the crisis was deeper and worse and the major factors originated from bad economy and bad governance of the country like the previous crises, people did not give the usual response but saw the exit in supporting the very political party and the very politicians who caused the problems. This new public reaction changed the country forever! Turkey is no more the same and the nation’s infatuation with its own executioner did not only make the case worse but also deeply polarized the society and families.

Five long years passed since the failed coup attempt and the veil of secrecy has yet to be lifted to reveal the truth behind the bloodiest and the most divisive event of the country’s history. Everyone – men, women, babies, toddlers, children, the sick, the healthy, the young, and the elderly – but the plotters and abettors of the coup paid the price dearly. In Erdogan’s new Turkey, journalists, lawyers, prosecutors, academics, teachers, doctors, government officials are arbitrarily kept in prisons under these circumstances.  How could it be possible to keep thousands of innocent people in the prisons without even knowing the plotters, coup organizers and the details of the July 15 incident? Need not to seek them far: The perpetrator is the despotic Erdogan’s regime itself and the regime officials with their lynchpin gained the (il)legitimacy from the public who danced to their Islamist and ultranationalist tunes blindly on paving the path for Erdogan’s totalitarian regime.

Prior to the coup attempt, the corrupt Erdogan government had already socially and economically weakened the country by bad governance. As if all those major issues were not enough, Erdogan put the country into more complicated situations by fueling the rooted social and cultural issues in the country to consolidate his authority at every opportunity. Nothing worked well to provide him the absolute power which he keenly wished. Even though the state departments were alerted months against the high risk of a coup attempt in Ankara, Erdogan and his government took no precautions to stop the looming attempt. Everyone seemed to be waiting for the coup attempt to change the course of affairs in their favor. 

Was that all? No, indeed. Erdogan did not take any action to stop the coup; he rather perfected his plans and instead of thwarting the coup at its inception, he chose to benefit from it fully. His party stooges and government officials worked overtime on the manipulation and control of the coup and, as it had been planned, they successfully ‘thwarted’ the coup attempt and dexterously exploited it to grasp more power in Turkey. 251 innocent lives were lost to snipers and hired guns, thousands of people were wounded and the country woke up to a very different morning on July 16, 2016.

Discussions are galore on whether the army officials claimed to have been linked with the Gulen Movement were directly involved in the coup attempt or not. Yet, the burning issue here is that why the Erdogan government did not save the country from this bloody game and let at least 251 people killed on that night. If this question was bravely and openly asked in today’s Turkey, Erdogan and his political party would not be able to stay in power even for a day.

Yes, Erdogan government gaslighted the Turkish public and greenlighted the plotters of the failed coup attempt to trap the Turkish Armed Forces by unleashing militia against the army personnel and the public to able to redesign the armed forces as the presidential guard. Most importantly, Erdogan put his plan to become Turkey’s Supreme Leader for life into action. Meanwhile, the Turkish parliamentary mode of governance and the Constitution were not letting him get what he wished in one go. Since the founding of the Republic, the Turkish Armed Forces had been a strong institution and he feared the generals might not allow him to do that. He needed to change the system and decapacitate the armed forces. The failed coup attempt became a golden opportunity for him to legitimize his all wrongdoings and implement any sweeping changes across the country easily. This was why Erdogan’s first response to the July 15 coup attempt was peculiar: He termed the attempt as the gift of God, because he had been involved with the preparations right from the very start.

From the first minutes of the coup attempt, Erdogan and his party officials began manipulation. Without any legal procedure and court decision, they framed the Gulen Movement as the mastermind of the coup attempt. All of the media outlets in the country broadcast newsflashes and helped the regime to spread the misinformation to every corner of the country. Erdogan, his party officials, media outlets, governments institutions, MIT (National Intelligence Organization), the key commanders of the Turkish Armed Forces, the Police and all other key players joined Erdogan and blamed the Movement as they had agreed about it days before to bring about the darkest era of Turkey.

With this terrible bloody event, Erdogan got more aggressive and started exploiting the aftermath to silence all the opposition and redesign the government institutions. Five days after the failed coup attempt, his government imposed the State of Emergency and began ruling the country with presidential decrees. That was the way how Erdogan always wished to rule the country. He ultimately achieved it through the windfalls of the July 15 failed coup attempt. The main opposition party CHP initially opposed to the imposition of the State of Emergency stating, “July 15 was a controlled-coup attempt, but July 20 is a civil coup made by the Erdogan regime.”

The first spell of the State of Emergency lasted for two years. Erdogan reduced the Turkish Grand National Assembly to the position of rubber stamp and frequently bypassed the national will invested on the government through the National Assembly to rule the country by statutory decrees. When they hit the streets, the people in Turkey thought they were to make Turkey into a more democratic state by standing against the so-called assault of the armed forces. Here is one thing, there is no way in the world that a real coup attempt could be overturned by any factors. If any military wanted to make a coup, they would simply do it. Turkey’s history is full of coup examples. Coups are not something new to the public in Turkey. This time though, with Erdogan’s call, thousands of people took to the streets to resist the ‘plotters’.

However, Erdogan regime also planned this part as they had planned all other parts of the bloody night carefully. They had commanded the Diyanet, Turkey’s Religious Affairs Directorate, to send text messages to imams to recite the call to the Prayer and supplications from the midnight until the morning. Meanwhile, the party offices and every AKP member were ready for the night. Most of the people did not understand what was happening. It was strange to receive directives from the Diyanet or the party offices to act on something in the middle of the night where there was no reason for that. That was the plan of the AKP management and they knew for what they were calling people. They had an insidious plan where people would be killed. As planned, people hit the streets and resisted against the so-called coup plotters who were mostly military cadets. How could they know that it was Erdogan’s dirty game, and they were going to be victimized for his political ambitions to turn Turkey into a totalitarian regime.

Everything was ready for Erdogan to change the system and the state institutions in a way that would favor him. He started to pave his way to reach the absolute power by imposing the State of Emergency and continued with suggesting changes in the Constitution. While Erdogan was thought to be falling in December 2013, he managed to reconsolidate his power and came out from every political turmoil with more power, due to the overt and covert collaborations in the Turkish politics. The July 15 failed coup attempt was one of the most important events in his political career as well and he would not be able to reach the maximum power he always wished without it.

Turkey as a country and nation and her institutions, organizations and businesses were deeply wounded and went years back with the failed (controlled) coup attempt. Erdogan and his party stooges were and have been the sole benefiters of the failed coup attempt as they enjoyed the consequences most lucratively. While the public economy shrunk and poverty increased every day, the wealth of Erdogan and his party members along with their relatives, friends and supporters skyrocketed.

After five long years, there are still no any evidence found about the real mastermind of the coup attempt. What motivated the coup plotters? How on earth could the state victimize so many without any proper court proceeding? With the fear state created by the Erdogan regime after the failed coup attempt, Erdogan took control of everything and became an autocratic leader with dozens of palaces, unaccounted wealth, fleet of private jets and ships, and the control of enormous resources of the nation.

What about the opposition parties and other key factions while Turkey was rolling into the abyss of an autocratic regime in the hands of Erdogan through all these events? Simply, they did nothing and were contented to watch the events. They always saw Erdogan as an easy cake and the Gulen Movement as the severe enemy. While all these illegalities and injustices are happening against innocent people, they rubbed their hands with the expectation of the heavy clashes between the politics and the civil society to get rid of both of them. All these events in Turkey showed one thing clear: There is no democratic group in Turkey. Most of the groups are either fascist or more or less radical. This fact in Turkey made Erdogan bolder to legitimize any of his political games to make changes in Turkey. Turkey is a country with different factions and groups in disunity and lacking a harmonious society. It can be easily said that the responsibility of the opposition parties which did not take any serious action against the Erdogan regime’s illegalities has not been slight as they knowingly or unknowingly helped Erdogan to reduce Turkey to a such terrible low together.

After five long years, the Constitution has virtually been changed, separation of powers nullified, Turkish Grand National Assembly has been given to dysfunction and Erdogan became the ‘supreme leader’. Meanwhile, nothing much has been enlightened after July 15 coup attempt while millions of people remain under the wreck of the July 15 failed coup attempt. With the political, social, and economic wounds of the event so severe, the remedy of a comeback will never be that easy. If everything changes at this point, it will take years to dress the wounds and recover from the stall. It seems nothing can be stopped before the Erdogan regime drains every national resource in Turkey. If this is the case, we do not need to talk about the future of Turkey but about how terribly Turkey will hit rock bottom when the curtain finally falls on the Erdogan’s regime.

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Engin Yigit is a Politurco columnist, activist, and author. Follow him at @enginyigtt.

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