In an unprecedented move, people foiled coup attempt by Turkish Army after President Erdogan urged the public for rebellion against the military might
Dr Pramod Pathak
On July 15, 2016, at around 7.30 p.m major streets in two main cities Ankara and Istanbul in Turkey were blocked by the army; suddenly the army helicopter started hovering in the skies and tanks started rolling on the streets. People knew it was starting of rebellion and takeover of power by the armed forces. There were already rumours about it and it wasn’t a new thing for the citizens. Way back in 1920s when Kemal Pasha overthrew the Ottoman Empire, armed rebellions and change of power have been occurring in turkey. As it usually happens, the TV station was captured and change of guard was proclaimed in the name of democracy. Then followed the mayhem. Those who resisted were ruthlessly shot down and fired on. However Prime Minister Benali Yildirim urged people to keep calm on the other channels of communications. It took little time for the President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who was in hiding, to assess the situation and the extent of involvement of the armed forces. It was realised that not all the armed forces were backing the rebellion. The President took an unprecedented step. He appealed to the citizens of the country to come on the streets and resist the rebellion. The citizens were quick to respond and unbelievable happened. People poured down on the streets in thousands defying the military forces. The Police forces too joined the people. The military faction loyal to the President Erdogan took action and felled the military helicopter using fighter jets. Armed Police surrounded the group of soldiers involved in coup. Rebels were overpowered and made to surrender. Within hours the situation was under the control of the Government. The President surrounded by citizens came out in open to declare that his Government was in power and those involved in the rebellion will be severely dealt with. By Sunday afternoon, everything was calm. President himself, the Government officials and the people thronged to the mosques to offer prayer for the people who were killed by the rebels. The coup attempt remained unsuccessful.
Discontent against Erdogan
When Erdogan came in power in 2003, he appeared to be progressive and with a secular bent. However, he started showing the fundamentalist traits soon. He reintroduced the old script and texts in the religious schools and gave impetus for their growth such that their numbers multiplied fourfold. He gave free passage to the radicalised Muslim youth coming from Europe to join ISIS. He went ahead giving passage to the ISIS forces to attack the Kurdish forces from behind from the turkey territory. The economy of ISIS was built up on the back market of petroleum oil. It was later revealed that Erdogan supported it actively and that his close relative was involved in the underground trade transactions. This he allowed with the view that strengthening ISIS would help checkmate Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad and the Kurdish rebellion simultaneously. However this step caught him on the wrong foot. In the course of time, Turkey faced series of explosions and terrorist attacks on Istanbul airport (Dec 23, 2015, June 9, 22016), on the American Embassy (Aug. 9, 2015), terrorist attack at Dinar Bakir (Oct. 13, 015) to name a few. It was the price Turkey paid for hobnobbing with ISIS. When the unrest against his regime started rising he ruthlessly suppressed the unrest and put many media people under arrest.
At the time when the things were going astray, he fell apart with the respected preacher, 75 year old Fetullah Gulen who has been in social service for the last five decades. He is progressive in his views on Islam and has blended the Sufi and other mystic ancient traditions in Turkey with Islam. This is not acceptable to the diehard fundamentalists. Fetullah had established a widespread network of hundreds of schools in Turkey and abroad. These have produced a class of intellectuals who are inclined towards secularism. These also constitute the part of the armed forces. Since the time of Kemal Pasha, who was a military officer himself, the army has been secular in its approach. It was expected as Erdogan started implementing his fundamentalist agenda, he developed differences with Gulen. He was hounded, was accused of exposing the corruption of Erdogan and his clique. Ultimately Fetullah Gulen left Turkey and took asylum in the United States in 2013. As the coup was aborted, Erdogan lost no time demanding Gulen’s extradition from the United States. For quite some time army echelon was uneasy with the implementation of the fundamentalist agenda and his empowering of himself as a President which would result in his dictatorship. A faction from army took a risk to initiate the takeover. As it appears, their number was too small and that majority preferred to sit on a fence and soon alienated themselves from the rebels. The coup failed.
Unbelievable response of the people
People responded to Erdogan’s appeal such that within hours they overwhelmed the army brass out to crush any opposition. It was really an admirable feat and an act of immense courage. Few telecast clips showed it. In one clip, an armoured tank was surrounded by people and three persons were seen pushing back the tank rolling forward without bothering even if they would be crushed under it, a grand heroic gesture. Soon the tank came to halt and people jumped on to take over. The soldier was disarmed professionally by a police in uniform. It also showed that the police personnel who had close ties with people were with the Government. As is revealed the rebel army faction had planned to kill the resisting police personnel. The plan failed. Police too played very important role to restore normalcy. In one clip the whole army contingent was seen emerging from behind a tank with raised arms walking away from the tank surrendering to the people. These shot reminded me of the shot way back in early 1990s when Boris Yelestin was faced with an army tank; he alone fearlessly walked towards the tank, climbed on it. As the soldiers came out standing behind the tank shield, he shook hands with them. That was the initiation of Boris Yelestin’s success. No sooner did the President Erdogan come out in open, surrounded by hundreds of citizens, unprotected by the guards; it spelled abortion of the ill-planned rebellion. This was an unprecedented incident where citizens came out in support of a democratically elected President in a Muslim country in unbelievably large numbers to render the rebellion unsuccessful.
The Prime Minister has announced that the law will take its own course while dealing with almost 6000 rebel prisoners. These include many top Generals. The question is which law will prevail, the secular law of Turkey or the Sharia law that Erdogan must be in favour of? Because Erdogan removed more than two thousand judges, whom he suspected to be favouring the secular law of the land. By Sharia law, all the rebels will have to be put to death. That will alienate the army and take away the good will. Here is an opportunity for an Islamic ruler to show that he can rise above the Sharia law of an eye for an eye and be magnanimous. He can demonstrate that Islam means peace at least in Kemal Pasha’s Turkey.
(The writer is a Goa based freelancer)