Why the Coup Failed - A Dozen Reasons
Edward N. Luttwak noted "The technique of the coup is the technique of judo : the planners of the coup infiltrate and subvert a small critical part of the security apparatus, which they then use with surgical precision to displace the political leadership from its control of the rest of the state bureaucracy". This was not the normal military coup that Turkey had experienced multiple times in the past. This time, it was a group of a few thousands officers and soldiers within the military who tried to overthrow the government - more a mutiny than a full scale coup.
A senior EU source monitoring the situation said: “It looks like a relatively well orchestrated coup by a significant body of the military, not just a few colonels. They’ve got control of the airports and are expecting control over the TV station imminently. They control several strategic points in Istanbul. ... Given the scale of the operation, it is difficult to imagine they will stop short of prevailing. It’s not just a few colonels”. As it turned out, it was just a few colonels.
After 8 hours of ongoing fighting, the military coup attempt began to falter. Erdogan landed at Ataturk airport, where he delivered a speech to reassure supporters. Soon afterwards, police officials began arresting plotters and posting videos on social media of military personnel in handcuffs, and some of them being lynched by angry mobs.
- The plan was undertaken in haste, apparently an effort to pre-empt an anticipated purge of the military and judiciary expected in August [that list of 2700 judges who were purged did not come out of no where]. Under these circumstances, there were limits to the number of people who could be recruited, and the number of contingencies that could be addressed. The planners must rely on potential recruits whose discretion can be assumed even if they refuse to join the plan. The tanks started to roll seven hours earlier than planned in Istanbul, with soldiers quickly blocking the famous Bosphorus Bridge with the aim of preventing cars and pedestrians crossing from the Islamist-leaning Asian side to the European side of the city. The coup plotters reckoned, correctly as it turned out, any civilian resistance to their efforts to overthrow the government would come mainly from the Asian side of Istanbul,
- Believe it or not, Erdogan is popular. In reasonably free and fair [by prevailing community standards] elections, he has polled upwards of 60% of the Turkish [ie, non-Kurd] population. This residual legitimacy impacted the coup from a number of directions, from the difficulty in recruiting mutineers within the military, to the mobs of citizens who flocked to the streets to resist the coup.
- The Erdogan regime had recently surrounded itself with commando formations - Gendarmerie Special Forces (GSF / JÖH - Jandarma Özel Harekât) and the Police Special Operations (PSO / PÖH - Polis Özel Harekât) - consisting of several tens of thousands of recently recruited politically reliable troops, with combat experience against the Kurds, and readily available to ensure regime survival. Although these formations have not received a great deal of public notice, Saddam Hussein [with the Republican Guard, Special Republican Guard, etc], or Putin, or Hitler, or Boris Yeltsin, with similar concentric rings of protection, would have understood the theory quite well. The Police Special Operations HQ was the staging area for the police where they were getting their orders and prepare to go against the coup. They were bombed by two F-16's, and the highest number of casualties were from here.
- Edward Luttwak wrote that "... the confused and dramatic events of the coup will mean that the radio and television services will have a particularly attentive and receptive audience. In broadcasting over the radio and television services our purpose is not to provide information about the situation but rather to affect its development by exploiting our monopoly [or other de facto control] of these media." In this case, the coup never gained control of the media, and the incumbent government quickly used the media to convincingly claim it was still in charge. Erdogan broadcast from his smart phone a statement to the people, tweeted to his supporters and relied on other media.
- Luttwak, Writing in Foreign Policy magazine, said the plotters broke “Rule No. 1, which is to seize the head of the government before doing anything else, or at least to kill him.” A coup seeks to replace one set of senior government officials with another, yet none of the senior officials in Erdogan's government were taken into custody. It is reported that the coup leaders were unaware of Erdogan's whereabouts, and bombed the resort at which he was staying after he had left. "At least two F-16s harassed Erdogan's plane while it was in the air and en route to Istanbul. They locked their radars on his plane and on two other F-16s protecting him," a former military officer with knowledge of the events told Alkis Konstantinidis at Reuters. "Why they didn't fire is a mystery," he said. Around 25 soldiers in helicopters descended on a hotel in Marmaris on ropes, shooting, just after Erdogan had left in an apparent attempt to seize him, broadcaster CNN Turk said. Prime Minister Binali Yildirim had also been directly targeted in Istanbul during the coup bid and had narrowly escaped, the official said, without giving details.
- A coup seeks to displace those who control and use major government buildings, such as the Presidential Palace, Legislature, and so forth. This did not happen. A few pilots involved in the plot bombed and strafed the parliament in Ankara, the MIT intelligence agency's headquarters and military forces tanks near the presidential palace. Troops were sent to several facilities, but none were seized.
- Edward Luttwak, writing in Foreign Policy magazine, said: “Rule No. 2 in planning a successful military coup is that any mobile forces that are not part of the plot — and that certainly includes any fighter jet squadrons — must be immobilized or too remote to intervene. ... But the Turkish coup plotters failed to ensure that these loyal tanks, helicopters, jets were rendered inert, so instead of being reinforced as events unfolded, the putschists were increasingly opposed.”
- It appears that the few thousand soldiers under the coup commanders was insufficient to complete the various tasks at hand. Although some troops showed up at various strategic locations, they were too few to seize and hold them. Key targets, among them the intelligence headquarters in the Turkish capital, broadcasting studios, which President Erdogan used effectively to make appeals for public support via his cell phone and FaceTime, and the country’s parliament were attacked or occupied after considerable delays. The plotters sent young conscripts to occupy some government agencies and a few media headquarters. But those soldiers were ineffective, didn’t seem to be aware of their mission, and quickly surrendered. Some were brutally killed by angry mobs.
- Top military leaders denounced the rebellion. The navy chief and special forces commanders spoke out against the coup plotters. The chief of staff, General Hulusi Akar, was not part of the coup, nor was the head of the army in Istanbul, who took overall command briefly while the plotters held Akar captive. In two out of four previous coups in Turkey since 1960, the top military brass were involved and were able to use the chain of command to ensure success.
- As the attempt unfolded, it became clear that the ringleaders did not have widespread support within the military, nor any serious political or public backing. None of Turkey’s opposition parties endorsed it, and even Erdogan’s die-hard liberal and secular critics in the media and civil society denounced the action, saying Turkey had had enough of coups.
- As is widely noted, this was an analog coup in a digital age. The tried and true practice of seizing the national television station, even if it had succeeded, would be of limited utility absent a shutdown of social media, which did not happen. It would be a mistake, however, to go too far with this meme made popular during the Arab Spring, since the entirely traditional means of muezzins calling from minarets, summoning the people not to prayer but to resist the insurrection also, played a significant role in the ultimate outcome.
- Journalist Ahmet Sik believes Turkey’s July 15 military coup attempt failed because the alliance between followers of cleric Fetullah Gulen and other segments of the military fell apart. There were neo-nationalists known to be against the Gulen movement, who had been victimized by the community during the Ergenekon and Sledgehammer trials. There was an alliance inside the military, but that members of this alliance sold each other out prior to the night of the coup attempt. The government received the news of the coup at around 3 pm. After the government heard the news, "it engaged in negotiations with certain components of the alliance and the result of these negotiations was the primary factor in the scattering of the alliance and the failure of the coup." The coup plotters affiliated with the Gulen movement and a group accompanying them were left on their own.
- Naunihal Singh, an academic and the author of Seizing Power, a groundbreaking book on coups. According to Singh, the failure of Turkey’s coup wasn’t likely determined by the coup plotters’ military strength, or even their support inside the military. It was determined by their inability to make it seem like they were going to succeed. The ability to shape perceptions of success, often through media, is crucial in coups — basically, if people think a coup is going to succeed, they usually just join up because they don’t want to be on the wrong side of the guns.
Afzal Ashraf, an analyst at the Royal United Services Institute, a British-based think tank, said “There was a naive and critical failure to appreciate the power of mobile communications, which enabled the president to speak to the nation using FaceTime via CNN ... Neither before nor after the coup was there a compelling political narrative from the leaders of the coup. In simple terms, the coup failed because it was planned as a military operation without an effective political plan.”
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