Saturday, July 16, 2016

Military coup in Turkey, the full story of a very dramatic night

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What a night! It started with a group within the Turkish military declaring they sezeid power, and ended at the early hours of the morning with the arrest of the putschists. The failed coup has claimed the lives of 161 people, leaving over a thousand wounded.

How it all started

It all stared around 10pm local time, when Turkish television channel NTV showed tanks stationed at the entrance of Ataturk Airport in Istanbul. Shortly after, Turkey's prime minister declared that a group within the military has engaged in an attempted coup. All bridges and main roads were closed off by putschists soldiers.

Turkish Armed Forces declared they've seized power

An hour or so later, on the Turkish state-run television network TRT, the military issued a statement claiming they seized power "to protect the democratic order and to maintain human rights" and declared Martial law throughout the country.

"The coup leaders, claiming to speak for the entire Turkish Armed Forces, said they’d done so in the name of protecting democracy, the online news magazine The Vox reported. "Turkish Armed Forces have completely taken over the administration of the country to reinstate constitutional order, human rights and freedom," the Military statement said.

The Turkey state TV journalist who read the coup statement later said she did so at gunpoint.

Mosques called to resist and AKP sent SMS  

"Erdogan is clearly a threat to Turkish democracy and secularism", The Vox writes. "He leads the AKP, a moderate Islamist party that has "reformed" Turkish schools along Islamist lines. He’s cracked down on Turkey’s freedom of the press and pushed constitutional changes that would consolidate dangerous amounts of power in the president’s hands."

Right after the Military statement was read on TV, mosques throughout the country called to resist the coup. While people started receiving SMS from the AKP, Erdogan's party, urging them to "defend democracy" and take to the streets.

Erdogan dramatic appearance via FaceTime

A little after midnight, Erdogan appeared on CNN TURK via FaceTime and called his supporters to rally at Ataturk airport and public squares. "Go to the streets and give them their answer," he said. "This was done from outside the chain of command. Those who are responsible, we will give them the necessary punishment."

People in the streets, fear of civil strife

Both Erdogan supporters and military coup supporters took to the streets. The fear of a civil strife was very real. TV networks broadcasted image of crowds rallying around tanks without being able to say who was who.

“We have a prime minister, we have a chief of command, we're not going to leave this country to degenerates,” shouted one man, as groups of government supporters climbed onto a tank near Istanbul's Ataturk airport", The Independent wrote.

"But some Turks were welcoming news of the coup attempt, the AFP reported. “Turks are on fire,” Fethi, a 27-year-old tour guide in Taksim Square, told the French news agency. “We have hope now,” he added. “Turkey has been in a very polarised state for almost 15 years now… This is the manifestation of all that anger.”

After hours of chaos, Erdogan back in Istanbul

For hours, events were very confusing as conflicting reports poured through media and social media. On the ground, fighting was underway between putschists and security forces loyal to Erdogan.

"They were clashes between the military and police in several areas during Friday night, The Independent reported. A Turkish military commander said fighter jets had shot down a helicopter used by the coup plotters over Ankara. State-run Anadolu news agency said 17 police were killed at the special forces headquarters there. There was also an apparent bomb blast at the parliament complex in Ankara."

"After hours of chaos unseen in decades, Erdogan ended uncertainty over his whereabouts, flying into Istanbul airport in the early hours where he made a defiant speech and was greeted by hundreds of supporters, the AFP reported.

In the morning, the coup has officially failed 

A little after 3am, Beirut-based pan-Arab TV network Al-Mayadeen reported that hundreds of soldiers taking part in the coup have been arrested. Along with Al-Jazeera, it claimed that the coup has failed, but gunfire was still being heard as fighting continued in Istanbul.

In the early hours of the morning, after a very long night, it was over. The coup has failed. More than hundred coup plotters have been killed, said the acting army chief, and nearly 3.000 military personnel have been detained across the country, while Erdogan has vowed to punished the "traitors".

Lynching and alleged beheading of putschists soldiers

"Shocking images, the Huffington Post reported. Saturday July 16, the day after the failed coup in Turkey, scenes of lynchings were reported by international media and press agencies, and relayed through social networks. On these pictures, we see demonstrators opposed to the attempted coup lashing out at putschist soldiers, particularly in Istanbul. On the Bosphorus Bridge, pro- regime demonstrators served their belt to whip soldiers." 

"Soldiers have been killed by demonstrators during lynchings, the AFP reported. "People rushed towards rebel soldiers (...) shouting 'kill them in the name of God', AFP photographer said. One of the lynched soldiers died before his eyes, he ignores the fate of another, severely beaten. Attackers didn't want witnesses, they brutally assaulted reporters, they even threatened to throw them over the bridge"

Gruesome pictures and videos have been shared on social media allegedly showing supporters of Erdogan's AKP party beheading a soldier on one of the bridges across the Bosphorus.

What will the after-coup be like?

About the aftermath of the attempted coup, The Vox wrote: "this could help Erdogan’s quest for authoritarian control in Turkey. If he is perceived as the defender of Turkish civilian government, his popularity could well soar. He could leverage this popularity into votes in Turkey’s parliament for constitutional changes granting him extraordinary powers, his longtime objective."

“Everyone spoke out against the coup last night and that gave me hope,” said an academic who wished to remain anonymous, The Guardian wrote. “But watching events unfold today this hope has shrunk quickly. Last night there was the possibility that the government would use this to return to a more unifying language, to return to the peace talks, to unite the country. But today it looks like they will use [the coup attempt] simply to consolidate power.”

No comparison with Egypt military takeover

While events were unfolding, commentators compared Turkey and Egypt, where the military deposed the Muslim Brotherhood government led by Mohamed Morsi. But this comparison was wrong. The Egyptian army has been ruling Egypt since Nasser overthrew the monarchy and sized power in 1952, until the so-called Arab Spring in 2010. Morsi was only in charge for a year or so when the army deposed him. Erdogan on the other hand has been in charge for over a decade, during which he tightened his grip over both Turkish society and military.

On the other hand, the Egyptian army was led by a very popular figure, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, and only made their move after massive anti-Morsi demonstrations. But last night in Turkey, the putschists were faceless. No opposition figure rallied them. No high ranking officer made a public appearance and took lead. And even if many Turks expressed their support of the coup, the vast majority stood against it.

“The resistance against the coup attempt last night was quite heterogenic,” said Erol Onderoglu, Turkey’s Reporters Without Borders representative who is currently on trial on terrorist propaganda charges after participating in a solidarity campaign with a pro-Kurdish newspaper, The Guardian wrote. “The most valuable outcome of last night’s events is that many people who are not AKP supporters stood up for democratic values despite the recent crackdowns on the opposition, and despite the tension and the polarisation of the country.”

Badly planned coup, impressively organized AKP response

As the situation on the ground clearly showed, the coup didn't seem well planned, if not at all. It looked like the putschists didn't prepare for the very likely scenario of Erdogan supporters massively taking to the streets. They didn't arrest AKP leaders or government officials. They didn't secure political support and failed to neutralize security forces loyal to the Turkish president as they logically should have. They took over the state-owned television, but quickly abandoned it. The same scenario happened at Ataturk airport in Istanbul. When pro-government crowds rushed to the airport after Erdogan urged them to, soldiers shown on TV at the start of the coup were nowhere to be seen.

By contrast, Erdogan and his party's actions seemed to follow a very precise and well-thought-of plan: mosques throughout the country simultaneously called to resist the coup while messages from the AKP were sent to everyone with a mobile phone, only minutes after the putschists statement was read on television and shortly before the Turkish president made a very dramatic appearance over FaceTime on the privately-owned TV network, and longtime AKP supporter, CNN Turk.

This was followed by Erdogan arrival at Ataturk airport, after his supporters took it over with disarming ease. He announced the failure of the coup under the portrait of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey and symbol of both Turkish state and military.

All the while security forces loyal to the government managed to round up putschists units in a record time and with relatively little casualties, as if the latter didn't profit at all from the element of surprise they had and were acting independently from each other.

Why did it go wrong, or did it?

As a communication professional, I can only admire the precision and the intelligence of the government's action to overcome the coup, and wonder why the coup plotters were so unprepared and their overall attempt so ridiculously amateurish.

They didn't neutralize pro-government armed forces and from the very start,  didn't arrest any AKP leader or government official, didn't hold onto the state-owned television to keep communicating with the Turkish people, they remained faceless and apparently leaderless (their only public appearance was a statement read by a TV presenter not by a high-ranking officer) while the opposing side had a clear leader (Erdogan) and a very powerful and striking image to rally around (Erdogan's TV appearance on FaceTime).

If this was a fake coup aiming to help Erdogan and the AKP consolidate their power and strengthen their grip over Turkey, it wouldn't have happened differently.

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