The Winners and Losers of Turkey’s Would-Be Coup

I would say the only two valid excuses for not being aware of the goings on in Turkey on Friday night are being in the stormy midst of a Pokémon Go addiction, or perhaps you have been living under a rock, in which case you missed political theatre of Shakespearean magnitude. Whether you refer to it as an attempted coup d’état, uprising or mutiny, it was hard not to be enthralled by events as they unraveled before our eyes. What began as tweets indicating a possible terrorist attack in Istanbul and Ankara, inferred by the sudden appearance of Turkish military at key bridges, and with military jets flying very low overhead, quickly shifted towards indicating that elements of the Turkish military were attempting to seize power from the democratically elected Turkish government.  Over the next several hours, the two forces tried to shape things on the ground, and perhaps just as significantly, wrestled over the narrative of what was going on. While the rebellious faction took control of Turkey’s national news broadcaster, TRT, Erdoğan and his colleagues established direct contact with the Turkish people by appearing on another broadcaster via Facetime. The Turkish people heeded his call to take to the streets and within a few hours it became clear that the coup had been quelled, leaving Erdoğan and his supporters in power and fit to fight another day.

As the signs that the coup was being overcome there would have been millions sighing a collective sigh of relief, not least of which Erdoğan’s millions of followers in Turkey. Listening to certain streams within the media, you would be forgiven for forgetting that just under two years ago around 21 million Turks voted for him in their presidential election, giving him more than 50% of the popular vote. Thus, he scored a slightly smaller percentage than Obama in 2015 but putting him clear of Cameron’s 36%. Erdoğan’s AK Party has won a majority of votes in every election since it’s inception in 2001. Further testament to the man’s popularity within Turkey is the sheer number of Turks who took to the streets on Friday night and made themselves heard, risking their lives; there was no way of knowing how heavy the military’s hand would be in executing the coup and how much blood they would be willing to shed in order to succeed.

Another group who would have largely rejoiced at the failure of the coup are the 2.7 million Syrian Refugees now registered in Turkey. Though their situation is far from perfect, in Erdoğan’s Turkey they have found a climate of acceptance and relative stability. As a supporter of the movement against Assad, it would seem fair to believe Erdoğan felt a responsibility to assist in their plight. In the days leading up to the attempted coup Erdoğan went as far as claiming Syrian refugees, who met specific criteria, could be considered for receiving Turkish citizenship, however, exactly what this criteria will be remains to be specified. The Guardian recently reported that as little as 0.1% of Syrians in Turkey are eligible to gain the right to work legally thus pushing them towards the potentially exploitative realm of undocumented labour. Despite the imperfections of their situation, it is difficult to foresee how a change in government in Turkey would improve the situation of the Syrian refugees their while it is alarmingly easy to envisage a change that would carry grievous implications for this vulnerable group. It seems that Syrian refugees in Turkey could not expect a more hospitable environment than Erdoğan’s Turkey.

One of the major miscalculations made by the would-be conquerors was their assumption that at least some of Erdoğan’s many political enemies would back the coup and throw their weight behind proceedings. Somewhat surprisingly, all three main opposing political parties (the CHP, MHP and HDP) came out publicly to denounce the coup as undemocratic, with the most impressive of these being the Kurdish HDP. Rather than engaging in simple-minded tribalism and opportunism, the three parties chose to evoke the necessity to keep opposition to the AKP within the country’s cherished democratic framework. Despite their bold stances, it remains to be seen whether the fall-out from the attempted coup will bring with it negative (or dare I hope, positive) consequences for them.

The clear losers of the attempted coup appear to be all those affiliated or sympathetic to Pennsylvania based imam Fethullah Gülen, or Gülenists as they are often called. In the 48 hours since Friday night’s events up to 6000 members of Turkey’s Military and Judiciary have been sacked from their posts and arrested on suspicion of corroborating with the coup. Many of these individuals were known to be Gülenists and Erdoğan has repeatedly called for Gülen’s extradition to face a judge within Turkey. The crackdown on this movement, which began in 2013, has evidently been colossally intensified to the point that some commentators believe it now significantly threatens US-Turkish relations.

While it seems that there at least a few more acts to come in this real-world drama, it might be worth bearing two things in mind. Firstly, people are holding their breaths to see how Erdoğan responds to the coup. Even many of his staunchest supporters will be fervently hoping he does not use this as an opportunity to crack down on his non-coup opponents. They might be looking on worryingly at the speed at which it was decided that thousands of individuals within the judiciary were worthy of arrest, as well as language such as ‘rooting out a “virus”’ being employed. Having said that be wary of the medias treatment of Erdoğan. There are many with sharpened knives, lurking around him, trying to paint him in a dishonest manner. Yes, some of his movements against the press are alarming however let us remember we are in a neighbourhood with the likes of Abdul Fatah El-Sisi and Bashar Al Assad. That does not give him a free pass to act without criticism however in a political world composed of many shades of grey, he is certainly amongst the Middle East’s brightest. Economically, he has overseen substantial growth within Turkey while paying off its debt to the IMF, no small feat. In terms of democracy, Turkey continues to enjoy free and fair elections, as reported by independent monitors. The way he is reported on by some streams within the media, while other more notourious despots are left relatively untouched, should not go amiss to the reflective amoungst us.

Secondly, the biggest winner of Friday’s events cannot be anything other than democracy. Regardless of your views on Erdoğan and the AKP, the principle that military action does not overrule the popular vote is an incredibly worthy one to uphold and one that is starkly missing in the Middle East. The region would be in much better shape, both economically and on a human level, if wars were carried out using the ballot box rather than bullets. Muslims, Christians, and Secularists, Turks and Kurds, Left and Right wingers, all came together on Friday night to say no to military forces who attempted to rob Turkey of it’s democratic way. The significance of this heroic act goes beyond Turkey. The region is rife with militarism; the military coups that took place in Algeria in 1991 and in Egypt in 2013, in which the popular vote was overturned, are often cited as vigorous inciters of radicalization within the region and not without reason. As well as the internal brutality that facilitated the coup in these cases, the sheer inaction of the “democracy-loving” international community surely contributed to the sowing of seeds of radicalization amongst disenfranchised youths of the region. An overturning of the democratic process by another military in Turkey would have had ISIS and it’s ilk laughing. Indeed, they were taking to twitter celebrating the coup in the same breath as they celebrated the tragic massacre in Nice that had happened the previous night. Turkey’s choice to prioritise democracy, over asking themselves whether or not they support a specific ruler, is incredibly admirable and it is a much needed shining example to a region on edge. It is without hyperbole that I write that Friday’s events are arguably the biggest strike that we have dealt to ISIS to date. In short, the biggest winner of the would-be coup is the democratic process while the biggest loser is the extremist mindset of the militaristic kind.

Written by Tamim Mobayed

Tamim is a 28 year old Dublin born Syrian who grew up in Belfast. He is working in the Media and studying for a Ph.D. in Psychology, part-time. He's a big fan of Liverpool Football Club and cats.