wo weeks ago on 23 June, a surprising sequence of events which started with the UK vote to exit the European Union, the fall of David Cameron as Prime Minister of Britain, to the terrorist attack in the French town of Nice, culminated with an attempted coup in Turkey.
Here is a President being overthrown by a part of the military who say he is too autocratic, imposing his will through the people. What brought on the coup and what are the lessons of the attempted putsch?
During the cold war era coups were a major weapon used by the United states to bring about regime change in countries seen either as a threat to its (US) regional, political or economic interests. An example is Turkey, which has been subject to four coup attempts (1960, 1971, 1980 and 1997) which had the tacit backing of the US. The reasons for supporting coups against the pro-US nation which was part of NATO was the belief, that the Turkish government, though an ally was floundering!
Al-Jazeera reports the 1980 era of junta rule in Turkey was a period which saw the military arrest hundreds of thousands of people; execute dozens, while many others were tortured and simply disappeared. In November 1983, after a new Constitution was adopted the military regime dissolved itself and handed power to an elected body. After a 12-year period of civilian rule at the 1995 elections, the Islamist Welfare Party was elected. In 1997, once again the military intervened claiming the new regime was violating principles of secularism established in the constitution. In 1998, the Welfare Party was shut down and the prime minister banned from politics for five years. Erdogan a former member of the Welfare Party which was dissolved by the military went on to found the Justice and Development Party which he has led to victory at three general elections -2002, 2007 and 2011. However after coming to power, Erdogan, an ardent Islamist commenced a process of gradual Islamisation of Turkish society which was banned under Turkey’s secular Constitution.
He also refused to give into particular requests of the US, as for example refusing to toe the US line in its war against Iraq when in May 2003, he refused to permit the US to station troops in Turkey to invade Iraq. The decision triggered a crisis between the two allies. Just months after this decision, Turkey which had enjoyed a period of relative calm following a unilateral ceasefire, was hit by two sudden terrorist attacks in November, leaving 57 dead and 700 wounded. 2007 saw Ankara hit by two terrorist attacks. 2008 saw three attacks, 2009 one attack and two attacks in 2010 and 2013. 2013 also witnessed public protests over Erdogan’s authoritative style and fallout with his one-time ally cleric Gullen. In 2014, details emerged of corrupt deals involving Erdogan, and in 2015, Turkey was subject to 7 terrorist attacks.
Erdogan’s authoritative style of governing stands condemned, but the growing number of terrorist attacks in the aftermath of Turkey’s refusal to be part of the US adventure in Iraq are suspicious to say the least especially in light of US intervention against friendly governments all over the world. In politics it is said ‘there are no permanent friends or enemies, only permanent interests’. History shows the US has funded military coups across Asia, Africa and South America whenever it perceived its interests threatened. In Indonesia, the US funded the opponents of Indonesian nationalist leader and President Sukarno because, though a nationalist, he was seen as being close to the large Indonesian Communist Party. Declassified documents (in the US) suggest that the US backed the 1958 military coup in Pakistan because a pro-Soviet leftist party, the NAP, was expected to win the 1959 election. The US also backed coups against regimes which were installed by the Americans themselves!
In 1963, the US government approved a coup against its ally in South Vietnam -Ngô Đình Diệm- who was leading the fight against the Soviet-backed Viet Cong guerrillas. The US deemed Diem’s regime unfit to control the ‘communist menace’ and the turmoil in South Vietnam and as mentioned earlier backed four coups in Turkey (Men on horseback). Today in the aftermath of the cold war, coups are becoming more and more rare. The coup in Turkey was ill-planned, ill-prepared and bore the hallmarks of coups of yesteryear; not taking into consideration real-life changes of the digital age. Erdogan was able to rally support for democratic rule using 21st century tools: Video chat and social media through which the President called on people to take to the streets. The people answered the call and the coup died in its tracks.