Accessibility links

Experts Saw Signs of Turkish Military Discontent Before Coup


Turkish solders stay with weapons at Taksim Square as people protest against the military coup in Istanbul, July 16, 2016.

Turkish solders stay with weapons at Taksim Square as people protest against the military coup in Istanbul, July 16, 2016.

For weeks there were signs that tensions between Turkey's secular military and the Islamist-aligned government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan were reaching a boiling point. Semi-public disagreements between the politicians and the generals, especially over Syria policy, were becoming all too frequent. Military briefings appeared increasingly to be at odds with government statements.

And some analysts in recent weeks had feared a coup might be in the offing, with concerns mounting in military ranks about the series of recent deadly terrorist attacks in Turkey, the government's no-holds-barred war on the Kurdish minority in southeast Turkey, and Erdogan's attempts to consolidate ever greater control over the media and judiciary.

Afzal Ashraf of the Royal United Services Institute, a London-based think tank, said he was surprised by the level of hostility among officers toward the government. They expressed increasing alarm at the autocratic tilt of Erdogan and anger at what they saw as the creeping Islamization of Turkey.

Officers' remarks

"For the first time in 15 years, young officers were making comments about their government in cynical terms," said Ashraf, a frequent visitor to Turkey. That was unusual, especially in front of visiting foreigners, he said. He noted, though, that top-ranking officers seemed more supportive of the government.

Omer Taspinar, an analyst at the Brookings Institution, a Washington-based think tank, also had warned for months of the possibility of a coup.

"Right now, the question is whether the attempted coup is from the top command, with the top brass involved, or a colonel-level or officer coup, from a certain segment of the army," he said. "There are indications right now that it is the latter."

In past Turkish coups, the chief of staff of the military and other generals have been the main ringleaders. This time, that appears to not to be case. There were local media reports that the chief of staff and other members of the military top brass had been taken captive by pro-coup forces Friday and held at the main military base in Ankara.

"It seems like this is an officers' coup," Gonul Tol, an analyst at the Middle East Institute, a Washington-based think tank, told VOA.

"So unlike past coups in Turkey, where the chain of command was involved, we have not heard anything from the top military brass recently," she said. "Usually the top generals appear on TV, and they announce the coup and explain the reasons for the coup. And this has not happened yet. We don't know where the chief of staff is. There are rumors that he's captive."

People stand in front of a tank parked in the entrance to Istanbul's Ataturk airport, July 16, 2016. Members of Turkey's armed forces said they had taken control of the country, but Turkish officials said the coup attempt had been repelled early Saturday, state-run media said.

People stand in front of a tank parked in the entrance to Istanbul's Ataturk airport, July 16, 2016. Members of Turkey's armed forces said they had taken control of the country, but Turkish officials said the coup attempt had been repelled early Saturday, state-run media said.

At Istanbul's Ataturk airport, a crowd of Erdogan supporters surrounded a tank, bickered with the tank commander when he fired warning shots from a machine gun, and then clambered aboard the vehicle. Elsewhere in Istanbul, government supporters confronted soldiers backing the coup — including in the city's iconic Taksim Square, as police looked on impassively.

Outsiders watch, wait

The fast-moving events Friday left foreign governments scrambling to calculate who would win — the government or the coup-plotters. In a statement, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said, "The United States views with gravest concern events unfolding in Turkey. We are monitoring a very fluid situation."

But with splits appearing within military ranks — elite units appear not to have been involved in the coup attempt — and between the military factions supporting the bid to oust Erdogan and the police and intelligence services, analysts were predicting the coup would fail.

And if it does, they said, Erdogan will emerge stronger.

Tol said she feared the president would be emboldened if he survived the coup.

"He will use this as an opportunity to move forward with his presidential agenda," Tol said. "And so far, he's already used people's fear of a military coup in order to rally people behind his presidentialism agenda. So this will just give him another excuse to use a heavy-handed approach in dealing with the Kurds, dealing with the opposition and even the legal opposition. So we will see a more authoritative Erdogan after this."

According to former U.S. Ambassador to Turkey Robert Pearson, either way "there's going to be a great deal of turmoil in Turkey's relations with all countries and the organizations that they belong to, and of course including the U.S. and NATO."

Show comments

XS
SM
MD
LG