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Turkey coup: public rallies behind Erdogan, checkmate for rebels

Catch Team | Updated on: 16 July 2016, 23:45 IST

It was a long, confusing and bloody night for the people of Turkey.

First, a group among the Turkish armed forces claimed it had successfully ousted President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and imposed martial law.

Then, people responded to a text message from the President to every mobile phone user in the country, urging them to take to the streets in the government's support. At the end of it all, the government claimed to have foiled an attempted coup d'etat and regained control.

Also read - Turkey shudders under attempted military coup ousting President Erdogan

A long, long night

When the coup was launched on the night of Friday, 15 July, Erdogan was holidaying at a resort on the Aegean Sea coast.

The pro-coup forces took control of the two airports in Istanbul, and the important bridge over the Bosphorus Strait, besides launching attacks on other important installations, including the Parliament complex.

Since a section of the air force was involved in the conspiracy, several F-16s under their control flew over capital Ankara all night long.

Then, on Saturday morning, a Blackhawk helicopter landed in neighbouring Greece with seven Turkish military personnel on board. Pro-coup forces also kidnapped the Chief of Army Staff.

The boss man in action

The ultimate aim, the army group said, was to protect Turkey's secular traditions against the Islamist onslaught launched by Erdogan's regime.

The Turkish President, while taking the country on an Islamised path, had also made sure that his administration looked the other way when radical groups like Al Qaeda and the Islamic State used Turkey as a transit route to travel to Syria to fight against the Bashar al Assad regime. Erdogan has been one of the world leaders demanding a regime change in Syria.

Interestingly, it was a mix of traditional and modern methods of communication which came to the rescue of President Erdogan, after major TV stations had been taken over by renegade military personnel.

He gave his first statement to CNN Turk, through the Facetime app on his iPhone.

The country's mosques took the cue from his statement, asking people to defy the attempted coup and come out in large numbers. Reports suggest that the mosques continued to relay the message every five minutes all through the night.

After managing to land in Ankara on Saturday morning, Erdogan pledged to bring the conspirators to justice. "Turkey has a democratically-elected government and President," Erdogan said. "We are in charge, and we will continue exercising our powers until the end. We will not abandon our country to these invaders. It will end well."

The acting chief of the armed forces claimed that almost 265 people have been killed in the night-long drama, which included at least 104 coup plotters and a minimum of 47 civilians.

Approximately another 3,000 soldiers, whom the agencies suspect of having taken part in the plot, have been rounded up. More than 2,700 judges have been summarily dismissed, as the government fears that the support for the pro-coup forces goes beyond the army.

Conspiracy theory

The speed at which the government has responded to the coup, resulting in the detentions and arrests of thousands, raises serious questions too.

Rumours are flying thick and fast that the President himself could have been behind the operation, and that the failed coup has given him another opportunity to strengthen his grip over Turkey, this time in the garb of protecting democracy.

A whopping 49.5% of Turks had voted for Erdogan in the last elections. Erdogan enjoys unprecedented support among the Islamist-leaning Turks, and is known for his authoritarian moves, including the gagging of the press and arrests of journalists who refuse to toe the line.

Doomed to fail

Analysts say the attempted coup was doomed to fail. The fact that only a small faction within the armed forces was behind this putsch ensured that the chances of its success were very bleak. A large part of the armed forces were not involved in this operation, which shows that it did not have popular sanction, unlike the last four coups.

Moreover, in the last decade or so, the Turkish armed forces have been pushed down by the political class, especially the Islamist parties. Many top officers have been facing trials, a new reality which has slowly dawned on them. The army had enjoyed the status of 'the defenders of democracy and constitution' since the days of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, but its role has diminished since Erdogan and his neo-Islamist party has taken over institutions.

Old enemies

Turkish authorities have blamed military personnel loyal to Fatehullah Gulen, a popular cleric based in the US, for attempting the coup.

Gulen, a former ally of Erdogan, fell out in 2013 after the latter suspected him of conspiring against him in the corruption scandal over the trading of Iranian oil and routing the money through Turkey to subvert the US-led sanctions regime. With names of his sons coming up as beneficiaries, the scandal had hit the AKP hard.

Erdogan had purged a number of police officers, prosecutors, and judges then, even as he absolved Reza Zarrab, the Iranian businessman, in the middle of the scandal.

Erdogan, then had been able to sell the scandal, as an attempt to overthrow his government. He used the opportunity to consolidate his position and got himself elected President in the first ever direct polls. Till then, it had only been a ceremonial post. He recently moved into a $750 million presidential house - said to be 30 times the size of White House.

Meanwhile, Zerrab, who holds dual Turkish and Iranian nationalities, was recently arrested by the US authorities in Miami over allegations of corruption. Again, the pro-Erdogan proganda machinery was quick to swing into action and brand Preet Bharara, the US prosecutor, as an Gulen agent, and the arrest as an attempt to overthrow the Ankara regime.

This time, the pro-democracy sentiment among the ordinary Turks seem to have worked in Erdogan's favour.

More in Catch - In pics: Turkey coup attempt crumbles as people answer Erdogan's call

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First published: 16 July 2016, 23:45 IST