Who did it? Why now? And other questions about the coup attempt in Turkey

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The failed military coup attempt in Turkey started on the evening of July 15, leaving more than 200 killed, nearly 3,000 soldiers and almost as many judges and prosecutors detained, and plenty of embarrassment for Turkey for being the center of talk about a military coup, (even if it failed and there remain a lot of questions about it).

Here are a few of those questions, as well as possible answers:

1) Who did it? President Tayyip Erdoğan, Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım and many politicians from different parties were pretty quick to say that Fethullah Gülen, the Islamist ideologue living in the U.S., was the mastermind of the failed coup attack. The government calls Gülen members in the state the “parallel structure organization within the state.” The military sources, who are among the majority who stood against the junta, claim that some of them were known or suspected sympathizers of Gülen. Reliable sources say “don’t bet on the probability that he is not involved,” despite the fact that no direct link has been proven so far (though it is early), and despite Gülen denying the accusations.

2) Why now? There are a few scenarios that are not very convincing. But the one about the Supreme Military Council’s (YAŞ) meetings about retirements and promotions, expected to take place at the end of July, might have a point. Reliable sources talking to the Hürriyet Daily News claimed that after understanding there would be a purge against “parallel state” members within the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK), followers of Gülen decided to make this move as a “last chance” to take the state apparatus under control.

3) Were other groups involved along with, potentially, Gülen’s followers? This possibility is now being looked into by both government inspectors and the in-house inspection of the military. There is a suspicion that some officers were approached by the group to take part and agreed out of their dislike of Erdoğan.

4) Was this a blow to the military’s credibility? Yes it was. The image of the military as the most trusted institution in Turkey, acting within its disciplined chain of command as the guardian of the country and the republic, did not stand up this time. It is understood that there was a well and secretly organized group with political aims that reached into the upper echelons of the military, as well as penetrating the lower levels. The fact that his private secretary, a colonel who took Chief of General Staff Gen. Hulusi Akar hostage, and the body guards of Air Force commander Abidin Ünal, who kidnapped him on behalf of the plotters, are traumatic for the military, the government and the people. The military is likely to now undergo under a significant restructuring after the failed coup plot.

5) Will the failed coup affect Turkey’s foreign and security policy? It is not likely to affect Turkey’s foreign policy as long as NATO commitments are fulfilled, but it may negatively affect the country’s security situation. There are reports that some important Turkish anti-terrorism experts were killed by the plotters in their raid on the Police Special Forces facilities in Gölbaşı near Ankara, as well as elsewhere. That might also affect Turkey’s struggle against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). There was also an attack on the National Intelligence Agency (MİT) headquarters, though there have been no reports of causalities there yet.
Among those detained are 2nd Army Commander Gen. Adem Huduti, who was in charge of security along the Syria and Iraq borders, Lt. Gen. Erdal Özturk of the 3rd Corps in Istanbul, which is also the NATO contingency force, and the commander of the strategic İncirlik Air Base used in the fight against ISIL in Syria by the U.S.-led coalition.

6) Was there an intelligence failure? Very likely. Deputy Foreign Minister Numan Kurtulmuş said on CNN Türk on July 17 that they had heard nothing about such an organization in advance and, had they known, they could have taken precautions. That also puts both the police force under the Interior Ministry and the MİT face-to-face with hard questions, as well as the military’s own counter-intelligence.

7) Was it a scenario constructed by Erdoğan? This is a claim spread on social media as the coup attempt started to fail in the early hours of July 16. It is a claim that found some support among some of the staunchest opponents of Erdoğan who just want to see him gone, even if by anti-democratic means. The claim has a lot missing without considering the huge risks associated with such an operation, such as the possibility of military officers changing sides along the way. One of Erdoğan’s closest aides, his PR and election campaign advisor Erol Olçak, and his 16-year-old son were killed in the front line of protesters. What’s more, Erdoğan certainly would not like to see his authority, especially in the military where he is proud of being the commander-in-chief, denied.

8) Will it change the political balances? Most likely. Erdoğan’s popularity has increased, which might help him in his target of the constitutional fight for an executive presidential system. On the other hand, it is understood that the country is no garden of roses despite that obvious support. The immediate stance of the opposition parties, the social democratic Republican People’s Party (CHP), the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) and the Kurdish problem-focused Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), against the coup attempt, together with the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti), was the first thing that all parties in the Turkish Parliament have been united on for a long time.

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