The perfect exCOUPse for Erdogan

By Linus Höller, 11.01.2017


It’s the evening of the 15th of July in the year 2016. While Recep Erdogan is on vacation in the Mediterranean town of Marmaris, chaos erupts in Istanbul and other major cities of Turkey. Parts of the military take to the streets, position themselves at strategically important positions, close off main roads, including the bridge spanning the Bosporus into Europe. They take over the national TV, force the news anchor to read a declaration stating that the army has removed the government from power, taken over control themselves, declared martial law, and command all citizens to stay indoors. Outside, tanks are roaming through the streets, helicopters and jets fly over the city at low altitudes. The army storms international news agencies’, including CNN’s, offices as well, forcing them to stop their coverage from Istanbul. Then, Erdogan then talks to his country via a skype call on a phone – the screen is filmed and transmitted by most news networks all over the world. Erdogan calls upon all the people of Turkey to go out on the streets and fight against the army. A while later, the army opens fire; almost 2,200 are wounded, hundreds killed. The parliament in Ankara is shelled, killing a total of 12. Fighting continues throughout the night, but by the next morning many of the soldiers surrender and are arrested.


Coup d’Etats are nothing new for Turkey – there have been a total of 8 attempted coups since the end of the World War Two – but this most recent one came at an interesting time. Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who was elected as the president of Turkey in November of 2014 and had been the prime minister three consecutive times since 2003, had begun introducing a series of arguably quite authoritarian laws granting himself more powers, cracking down on media, opposition and facebook, twitter, YouTube & co. from time to time, and even persecuting those who insulted him. In Spring of 2016, Erdogan and his party issued a law which forbade women to laugh in public. All this led to him being referred to as the “Sultan of Turkey” in some European media programs.


These actions that transformed Turkey into a more and more authoritarian state with Erdogan as its leader happened at the same time as the country’s accession negotiations with the European Union, EU, despite the recent happenings being clearly against the Union’s supposed “values”. Turkey, or more precisely Erdogan, had an ace up his sleeve. During the so-called refugee crisis, the European Union had negotiated a “refugee deal” with Ankara, which stated that Turkey would take care of (millions of) the refugees coming from the Middle East, and, among other perks for Turkey, in return its citizens would be granted visa-free travel into the EU. This was, and still is, a huge leverage for the benefit of Turkey and ultimately enabled Erdogan to keep the accession negotiations to the Union, albeit at a less “promising” level than before, going.


Then came the attempted coup. Because Erdogan won and ultimately gained full control of Turkey again afterwards, the coup strengthened his position. He emphasized that the people had fought off the parts of the army that had staged the coup, said that this an indisputable sign that the people of Turkey love him. The failed coup gave him legitimacy as a powerful leader who, at least that is the official stance,  is able to cope with problems, and who is also supported by the vast majority of the people – so much that they would give up their lives for him and their country in street battles against armed men and tanks.

But the coup also gave him the ability to rapidly expand his powers within the country. A state of emergency was declared, and just prolonged for a further three months in October of 2016. Most importantly, this gives Erdogan the capability of mass arrests. In fact, a large-scale purge against so-called “supporters and plotters of the coup” has taken place since the day after the coup – by mid August, over 40,000 state employees had been detained, according to the Turkish prime minister Binali Yıldırım. Among those arrested are over 6,000 soldiers, 6,000 health workers, >5,000 academics, >3,500 judges, >3,000 police officers, >2,000 senior army officials, and more than 50 journalists. Among the institutions that were shut down following the coup, many of them for supposed connections to the exiled Islamist cleric Fethullah Gülen, who the authorities have made responsible for the coup, are >1,700 schools, >1,000 NGOs, and hundreds of media outlets.

The state of emergency also gives Erdogan the power to rule by decree, which was heavily criticized by the opposition parties who claim that the prolongment of the state of emergency was issued for the sole purpose of muzzling them. It also allows the president to disregard fundamental rights and the constitution, giving him the ability of complete control over the media, border closures, random searches, etc.


The total numbers of Erdogan’s purge following the coup are quite alarming. 48,222 government officials and workers were suspended, 15,846 people detained (of which 8,133 were arrested) and 131 media outlets remain closed.

Instead of removing him from power, the attempted coup d’etat strengthened Erdogan’s position and powers, and gave him a pretext for a massive crackdown on the Gülen movements, other opponents, the media and any other institution or anybody who may be in his way to power.

Other than originally intended, the night of the 15th to the 16th of July, 2016 would become the perfect exCOUPse for Erdogan.

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