As an attempt to overthrow the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the recent attempted military coup in Turkey has, many inside and outside the country think, a suspiciously hollow resonance.
The outer shell seemed legit. The initial attacks by military forces aimed at, and got, a maximum of attention and credibility. After all ground troops immediately shut down the two main bridges that connect the European and Asian sides of the country’s biggest city, Istanbul, and air attacks hit the Parliament building and President Erdogan’s newly-built palace, where, he told Reuters in an interview last week, “we lost five martyrs as a result. Similarly, they attacked the premises of the prime minister, [and the headquarters of the] Special Operations Unit of the Turkish National Police where 47 people were martyred.”
At both the Istanbul bridges, and elsewhere, the coup forces killed more than 240 civilians.
But, according to the respected Reuters news agency, “At least two F-16s harassed Erdogan’s plane while it was in the air and en route to Istanbul.They locked their radars on his plane and on two other F-16s protecting him.” Added Reuter’s military source, “Why they didn’t fire is a mystery,”
Unraveling this, and other mysteries may well be impossible, with all Turkey’s news media under very close surveillance.
For instance, one of the first things, President Erdogan wanted to tell Reuters was that after he was notified of the coup, he could not get in touch with his National Security Director Hakan Fidan. This clearly did not make him happy.
Yet, one of the first stories to appear in the respected on-line news service Al-Monitor was an unsigned report clearly sourced by Fidan or people close to him in which he is cast as the hero who disrupted the coup, forcing into the rush its planned schedule and resulting in un-co-ordinated and un-successful events like an attack on the resort hotel where Erdogan had been staying that came hours after he had already left.
Still, the author of the pro-Fidan piece concludes…”his failure to inform the President and Prime Minister is expected to cost Fidan his job.”
There’s a good reason why this piece, which is clearly pro-Erdogan and pushes the President’s claim that the coup was created by his arch-enemy, Fethullah Gulen, a Sunni cleric who lives in Pennsylvania, was left anonymous. In Turkey today, the author of any report from a point of view other than the President’s, risks immediate arrest under Turkey’s newly-installed State of Emergency.
But, the size and speed of his counter-strikes, arresting some 10,000 military, police, security, judicial and education employees and firing some 50,000 others shows, at the very least, Erdogan and his AK Party had their “enemies list” drawn up before the first shot was fired.
In the words of New York Times Istanbul correspondent Tim Arango, “The magnitude of the backlash by Mr. Erdogan suggested that the depth of support for the coup was far greater than it initially appeared, or that the president was using the opportunity to root out all perceived adversaries, or both.”
Eliot Ackerman is an Istanbul-based journalist and novelist, a contributor to The New Yorker, The Atlantic and The New York Times Magazine. His novel Green on Blue, has been widely praised. Ackerman spent eight years in the U.S. Marine Corps as both an infantry and special operations officer in Iraq and Afghanistan, winning a Silver Star and Purple Heart in Iraq, and a Bronze Star for Valor in Afghanistan.