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A Sultan Stays – The Botched Mutiny over the Bosphorus

July 15, was the night Turkey and the entire world held its breath. The military take-over attempt commenced as tanks besieged the Bosphorus bridges, the Sea of which is a cradle to civilization, straddling between cultures and the continents of Europe and Asia. Above the daunting sky, choppers clanked and army fighter jets thundered. Factions of Turkey`s military, a staunch bastion for secularism declared they did it to “restore human rights, the rule of law and public order”.

Mr Erdoğan, who ironically scorns social media, for once used it to salvage his own skin and Turkey`s democracy. Mr Erdoğan sent his message across live streaming on TV via smart phone using Face Time. Welcome to digital democracy in the 21st century.

The President reprimanded the uprising as “a small group within our armed forces”, instructing supporters to rebel pouring en masse onto the streets. He indicted Mr Gulen (founder of Pak Turk schools) of instigating the coup.

Inside mosques below gleaming minarets muezzins over microphones hailed people to protest against the uprising. Throngs of Erdoğan supporters thundered onto streets chanting “Allah is Great”. There was bloodshed. A chopper fired on innocent citizens; explosions rocked the parliament, fighter jets struck a police base. Tragically 192 people died and countless were injured.

The Resilience of Turkey`s People: A Nation Defending its Democracy

By the morning of July 16th, the military uprising was thwarted. The military`s top ranks and major political parties decried democracy`s subversion. Turkey`s Sultan Erdoğan made an exultant return, swearing those involved would pay a “heavy price”. A heavy price, a Shakesperean pound of flesh was extracted indeed.

President Erdoğan invoked Article 102 of Turkey`s Constitution declaring a “state of national emergency” just like France after the Nice attack, permitting him to conduct raids without judicial permission boosting Executive powers. His purge was heavy-handed and iron-fisted. 6,000 soldiers (out of which 120 are single star Generals and Admirals) are detained, 7,850 police officers sacked, 8,777 Interior Ministry officials suspended, 2,745 judges (31 senior) arrested all suspected of participating in the uprising.

A proper coup d` état takes years to hatch and prepare. This botched and bungled military coup by contrast, was haphazard, hasty, ill-prepared, it was, in my opinion, more of a misguided “mutiny” rather than a “coup” in any de facto sense. A major reason as to why the coup did not succeed is because the coup was “wide” but not “deep”. “Wide” as it occurred at multiple locations but it lacked “depth” as most involved were lower ranking colonels. Without support from the top brass it lacked the hierarchical “depth” to succeed.

Turkey is a major artery against ISIS. A key NATO ally bridging Europe and a turbulent Middle East, counter-balancing Saudi and Iranian power jostles, hosting NATO & U.S  aircraft aimed at ISIS. Multiple threats destabilise Turkey: the Syrian conflict, 2.7 million refugees trickling in from Syria, Iraq`s instability, Kurdish insurgents, lethal terror attacks in Suruc, Ankara and Istanbul`s Ramadan airport massacre. ISIS craves such instability which empowers it to wreak havoc.

Despite the purge, a rift within the ranks of the Turkish military is discernible, dividing loyalists versus latent coup supporters. Such disunity could weaken the military’s morale, corps d`esprit and its prowess to collaborate with NATO in the “war against terror”.

Its strength of half a million makes the military a pivotal player in state affairs.  Pakistan`s special relationship with Turkey, steeped in history, exacerbated our own perceptions about the military’s role in Pakistan. During the take-over attempt, some in Islamabad sought to invoke Article 245 giving the military more decisive muscle in dealing with local terror. When Erdoğan summoned the populace they charged to the streets against the military, if Pakistan`s PM requested the same, people might run to their beds to sleep the night away, given COAS Raheel Sharif`s popularity, as he has proved admirably successful, a true leader of the people, after Operation Zarb-e-Azb.


Source: Statista (2016) A History of Turkish coups, The Week, Statista Research.

Article 245 of Pakistan`s Constitution elucidates that the Armed Forces shall, under Federal Government directions, defend Pakistan against external aggression or threat of war, and act in aid of civil power. when called upon to do so.

Though unlike Pakistan, Turkey witnessed a dramatic decline in the military’s influence as in the 2000`s Mr Erdoğan clipped its wings through trials and conspiracy charges. Both Pakistan and Turkey have their strategic significance in the “Great Game” owing to their geo-strategic location and access to trade route waterways, namely Gwadar Port and the Bosphorus Sea.

The warning signs were there for Erdoğan if only they looked at Pakistan. Brazenly used by the West as a conduit for the “mujahedin” which mid-wifed into the Taliban giving incestuous birth to al-Qaeda splintering into today`s ISIS death cult. Pakistan had its cities torn apart with massive bombs, 70,000 lives lost to the “war on terror” which many say is a “war of terror”.

Just as Pakistan was used by Washington, similarly Turkey was too. Istanbul began playing the same role for the US as a proxy battlefield against Syria – it, too, has become the casualty of circumstances, its cities ripped and ravaged by massive bombs, its hinterland haunted by extremism, its countryside infiltrated by radicals, the South-east of the country now as destroyed and devastated as swathes of Syria.

Washington defended Turkey`s “democratically elected government”. For some cynics, the “democracy” bit was tenuous to chew and digest, as Uncle Sam, as it often does, lent a helping hand to overthrow Mohamed Morsi’s “democratically elected” government in Egypt in 2013 replaced by General Sissi as Morsi languishes in jail. Western allies supported an army significantly more bloody than Turkey`s. Had Turkey`s army achieved take-over Mr. Erdoğan would have been treated just as shabbily as the misfortunate Morsi was.

Mr Erdoğan, argue critics, has himself stirred a coup of his own, a coup against democracy itself. With a carte blanche to change the Constitution possibly birthing an executive U.S/French style Presidency.

Whatever Turkey`s future holds think of those who do not support the current AKP government but cherish the virtues of democracy, the brave Turkish dissidents, democracy vanguards, journalists, students, mothers, wives, sons and daughters,  opposing a coup that is trying to remove a government they deeply despise.

Admire how they did not flinch, of how they championed democracy, against all odds, despite all its flaws, even lying on Istanbul`s streets so as to stop tanks from going further, such is the hard-fought battle for democracy, such is the resilience of the Turkish people. Such is the value they place on an idea worth living and dying for: democracy.

Religious clerics who recite the call to prayer five times daily.

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