Turkey’s fifth coup in as many decades lasted just five hours, leaving about 260 dead and more than 1,400 injured, but the fallout is likely to see President Recep Tayyip Erdogan further tighten his grip on power and intensify the crackdown on his opponents.
Authorities said on Saturday night that government was fully in control across the country. Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said the death toll was 161 but other estimates put the figure much higher, including 104 “coup plotters”, though this could not be independently verified.
The attempted started Friday night when a faction of the military sent tanks backed by fighter planes into the capital Ankara and Istanbul, Turkey’s financial hub, to seize power while Erdogan was holidaying in the Mediterranean resort of Marmaris.
Authorities blamed the coup on Erdogan’s arch enemy, the reclusive US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen.
Rebel troops blocked two bridges across the Bosphorus Strait in Istanbul, triggering a standoff with angry protesters. Amateur videos posted on social media showed troops firing at protestors near one of the bridges and at Taksim Square and tanks mowing down people.
Tanks also surrounded the parliament building in Ankara, which was damaged by a blast, as the police engaged the rebel troops at several places.
‘Eroding democratic rule of law’
The army faction behind the coup accused Erdogan’s government of eroding democratic and secular rule of law. It said in a statement the Turkish armed forces were taking over the administration to “reinstate constitutional order, human rights and freedoms, the rule of law and the general security that was damaged”.
Thousands of people responded to Erdogan’s appeal on a cellphone video link to take to the streets to oppose the coup. Erdogan then flew into Istanbul airport, where he was welcomed by thousands of supporters.
PM Yildirim addressed the nation and said the coup had been quashed as TV channels beamed images of dozens of soldiers surrendering. Confusion persisted about the situation in Ankara, but defense minister Fikri Isik said on Saturday night authorities were in full control of all areas in Turkey.
More than 2,800 soldiers were detained over the coup. At least five generals – Gen Erdal Ozturk, commander of the 3rd army, 2nd army generals Adem Huduti and Avni Angun, Maj Gen Metin Akkaya and Maj Gen Mustafa Kurutmaz – were detained for alleged involvement in the coup attempt.
‘Reason to cleanse our army’
Erdogan has made it clear he is going after Fethullah Gulen, once his closest ally. Erdogan, who has led Turkey since 2003, accuses Gulen of using members of his Hizmet party within the military, media and the judiciary to establish a “parallel government”.
“They will pay a heavy price for this,” said Erdogan after the bloodiest challenge to his 13-year rule. “This uprising is a gift from God to us because this will be a reason to cleanse our army.”
Galip Dalay, research director at Al Sharq, an Istanbul-based think tank, told Hindustan Times: “There is no doubt that there will be mass arrests. The president has long said that Gulen wants to destabilise the country.
“He is going to purge the state structures of Gulen-affiliated appointments and there will be major changes to the higher echelons in government.”
Gulen, who is in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania in the US, has denied he is linked to the coup.
Though the government linked the plot to Hizmet, it did not indicate how the detained generals were linked to Gulen.
The detention of the soldiers was followed by the removal of 2,745 judges on the orders of the High Council of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK). Five members of HSYK, Turkey’s high judiciary board, were also removed and Alparslan Altan, one of 17 judges on the constitutional court, was taken into custody.
When tanks rolled onto two of Istanbul’s iconic bridges across the Bosporus, a strait that cuts Asia from Europe and divides the city, and fighter jets roared through the skies, their sonic booms shattering windows, many Turks were reminded of previous military takeovers.
Erdogan’s AK Party has long had strained relations with the military, which has a history of mounting coups to defend secularism and has staged three coups since 1960.
“There were reports of the bridges being blocked and that some kind of military activity was going on. Ten minutes later, heavily armed soldiers in battle fatigues arrived at our office. We were ordered out, and the transmission was stopped,” said Mark Klusener, a news editor at state broadcaster TRT.
“We thought at that stage, it might be a terror attack and that the army was there to help us but when we got outside, there was a truck and several other military vehicles and about 40 soldiers. I realised that this was not a security scare and it was a textbook coup.”