The recent coup attempt in Turkey came as a complete surprise to most observers. But a decade ago, the only surprise would have been the fact that it didn’t succeed. After all, in the last 60 years Turkey has had four coups led by a military famously committed to secularism. When the Islamist Justice and Development Party, or AKP, was elected in 2002, another coup seemed all too likely.
Having survived, the AKP’s authority now appears unchallenged; President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is taking no risks as he purges the military of any potentially disloyal officers who remain. How did Erdogan and his party escape the fate of their predecessors?
— Nicholas Danforth (@NicholasDanfort) July 22, 2016
To be clear, the AKP did encounter real opposition as it consolidated control. High-ranking military officers discussed plans for ousting the party during its first two years in power. In 2007, the chief of the general staff issued a memorandum on the military’s website reminding the AKP of the military’s ongoing commitment to secularism. Subsequently, the country’s head prosecutor began proceedings to formally disband the party for anti-secular activities. The case was heard in Turkey’s supreme court, where it was defeated by a single vote.
But all these efforts only make it more curious that the military did not take decisive action to overthrow the AKP. Indeed, when the AKP put a number of military officers on trial for a fictitious coup plot called the Ergenekon conspiracy, the military brass never went further in their protests than staging a mass resignation.