Late Friday night, a faction within the Turkish military launched a violent and ultimately ill-fated coup attempt which will make democracy in Turkey ever more elusive.
The plotters struck Ankara and Istanbul, seizing the country’s main airport, principal TV stations and the bridges over the Bosporus. For a moment the country appeared poised on the brink of civil war. Soldiers attacked the hotel where President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had been staying, took the head of the army hostage, and struck at the headquarters of the country’s pro-Erdogan security service.
Turkey was already bitterly divided before the failed coup. Now the divisions will get even wider. https://t.co/DhCzZdjMTE
— FiveThirtyEight (@FiveThirtyEight) July 17, 2016
Yet the coup leaders, all apparently mid-level officers, received little active support within the military, and quickly came face to face with determined opposition from citizens who took to the streets to resist them. Erdogan addressed the country, first over Facetime and text message, than from a hastily erected television studio set, calling for support and promising that the plotters would be punished. Some soldiers accepted defeat and allowed themselves to be disarmed by police and protestors; others opened fire into the crowds. According to news reports, at least 100 of the 265 dead were coup plotters; others included civilians and police officers. In the coup’s final, desperate hours, a military helicopter opened fire on the country’s parliament building, and fighter jets, refueling in the air, circled low over cities that were again firmly under civilian control.
The coup’s leaders are discovering why, when you come at the king, you’d best not miss. Now, having failed to root out disloyal military officers in previous sweeps, Erdogan is casting a much wider net, and at least 2,800 members of the military have been arrested. (It appears the coup’s leaders may have acted so rashly because many already faced imminent arrest or dismissal.) A crowd attending Erdogan’s first speech chanted demands for the plotters to be executed, leading Erdogan to respond that in a democratic country, the demands of the people must be considered.