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Why Turkish soldiers staged a coup – and ultimately failed

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An attempted military coup by a faction within the Turkish armed forces calling itself the “Peace at Home Council” was stifled in less than 24 hours, after Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan called on his supporters to take to the streets and repel the uprising.

Earlier Friday night, the soldiers  stormed Turkey’s state-run broadcaster and said they had seized power, taken over the government, and declared martial law.

They deployed forces onto the streets of Istanbul and Ankara, Turkey’s largest city and capital, respectively, and closed two major bridges leading into Istanbul.

At least 256 people were killed in the clashes, according to Turkey’s prime minister. But the uprising itself was repelled rather quickly. Many soldiers had either been arrested, brutally beaten by protesters, or had surrendered by early Saturday morning, allowing the Turkish government to regain almost complete control within 24 hours.

“I predicted this would fail from early on, because all of Turkey’s opposition parties came out against the coup from the beginning,” Aykan Erdemir, a former member of Turkish parliament and senior fellow at the Washington, DC-based think tank Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told Business Insider on Saturday.

He added: “With the opposition, the media, and Erdogan’s supporters against them, the soldiers had no chance of gaining any traction.”

Policemen protect a soldier from the mob after troops involved in the coup surrendered on the Bosphorus Bridge in Istanbul, Turkey, July 16, 2016. REUTERS/Murad Sezer

Geopolitical expert Ian Bremmer, president of the political-risk firm Eurasia Group, largely agreed.

“There was really no popular support” for the coup, he told Business Insider. “All the political parties (including Erdogan’s opposition) opposed it. The extraordinary need for secrecy limited their capabilities to effectively plan and muster allies.”

 

A ‘very atypical’ coup

The extent of the divisions within Turkey’s military itself, however, is arguably the biggest reason the uprising failed, experts say. Though the uprising encompassed “quite a sizeable network” of young colonels and generals, it did not have the support of high-ranking Turkish military officers.

“It was poorly organized and they didn’t have a broad enough swath of the military, which led to infighting,” Bremmer said. Erdemir, of the FDD, pointed out that the military’s chief of staff was taken hostage by the coup-plotters on Friday night and not released until late Saturday morning.

“There were tensions and divisions within the Turkish military to begin with — now, after this failed coup, there is going to be a trauma,” Erdemir said. “Earlier coup attempts never led to this kind of bloodshed, so this trauma will stay with the military.”

Many are now wondering why the plotters of the coup — many of whom appeared to be young colonels, not high-ranking military officers — went ahead with an operation that, in the words of US Secretary of State John Kerry, “did not appear to be a brilliantly planned or executed event.”

Indeed, reports have emerged that many of those involved in the uprising were conscripts who say they were just following orders and did not know they were taking part in a coup.

 

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