Excerpts of an analysis of the coup attempt by Gareth Jenkins, whose critical scrutiny of Ergenekon case bore weight in understanding its many murky aspects:
”When it first came to power, the AKP had sincerely feared that it could be overthrown by a coup at any time. This changed with the July 2007 election. The Gülenists too became emboldened. Starting in September 2007, Gülenists in the judiciary and the police launched a barrage of criminal investigations – most notoriously the Ergenekon and Sledgehammer investigations – that led to hundreds of serving and retired military personnel being imprisoned on patently fabricated charges.
Not only was the high command unable to free them but, under General Necdet Özel, who served as chief of staff from 2011 to 2015, it made little effort to do so. The officers were only released following the collapse of Erdoğan’s alliance with the Gülenists in late 2013. The result was a considerable resentment in the officer corps against the high command. Previously officers had been confident that their commanders would always protect them. Now there was simply distrust. If the high command had ordered the military as an institution to stage a coup on July 15, the overwhelming majority of the 130,000-strong officer corps would have refused.
At time of the attempted putsch, Gülenists already had an established presence in the military, even if they still accounted for only a minority of the officer corps as a whole. In addition, the Gülenist presence was pyramidical, with a considerably higher concentration in the lower ranks – particularly amongst officers who had been commissioned after the AKP came to power. As of July 22, a total of 7,423 military personnel had been detained on charges of complicity in the attempted putsch. These include conscripts, most of whom appear to have believed they were participating in an exercise. However, 118 of Turkey’s 358 generals and admirals had been detained, of whom 99 had been formally arrested.
Although it has never been completely homogenized, the current officer corps is considerably more diverse than a generation ago, whether in terms of levels of religious commitment, attitudes towards the political authorities or opinions about Turkey’s place in the world. But much of this diversity is highly fluid and individualized (with, for example, an officer agreeing with a colleague on one issue but disagreeing on another) rather than fragmenting the officer corps into a mosaic of discrete factions. It is only amongst Gülenists and hardline Kemalists that the degree of shared ideological commitment is rigid enough to form the backbone for the creation of a cabal that could stage a coup.
There is no doubt that the attempted putsch of July 15 was genuine and carried out in the name of hardline Kemalists.
The pustchists who released a statement justifying their actions described themselves as the “Yurtta Sulh Konseyi”, or “Peace at Home Council”, a clear reference to Atatürk’s famous maxim “Yurtta Sulh, Cihanda Sulh”, or “Peace at Home, Peace in the World”. The word used in modern Turkish for peace is “barış” not “sulh”.
There is also no doubt that, although they would have been sufficient to assassinate Erdoğan, the forces deployed on the night of July 15 were only a tiny fraction of those that would have been required to take over the country.
The AKP has claimed that the coup was originally planned for 03.00 on July 16 but was brought forward to 22.00 on July 15 amid fears that the plot had been discovered. This would explain why not all of the putschists’ planned forces were deployed. But there is still too great a disparity between the forces that participated in the attempted putsch and those that would have been needed for it to succeed.
The most logical explanation is that the initial actions of the putschists were designed to serve as a catalyst, in the expectation that others who were not part of the original conspiracy – amongst both the military and the general public – would then rally to their support.
But, even if they had, given that the putsch was done in the name of Kemalism, it would have galvanized Kemalists not Gülenists. This means that, if it was a false flag operation by Gülenists, they must have assumed that there was sufficient support for a pro-Kemalist putsch for it to succeed.
This delusion is present in Turkey, but amongst a tiny number of diehard Kemalists, not Gülenists.
Many of the details of the July 15 putsch still remain clear. Although it is difficult to understand how an organization that has spent decades creating a vast global network on the foundations of a commitment to non-violence and dialogue would risk it all by staging a coup – even a false flag one – it is nevertheless theoretically possible that the Gülen Movement was responsible. It is also possible, though not proved, that a handful of Gülenist officers were panicked by rumors that had begun to circulate that they would be purged at the next YAŞ meeting on August 1, 2016 – and had acted independently of the movement as a whole. But there are problems with the AKP’s simplistic narrative that the putsch was a purely Gülenist affair – not least because at least some of the officers who have confessed to playing an active role are known to be hardline Kemalists.
Nevertheless, after years in which Erdoğan repeatedly tried to attribute his policy failures to imagined conspiracies, he has now been faced with a real one. His response – which appears to be driven by a combination of opportunism and genuine fear – has been to purge not just alleged Gülenists but anyone not considered sufficient loyal to himself. As Erdoğan continues to gut the apparatus of state, the concern is that the purges will expand into mass persecutions that could further destabilize an already very fragile country.
Gareth H. Jenkins is a Nonresident Senior Fellow with the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Program Joint Center.