Turkey’s coup, explained

  • In 1960, the Turkish military, which sees itself as the guardian of Kemalism, overthrew the new government. It was for protecting Turkey’s democracy from Islamic influence, the military said.
  • This principle guided Turkey till 1945, till the country’s one-party rule ended and a new government came to power. It saw a resurgence of Islam.
  • Mustafa Kemal Ataturk / Youtube

Let’s start with the context. The modern Turkish Republic was founded in 1923 after the demolition of the Ottoman empire. The new secular, democratic Turkey’s chief architect was Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, a former military officer committed to Kemalism – a form of democratic nationalism and hardline secularism.

Read on to know all about it.


  • If that happens, the coup leaders may have doubly failed. They will have failed to seize control of Turkey’s government and failed to defend Kemalism from its greatest enemy in a generation.
  • Ironically, this could help Erdogan’s quest for authoritarian control in Turkey. If he is perceived as the defender of Turkish civilian government, his popularity could well soar. He could leverage this popularity into votes in Turkey’s parliament for constitutional changes granting him extraordinary powers, his longtime objective.
  • It’s early still, but these are all signals that the coup hasn’t successfully created the perception of inevitability — which means the armed forces will remain divided, and the coup will likely fail.
  • That doesn’t appear to be happening. Reports on the ground in Turkey suggest that large portions of the military have sided with Erdogan. So, too, have street demonstrators and leading politicians — including Erdogan opponents. The New York Times reports that Erdogan has returned to Istanbul, which he wouldn’t do unless it was safe.
  • Yet it’s looking likely they’ll fail. According to Naunihal Singh, a political scientist at the Air War College, coups tend to succeed when their leaders convince other members of the military that they will inevitably succeed. If people think resistance is futile, even regime loyalists will just go with the flow.
  • The military had been shockingly quiet about these developments in recent years, leading many to believe that Erdogan had successfully cowed them into submission. But this coup attempt suggests — given the stated rationale of the coup-launchers — that some in the military are taking up its traditional role as enforcers of Kemalist orthodoxy.
  • Erdogan is clearly a threat to Turkish democracy and secularism. He leads the AKP, a moderate Islamist party that has “reformed” Turkish schools along Islamist lines. He’s cracked down on Turkey’s freedom of the press and pushed constitutional changes that would consolidate dangerous amounts of power in the president’s hands.
  • The Turkish military sees itself as the guardian of Kemalism, and has overthrown four Turkish governments since 1960 in the name of protecting Turkey’s democracy from chaos and Islamic influence. Each time afterwards, the military has returned the country to democracy — though in a degraded form.
  • This may sound crazy to American ears, but it makes at least a little sense in the Turkish context. The modern Turkish Republic was founded in 1923 by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, a former military officer deeply committed to a form of democratic nationalism and hardline secularism now called Kemalism.
  • “Turkish Armed Forces have completely taken over the administration of the country to reinstate constitutional order, human rights and freedom,” the statement said.
  • The coup leaders, claiming to speak for the entire Turkish Armed Forces, said they’d done so in the name of protecting democracy — despite the fact that Erdogan and his party were democratically elected.

On Friday afternoon, an as-yet unidentified faction of the Turkish military launched a coup attempt aimed at toppling President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government.

New governments subsequently came to power, but military “restored democracy” every time. It carried out similar coup in 1971, 1980 and 1997.

A file photo of Tayyip Erdogan | Source: Reuters


In 2003, Tayyip Erdogan, the current president, came to power. Head of a moderate Islamist party, he is seen by Kemalists as a threat to secularism. Erdogan is known to advise women on the number of children they should have, foster restrictions on alcohol, express moral outrage over male and female students living together in the same house or flat, change Turkish schools on Islamist lines and crack down on Turkey’s freedom of the press.

Taking matter into its hands once again, a section of the military, if not the entire military, tried to overthrow the government for the fifth time in five decades on Friday, July 16.

For now, reports suggest this “military uprising” has further boosted Erdogan’s position. Meanwhile, Turkey remains in chaos with curfew imposed in many parts

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