A Military Coup that is either Staged or Failed
Through the midnight of July 15th, Turkey has been shaken upon the control of Bosporus Bridge and Istanbul’s Atatürk airport by military officers with tanks. This has been the opening of a new era in Turkey which is certainly going to be more different and difficult than before.
Right after the coup, President Erdoğan summoned his supporters to occupy the streets and protect “democracy” against the coup attempters, in a country which has seen four successful military coups, and several unsuccessful ones in the past; thus there is a huge population whose hatred against the coup can be used as a tool. 1960, 1971, 1980 and 1997 are the dates that should be noted down in the history of Turkey – a country which had coup cycles in almost each decades, and each resulted in the amendment of the constitution or the making of a new one.
Whenever Turkish armed forces had seen the need to “restore the order” of the state, it made interventions within the governance. And this time, the reason laying behind the intervention that is stated in the coup plotters’ manifesto is the same: “restoring constitutional order, democracy and human rights.”
Two Theories in One Incident
There are two questions now: Was the military coup staged by President Erdoğan in order to pave the way for building a more authoritarian state by bringing the presidential system, and handing much more power to the president, or did the attempt fail due to the lack of support from within Turkish armed forces?
For whatever the reason might be, the consequences will be extremely hard for the “coup plotters” working in the army or government institutions which are deemed to have connections with Fetullah Gulen – a cleric living in the US under a self-imposed exile, once was an ally of Erdoğan, and now is blamed to have planned the coup. And the witch hunt has already started.
Following the coup, there have been several operations against the military officers who took part in the attempted coup, dismissal or detention of thousands of judges and prosecutors, prohibition of the university academicians from traveling abroad, calling thousands of faculty deans at universities to resign.
The worst is yet to come: a state of emergency is declared by President Erdoğan in the aftermath of the coup, that will surely curb rights and freedoms even more, and result in an inclination to a more authoritarian state. Even though he has stated that the country will not compromise on democracy, what is done to the opposition nowadays indicates the opposite.
Let me first begin with the first possibility: the possibility of a staged coup. Why not? The operations conducted against the opposition and “coup plotters” right after the attempted coup shows that the coup could have been staged to provide a “legitimacy to crackdown any kind of opposition.” Even though there are no concrete proofs indicating that the coup was staged by Erdoğan, there are a few signs showing that it could be so.
First sign is the timing of the coup. In the previous coup experiences of Turkey, each of them have started towards morning, unlike this one. This has started at midnight, and only Bosporus Bridge and Atatürk Airport were occupied by soldiers; not even any of the government buildings. Besides, coup plotters did not seize power from the head of State and government, basically securing Erdoğan and other top officials, none of the members of the cabinet or AKP were detained, only the state-run TRT channel and CNN Türk were occupied by the coup plotters.
The other interesting thing – in a country which had four successful coups – is that Erdoğan and PM Yıldırım could make statements on TV channels at the night of the coup and their communication was not cut off. Yet AKP has been ruling Turkey for fourteen years with an increasing control on legislative, executive and judicial powers since then, and brought army officials before the courts in 2010 within several operations due to their alleged coup planning. During the reign of AKP, almost all governmental and state institutions including universities, public schools, high courts, and armed forces are infused by pro-AKP personnel. Therefore, all of these past and current signs increased the suspicion on a staged coup.
The second possibility is that the coup has almost succeeded, but failed to be so. It seemed to be ill-executed just from the beginning as some army officials delivered the message prior to its commencement. Accordingly, a group of soldiers within Turkish armed forces, that is said to be “Gulenists”, have been planning to topple president Erdoğan due to the alleged corruption incidents, increasing terrorism within the country, violation of basic human rights in the last couple of years.
The Possibility of Reintroducing Death Penalty in Turkey
Above all, there is another issue that should be challenged: death penalty claims that are being made by pro-AKP citizens against the coup plotters. Both PM Yıldırım and Erdoğan have left the door open for the claims, stating that these will be evaluated in the parliament of a democratic country that respects all demands of its citizens. Turkey has abolished death penalty in 2004, in the way for the accession to the EU.
In the case of an imposition of death penalty, the membership of Turkey in the Council of Europe will be endangered, as well as Turkey’s accession to the EU. As Federica Mogherini, the current High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President of the European Commission stated “no country can become an EU Member State if it introduces death penalty.” As Turkey is party to the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR), which prohibits death penalty within the party States, and Article 90 of Turkish Constitution states that the international agreements that are duly entered in force by the parliament have the force of law, such an imposition will not be possible.
The other problem here is that the reintroduction of capital punishment will require the amendment of constitution which guarantees the principle of “retrospectivity” in criminal acts. The retrospective application of punishment is ruled out also in Article 7 of ECHR, stating that no heavier penalty shall be imposed against anyone than the one that was applicable at the time the criminal offense was committed. Even though Turkey duly reintroduces death penalty against the coup plotters under these circumstances, the application of such provision will still be illegal. This can only be a deterrent for future coup plotters.
As a result, Turkey is on the way towards a country in the hands of one man being the sole power. This has slightly been realized de facto in the last couple of years. Now the only need to concentrate all powers in his hands is to amend the constitution in order to provide a legal basis for those acts. After all these incidents occurred in last couple of days, the world will surely see a more powerful Erdoğan, oppressing all opposition even more than before.
About the author:
Berfin Nur Osso is research assistant at the Institute of International Relations Prague and undergraduate student at Koç University Law Faculty, minoring International Relations.