July 21, 2016

TSG IntelBrief: Turkey in the Aftermath of a Failed Coup

• On July 15, an attempt to overthrow the Turkish government failed to succeed; on July 20, President Erdogan declared a state of emergency in Turkey.  

• The attempt left 240 people dead, including 173 civilians, and was quickly followed by thousands of arrests, mostly within the Turkish Armed Forces and judicial bodies. 

• The majority of the commanding generals involved in the coup are allegedly loyal to Fethullah Gülen, a 75 year-old cleric living in Saylorsburg, Pennsylvania.   

• The failed coup will almost certainly increase President Erdogan’s authoritarian tendencies, while leaving Turkey vulnerable to internal conflict.


Turkey’s failed coup on July 15 was followed by a massive purge of suspected plotters that has already resulted in thousands of arrests. On July 20, President Erdogan imposed a three-month state of emergency in a televised address to the nation after meeting with his national security team. The state of emergency will further empower the government to conduct wider purges. With numbers still mounting, there are currently at least 6,746 military personnel and 1,094 judges and prosecutors in custody, along with 121 police officers and 23 academics. One hundred and three generals and admirals—who constitute one-third of the commanding generals of Turkish Armed Forces—are believed to be key players in the coup. Following the attempt, more than 15,000 employees of the Ministry of Education have been suspended, and 21,000 private teachers' licenses have been revoked. The High Education Board has asked all of the 1,577 deans of public and private universities to resign, and hundreds of suspensions have already taken place across various government bodies, including Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MIT) and other major ministries. On July 20, the Turkish government issued a professional travel ban for all of the country's academics. The question remains whether the purge will be abused as a justification for further authoritarian counter-measures

Followers loyal to Fethullah Gülen—a powerful cleric and former ally and current adversary of President Erdogan, now living in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania—are considered by the Turkish government to be responsible for the attempted coup. President Erdogan may use this window of opportunity not only to clear the government of suspected Gülenists—Gülen’s followers—but also to suppress any opposition that is capable of posing a threat to his political future. There are widespread fears in Turkey that hundreds of arrests could follow, including those of prominent journalists and activists, public employees, private citizens, media outlets, and even members of parliament.  

The Turkish Army will likely suffer the most in the aftermath of the coup. The relationship between the military and the Turkish people has undoubtedly changed; morale among the Armed Forces will suffer, and the availability of resources and personnel will contract. Widely distributed images of Turkish soldiers being beaten, whipped, and killed on the streets of Turkey following the attempted coup will further damage the morale and standing of the military in Turkish society. The Turkish Air Force may be the worst affected, and is likely to lose a substantial number of pilots to prosecutions and resignations. The thousands of military personnel who will be lost in the coming months will be not be easily or quickly replaced. The Turkish Armed Forces will have to make a concerted effort towards rebuilding trust among its various factions, and work to ensure the survival of the chain of command. 

The coup attempt will aggravate existing tensions between Turkey and the United States. President Erdogan has already submitted a formal request for the extradition of Gülen to Turkey, which would require concrete evidence of Gülen’s wrongdoing and role in the plot. As the State Department reviews and considers the extradition request, U.S.-Turkish relations will undoubtedly be strained, adversely affecting joint cooperation in the fight against the so-called Islamic State

Above all, the failed coup exposed to the outside world the instability within Turkey’s borders. Although the government appears to be control, it is severely fractured in the aftermath of the coup, on top of a worsening Turkish economy. All signs point to instability in Turkey for the foreseeable future. 


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