Coups tend to be evaluated by a single criterion: whether or not they achieved their purpose. And though the results are, of course, what matters most to those who have power — and those who covet it — that kind of evaluation ignores the anatomy of what makes a coup successful. The current situation in Turkey reveals a significant degree of planning and coordination, but its “success” depends on the same things that all others do.
What the Coup Has Accomplished
The first signs of the coup were revealed through the coordinated cutting of control of transportation avenues. The soldiers involved stationed themselves on major bridges in Istanbul and severed roads in Ankara and Izmir. Turkish F-16s were seen making low flyovers in Ankara. Civilians were told to go home and stay inside. The airports across the country were shut down and flights were paused.
Removing Key Opponents
Seizing an occasion in which President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was out of town, Turkish soldiers besieged the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) headquarters in Istanbul. Tanks headed to the prime minister’s palace in Ankara, but countercoup protesters blocked some of the tank advances. Helicopters reportedly shot at the palace as tanks approached.
While it is unclear whether power was cut off in some portions of major Turkish cities, it is clear that soldiers shut down power to some critical government infrastructure, such as Dolmabahce Palace.
Some media and communications channels were taken over by soldiers, who entered state television offices and ordered employees to leave in groups. State media employees were informed that the military was now in charge, were advised stay home and were told that the next broadcast would be be the following morning. YouTube and other Internet media outlets are either shut down or operating intermittently. The head of AKP’s Istanbul branch went on a private news channel calling on residents to “resist the coup and head to the airport for Erdogan’s arrival.” Recent reports suggest that the government has retaken control of state television.
What the Coup Has Not Accomplished
The mutineers have yet to accomplish two important components of a successful coup, at least at the time of publication.
The ingredient that will determine who comes out on top in Turkey is popular support. Countercoups in support of Erdogan have already begun, their participants expressing support for the president and his party. The military prepared for resistance by bolstering security in major public areas such as Taksim Square, but now the countercoup presence there is strong. Riot police have joined countercoup protesters, shooting guns in the air and asking the army to leave. Now that there are reports that the military is firing on protesters on the Bosporus Bridge, those who instigated the coup are clearly battling for public support.
Unity of Force
Last, a successful coup needs a critical mass of security forces that acts in support of the cause; remaining forces, especially those that are weak or sidelined, can be managed. In Turkey, it is unclear where everyone’s loyalty stands, but there are signs of conflict among the various branches of the military.
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