Amid the Post-coup Wreckage, Quiet Returns to Ankara

An unexplained question is why the rebels launched their coup while most people were still awake and able to go out into the streets.

A picture taken on July 19, 2016 shows the statue of the founder of modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, through a hole in a window at the damaged Ankara police headquarters after it was bombed during the failed July 15 coup attempt.
Dimitar Dilkoff, AFP

ANKARA – A long traffic jam snakes through central Ankara. Two of the three lanes on the broad avenue are blocked by the collapse of a pedestrian bridge damaged on Friday night during the bombing of the central police headquarters opposite it. “They’re crazy, to bomb with an F16 in the middle of the city,” said the head of an international company based in the Turkish capital. “I’m certainly not for Erdogan, but if they can bomb the capital city like that, they would be capable of any cruelty.”

At least six sites were bombed on Friday night during the unsuccessful coup against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. But no particular commotion can be seen in the capital four days later, other than police cars at the entrances to military installations and the increased police presence at the international airport, where an additional checkpoint has supplemented the normal security checks.

In the parliament building, which was also bombed on Friday night, the legislature met for the first time since the attempted coup. It was addressed by Prime Minister Binali Yildirim, who continued to manage the affairs of state from his office during the turmoil.

Turkish Prime Minister and the leader of Turkey's ruling party, the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) Binali Yildirim speaks during the AK Party's group meeting at the Grand National Assembly of Turkey (TBMM) in Ankara, on July 19, 2016.
Adem Altan/AFP

Erdogan, who was on vacation when the coup was launched, flew to Istanbul the following day, with F16s flown by coup-supporting pilots threatening to shoot down his plane. He finally returned to the capital last night.

“It was a very moving session,” a member of parliament for the ruling Justice and Development Party, Talip Kucukcan, said. “There was a renewed sense of commitment to democracy, when together with the three opposition parties we voted jointly to condemn the coup.”

The first item on parliament’s agenda was the establishment of a committee of inquiry into the attempted coup. A total of six targets were bombed by planes and helicopter gunships that night. Beyond the symbols of government, police buildings and the headquarters of the intelligence service, the real strategic target was the communications satellite station Turksat, in the Golbasi quarter of the capital.

That bombing was to have cut off most of the television broadcasts in the country, which are transmitted by satellite. The rebels stormed the government television station, informing the stunned country of the coup on the air. But it seems that the bombardment left transmitters undamaged. enabling private channels to continue broadcasting as usual.

That failure by the rebels allowed Erdogan to broadcast a message to the nation from an iPhone, calling on people to take to the streets to oppose the army.

“I don’t understand why they acted at 10 in the evening, when everybody was still awake,” said a retired senior military man, who lives in Ankara and who asked that his name be withheld. “I’ve seen military coups in my life. They do them before dawn, when people are sleeping and then they wake up and the story’s over.

“Because they’re not stupid, I can only think that they were afraid that their plan would be discovered and so they had to act earlier than planned and their whole plan was lost,” he said.

In Ankara it is believed that both the planners of the coup and the loyalists had spies in each other’s camp and both were to some extent aware of the plan, as well as of an expected swoop on the conspirators later that night. That was the reason the coup was launched earlier than planned. Some of the forces, including commandos who raided the vacation site on the Aegean where Erdogan was staying, arrived late, after he had already left for Dalaman Airport. Some of these details will emerge more clearly in the work of the committee of inquiry.

Meanwhile, the purge of the army, law enforcement and civil service continues. According to figures released by various government ministries, more than 30,000 people suspected of belonging to the movement headed by the Muslim preacher Fethullah Gulen have been arrested, dismissed or suspended.

They include at least 3,000 officers and soldiers, arrested on suspicion of involvement in the coup, and 2,700 prosecutors and judges arrested along with 9,000 police and Interior Ministry personnel. Fifteen thousand educators were arrested on Tuesday, among them 1,500 university deans, and 21,000 teachers in private schools have had their teaching licenses revoked. Thousands of other workers were suspended from the ministries of finance and religious affairs as well as from the Prime Minister’s Office. One hundred people working for the intelligence service, particularly loyal to Erdogan, were also suspended.

“A bad joke and an insult to the Turkish people,” is how the member of parliament, Kucukcan, responded to the charge that Erdogan’s government had used the coup to settle accounts with its opponents, and to claims that the coup had been staged so he could do so.

“We almost lost democracy. The army wanted to put everyone in jail. The state has every right to investigate who was behind this. Gulen’s movement has penetrated the government and civil society. Of course not everyone connected with the movement is a criminal but this must be investigated according to the law.

“Anyone who claims that we are simply getting rid of our opponents is ignoring the fact that the opposition parties also came out against the coup and are cooperating with us now,” he said.