A coup ends quickly, but aftermath effects loom large

The director of APCO's office in Istanbul talks about life after the shocking coup attempt and what lies ahead for a country still reeling from its effects.

The failed coup came as a shock for everyone in the country.

The immediate feeling was one of disbelief and confusion since there was no tension between the government and the military. Following President Erdogan’s resolute call for the streets and the ensuing heroic resistance by civilians of all backgrounds as well as the increasing evidence that the coup attempt was not supported by the entire Turkish military, the feeling of confusion morphed into a struggle for democracy and resistance against military rule.

The president, government members, as well as the opposition parties’ calls were very effective in quickly uniting the Turkish society, often characterized as highly polarized in many ways, around the government and against only a certain group of the Turkish army. The attempt received no popular support from social and political circles, including those that are staunchly against President Erdogan. In the digital age, the coup officers' attempt to gain control over the government seemed archaic and Turkish democracy proved that the age of the coups in Turkey is over.

Following the public statements by the government and high-ranking officers throughout the night, it became gradually clearer that the coup attempt was organized by those associated with Fettullah Gulen. The struggle was perceived to be between the legitimate civilian government and the "deep state" led by Gulen who could not topple the government through democratic means.

 The next day, the busy squares and streets of Istanbul were full of empty tanks and armored vehicles as well as people taking photos with a feeling of victory despite sporadic clashes in Ankara and some parts of Istanbul. Following Erdogan’s warnings that the threat was not over and that citizens should continue to protect key landmarks, gatherings and celebrations continued in key landmarks. Turkish citizens of all political backgrounds attended these celebrations and chanted against Gulen and not the Turkish military.

However, as people became more aware of the civilian death toll, the level of anger increased. People started to ask for the introduction of the death penalty and the extradition of Gulen from the U.S.

Coup plotters of all ranks were arrested with large-scale immediate reassignments and removals by the government at every bureaucratic level leaving the public sector life in Ankara relatively uncertain.

Operations against the FETO members are expected to continue within the state institutions, including the police force. Prime Minister Binali Yildirim stated that the Turkish parliament would discuss a number of new measures that may change the current structure, number, and mandate of state institutions to prevent future attempts to stage a military coup.

A state of emergency has been extended for three months and everyone will be required to carry identity cards. Because Erdogan believes that Gulen’s followers are exerting influence by running a worldwide network of schools, more than 600 private schools and dormitories will be closed.

The Turkish media has already started to question how Turkey reached this point and whether there was any negligence on the part of state institutions. However, the political focus is currently on the next step against FETO and its current presence in Turkish institutions. 

The Istanbul Stock Exchange has not experienced a drastic downturn as some analysts expected. Deputy Prime Minister Mehmet Simsek made a series of teleconferences with over 500 foreign investors to assure them about the strength of the economy. The Central Bank of Republic of Turkey announced it would provide unlimited cash for banks with zero commission rates to thwart the possibility of a financial meltdown. The Banks Association of Turkey stated that the banks have not experienced any liquidity difficulties despite brief panic cash withdrawals over the weekend. However, it is likely financial markets will experience some volatility in the upcoming weeks.

Turkey’s political agenda will be dominated by this event in the upcoming weeks. The debate on the transition to a presidential system is expected to gain momentum and the army’s institutional structure will be debated. President Erdogan may utilize this incident to either unify or further polarize the Turkish society for further support toward administrative consolidation.

In terms of foreign policy, Gulen, currently a lawful permanent resident in the U.S., will be the primary topic in Turkey-U.S. relations, with potential implications over the fight against the Islamic State, given that the U.S. has been actively using Turkey’s Incirlik airbase in its operations in the Middle East. Top Turkish officials have been pressuring the U.S. to extradite Gulen while US Foreign Secretary Kerry requested a formal extradition request backed with evidence, which may lead to tensions in Turkey-U.S. relations.

Anti-coup protesters’ request to reinstate the death penalty seems to find prudent support from the government. President Erdogan said he would approve legislation if the parliament does. Prime Minister Yildirim urged restraint on a hasty and emotional decision on the matter. The debate on death penalty will have ramifications in terms of Turkey’s relationship with the West, as it will also affect extradition requests of suspected pro-coup figures, including Gulen. European Commission Vice President Frederica Mogherini already stated that such a move would adversely affect Turkey’s EU accession process.

Personally, I was overwhelmed by the speed of events from the start to the end of the armed conflict. Overnight, the conflict on the streets was over. However, the political process has just started and no one knows where exactly it will end.

Deniz Gungen is a director in APCO Worldwide’s Istanbul office.

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