Turkey’s failed July 15, 2016 coup attempt has torn apart the country’s military and shifted power towards those more skeptical of the intergovernmental alliance.
Not long after 9 pm on the evening of July 15, 2016, Turkey’s Chief of Staff, 2nd Chief of Staff, Land Forces Chief and eight other senior officers were kidnapped from military headquarters and taken by helicopter to Akıncı Air Base, headquarters for the coup plotters, in a rural area to the north of Ankara.
The general in charge of military training would later open his front door in his pajamas to be bound and bundled into an ambulance.
As they left the wedding of a colleague’s daughter, the head of Turkey’s Gendarmerie told the head of its Special Forces that he was surprised he could not contact HQ.
Shortly after, the former was forced into a black minibus by his aide, while the latter, Major-General Zekai Aksakallı, escaped only thanks to the reflexes of his driver in a high-speed car chase through the streets of Ankara.
The overwhelming loss of life that night—around 300 are believed to have been killed and more than 2,000 injured by the time Aksakallı and his men finally took back Akıncı Air Base the next morning—has largely overshadowed the degree to which the Turkish military itself was torn apart by the coup attempt.
And while many of the soldiers who participated in the coup have been linked to the Hizmet movement, a Sunni Islamic sect/self-help-network inspired by the Pennsylvania-based imam Fethullah Gülen, many others at all levels of the coup attempt either had no link to the movement or had only made use of its extensive educational network.
“Those behind this coup attempt were not FETÖ [the “Fethullahite Terror Organization”, i.e. Hizmet], but NATO,” military specialist Necdet Pekmezci told Balkanist. “Those who opposed it were not following Doğu Perinçek; they were reacting against both FETÖ and NATO.”
Perinçek, the head of the left-nationalist Vatan [Patriotic] Party, is seen by some in Turkey as being highly influential in segments of the military that want to move the country out of America’s sphere of influence. In recent years, he has also come to be seen as an important intermediary between the Turkish government and Syria, Iran and Russia. When Balkanist met him, he seemed ecstatic about the military purges that had followed the failed coup:
“The purging of FETÖ was a very strong blow to the US,” he said. “They were seriously harmed by this. America lost its military force in Turkey.”
The coup attempt, Perinçek added, had also led to his party’s ideas becoming official policy: “The offensive of the Turkish army against the PKK since July 24, the removal of FETÖ from the state, the move towards friendship with Russia, statements about joining the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, friendship with Iran, the Moscow declaration, positive signs for friendship with Syria… All these are the policies and politics of the Vatan Party.”
This unexpected merging of minds may largely be due to mutual animosity towards Hizmet, a group which Perinçek blames for his arrest and six-year detention as part of the now-discredited Ergenekon trials. Indeed, Vatan Party-linked television channel Ulusal Kanal [National Channel] was even the first media outlet to report that Hizmet was behind the coup attempt.
Perinçek also told Balkanist that he had been informed beforehand of the military uprising both by a retired Turkish military officer and by the Kremlin-linked Russian intellectual Alexander Dugin, and had passed this information on to the government.
The first milestone in post-Cold War anti-NATO sentiment inside the Turkish military dates back to the First Gulf War, when it was widely believed in Turkey that some of the country’s NATO allies had launched Operation Provide Comfort with the aim of establishing an independent Kurdish state in northern Iraq.
Another consequence of the end of the Cold War was a limited détente in the struggle between the Communist left and nationalist right, allowing for attempts to unite them around a joint anti-American and anti-Islamist platform.
The purge of 7,655 soldiers who it is claimed either likely took part in the coup attempt or are probable members of Hizmet may not seem a large number in context, but it has moved the ideological composition of the Turkish military a little further away from its pro-NATO roots.
Pekmezci, however, states that even the most anti-American officers reluctantly agree that the Turkish military presently has no choice but to remain in the NATO camp.
“Even if Russia gave us every single weapon we needed, they would not be able to replace the training we get now,” he said.
John Butler is a freelancer living and working in Turkey
Cover photo credit: Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff/flickr/some rights reserved