Following Reported Overthrow Attempt Turkish Netizens Ask, ‘Coup or Theatre?’

Cartoon widely shared on Facebook.

Cartoon widely shared on Facebook.

In the aftermath of what the government and much of Turkey views as a failed coup attempt on the night of July 15 through July 16, one section of the Turkish internet still isn't buying it.

A trending hashtag emerged soon after updates on the alleged military takeover started rolling in on social media — #DarbeDegilTiyatro (Not a coup, theater).

Users posting under the hashtag typically believe that events that saw over 160 people die, the parliament pounded by bombs and military jets fly frighteningly low over densely populated Ankara and Istanbul, were staged by incumbent President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in order to expand his already formidable influence over domestic politics.

July 15 – July 16: one of Turkey's darkest nights

According to Reuters full blown upheaval in Turkey began at around 19.30 local time when reports of army personnel closing down access points to the main Bosporus bridge in the country's biggest city, Istanbul, started circulating online.

Around the same time, Istanbul's second bridge was taken over by the military.

Half an hour later, in a notably shaky public appearance, Turkey's newly appointed Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said there had been an “uprising” staged by a faction within Turkey's military, and that the uprising had been supported by a long time personal rival of President Erdogan, US-based Islamic cleric Fetulla Gulen.

Over the hours that followed, gun shots and explosions were heard in Istanbul and Ankara, while military helicopters and F16s roamed the skies in Turkey's major cities.

Turkish netizens reported problems accessing online platforms and VPN-provider TunnelBear offered unlimited data for their “friends in Turkey” to stay connected.

Soldiers whose ultimate commander was not immediately identified then took over the Turkish State broadcaster as well as CNN Turk building and other key media outlets.

Amid this chaos, the military issued a statement in which it declared that it had seized control of the government in order to reinstate the democratic order and declared the imposition of martial law and a curfew.

Images showed tanks lined up outside Istanbul airport.

After much speculation regarding his whereabouts — he was reportedly on holiday when the coup took place — President Erdogan broke silence and dispelled rumours he had fled the country.

He addressed the nation via the FaceTime app on an iPhone and openly called on people to take to the streets and fight for democracy.

“Go to the streets and give them their answer,” he said.

I invite our people to the squares and airports to stand up for our democracy and national will.

And the people did take the streets, in many cases overwhelming army officers.

According to CNN live blog, the attempted coup resulted in a total of 161 dead and over 1,400 people injured with some 2,839 military officers detained.

And as the government claimed to have rolled back the coup plotters and regained full control, more and more Turks reached the conclusion that despite the vastly ambitious Erdogan's penchant for provocative politics, there had, in fact, been a coup attempt in their country.

While Alp Eren Tolpal devised a theory that dismissed the staged coup talk out of hand while also adding a sprinkling of conspiracy:

For the last couple of weeks there were rumors to the effect that a large group of ranked officers in Turkish Armed Forces would be forced to retire by the end of summer. My guess is that last night's move was an organized attempt by this group of officers.

The quite obvious lack of organization and inefficiency observed in the attempted coup can also be explained without resorting to conspiracy theories or theatricality of a staged ploy: The junta prepares for, or at least entertains the idea of a coup but somehow the news of the attempt is leaked and rumor gets around.

Government learns about this. The disappearance of Erdoğan for the last week and the excitement of several foreign embassies in the last few days can also be attributed to these rumors. It is also quite possible that the government, with the comfort of being forewarned and realizing the limits of the junta, may have planned to turn this into an advantage and instrumentalize a potential coup for its own benefit.

They may have also planned to catch all the junta in the act thus making it a more open and shut case.

Obviously the junta would know that its cover had been blown and in return they may have acted prematurely as a last resort, to save their asses and made the last night's gamble. I think, this is the most logical explanation of why the coup seemed like a farce.

As to the the aftermath, I think Erdoğan is most right when he frames this as a providence from God. This coup attempt could not have come at a better time.

The u-turn in foreign policy, the admittance of failure in Syria, the great purge within the party, the issue of Syrian refugees all had brought the party esprit-de-corps to an all time low and alienated Erdoğan to his base.

And as such, it provided Erdoğan a decisive victory in domestic politics. Now he is a victorious leader once again, a veteran.

The people flooding the streets were also united in their leader's defense and this turned into an opportunity to overcome the alienation. Erdoğan will once again acquire the status of rightly-guided leader who is led and provided by by God. And of course there is no doubt that he will use this credit to utmost limits.

Kind of like the Auspicious Affair (Vaka-yı Hayriye) of 1826 whereby the Janissary corps were abolished once and for-all, this failed coup has a facet of auspiciousness. Yet, imagining the aftermath we can also predict that it will have several facets which will prove quite oppressive and burdensome for Turkish citizens.

Turkey, which has one of the world's largest standing armies, suffered coups in 1960, 1980 and 1997.

The rise of Erdogan and his conservative AKP party (Justice and Development Party) in the post-millennial era saw the role of the army in domestic politics weaken.

Erdogan, who has stated his ambition to change the constitution on a number of occasions, is widely viewed as one of the most powerful and ambitious rulers in Turkey's history.

Although his party was initially credited for ensuring a decade of robust economic growth, the country has spiralled into insecurity and war following the government's decision to wade into the conflict in neighbouring Syria and escalate a decades-old conflict with Kurdish militants in the east of the country.

Join the conversation

Authors, please log in »


  • All comments are reviewed by a moderator. Do not submit your comment more than once or it may be identified as spam.
  • Please treat others with respect. Comments containing hate speech, obscenity, and personal attacks will not be approved.