At the time of this post, the situation is Turkey is very unclear. We know that elements of the Turkish military have launched coup against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s AKP Islamist conservative party. President Erdogan has been, as the coup correctly claims, undermining Turkey’s democratic and secular foundations since he came to power in 2002. He has most recently made headlines for his crackdowns of freedom of the press in Turkey, suspected support of ISIS through illegal oil purchases, and his opening of a war on Kurdish nationalists. All this has not made him a popular figure in the West, nor with Russia following his shoot-down of a Russian strike fighter via Turkish F-16.
However, his crackdowns have not been limited to the press. He also attacked the military in 2011 and 2013. The military has traditionally seen itself as the protector of Turkey’s democratic and secular republic as founded by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk in 1923. It has led four coups since 1960. Thus as the AKP began to increasingly Islamisize Turkey some have looked to the military to counter it. However, the crackdowns in 2011 and 2013 seemed intended to forestall such a move. The Turkish military did not revolt in response. Most observers have since considered the military to have neutralized as a pro-secular and pro-democratic political force. This coup shows that this assessment was incorrect.
The question now is simply to find out which side wins. Erdogan can be trusted to be ruthless in his response if he wins, so the coup members are not going to just give up. Nor is Erdogan going to back down. A lot is going to depend on just how much of the military is behind to coup. Reports indicate that at least many army units in the vicinity of Ankara are part of the coup. However, the only report involving the Turkish air force suggests a pro-government F-16 taking out a rebel Blackhawk army helicopter over Ankara. The rebels will find themselves in a difficult position if the government can secure the loyalty of units outside of Ankara. Reports of the head of the Turkish army being held by the rebels suggests the coup is not being led from the top of the military, but I think it is safe to say that the rebels and the government are both going to be stretching the truth in their reports in an effort to win support. Daylight will bring more clarity as well as ordinary citizens seeking to make their opinions felt. Neither side is going to control a city the size of Ankara without some level of popular support.
If the coup is not over one way or the other within a few days I fear this will become another protected conflict. If the military is solidly behind the coup it will succeed. If this is an act of desperation by a group of local army units without air force or wider army backing it will fail. The worst outcome will be if the sides are balanced, in which case the outcome could be so bad that I could really see an international intervention occurring. Currently it looks like a part of the military is doing the wrong thing (coup) for the right reasons (protecting secularism and democracy). The role of Fethullah Gulen, former ally-turned-exiled-opponent of Erdogan with many supporters in Turkey is also open to speculation.
The outcome will become much easier to predict in another 24 hours, by which time the balance of forces and popular support for both sides becomes known. The Middle East has been keeping things interesting for the world. That is not a good thing.