15 July Coup Attempt and the Legendary Story of Turkish Democracy


The history of modern Turkey can be summarized as the history of military interventions. In the late Ottoman times, the army was the first and foremost institution through which the modernization steps were taken. Also it is known that the loss of Sultan’s authority was first seen among the military circles. After the demise of the Ottoman Empire, the Turkish Armed Forces had been the founder and the guardian of the newly founded regime in 1923. Mustafa Kemal Atatürk  the leader of the National Liberation War had been a soldier as well.

One of the main reasons of the hardships for the consolidation of democracy in Turkey has been the pathological relationship between civilian actors and the military actors. In the aftermath of the introduction of the multi-party politics, the military interventions occurred through almost a period of 10 years. In 1960, 1971 and 1980 the Turkish Armed Forces have intervened into the political sphere with the so-called task of protecting the Republican regime and restore Kemalist principles. In line to that, in 1997 the military again intervened into the politics collaborating with some “civilian” institutions like NGOs and the mainstream media to overthrow the Islamist Welfare Party-led government. This military intervention is known as the “post-modern coup” that used the media and NGOs to undermine the legitimacy of the government and push it to resign. Unlike its predecessors, the military intervention in 1997 made Turkey witness some kind of cooperation between the military and the non-governmental organizations. These organizations played a crucial role in justifying the military’s intervention into politics.

AK Party emerged as one of the consequences of the military intervention in 1997. The Islamist political tradition where Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had been active split up and Erdoğan later formed AK Party in 2001.

Turkish democracy has always been fragile compared to Western democracies. However with the triumph of the AK Party in 2002 general elections, democracy in Turkey has started to gain ground at least in electoral and procedural terms. The democratization of Turkey has not been that easy. The bureaucratic oligarchy has been an interceptive parameter in front of the deepening of democracy. The e-memorandum issued on April 27, 2007 which saw the AK Party as a threat to secularism and the closure case opened in 2008 against the party can be seen as the interceptive steps taken by the bureaucratic oligarchy. The early years of the AK Party rule faced challenges from both the military and other bureaucratic actors. Thanks to the European Union reform packages, the political autonomy of the Army has eroded to an important degree. The AK Party government has taken significant steps to democratize civil-military relations.

Turkish democracy faced a military blow in 2016, known as the July 15 Coup Attempt allegedly carried out by the “Fethullahist Terrorist Organization” (FETO). Fethullah Gülen, who is today seen as the leader of the Fethullahist Terrorist Organization (FETO) by the official state discourse had once upon a time been seen as the leader of the Gülen Movement that underlined interfaith dialogue and tolerance. On July 15, 2016 the military personnel alleged to have been affiliated with FETO has engaged in a coup attempt to overthrow the government and that failed coup made it possible for the AK Party government to show Turkey the face of Fethullah Gülen as the “head of FETO terrorist organization”. It is known that the people in the Gülenist network have been infiltrated to state institutions like the Army, judiciary and so on since the late 1970s.

Many people in Turkey until July 15 coup attempt have known the Gülenists as the people dedicated to interfaith dialogue activities all over the world. This image was eroded to a considerable amount of degree in 2013. In 2013, through the December 17, 25 process (also called as “corruption scandal”) the government discourse and mainstream media started to represent the Gülenists as not members of a dialogue movement anymore. From then on, they started to be represented as members of an illegal organization (parallel state) that aimed to overthrow the government through a judiciary blow.

In the aftermath of the July 15 coup attempt, lots of people affiliated with the so-called FETO have been arrested and the judiciary process still goes on, it seems that the process will continue in the following years as well. Sadly, many innocent people also lost their jobs and some even lives in the “FETO hunt” process. Erdoğan in September 2016 said that “Horse trail mixed with dog trail, some people who were accused of being FETO members have nothing to do with this business!” It should be noted that with the consolidation of AK Party power after the failed coup attempt, the party started to give up democratic principles while getting engaged into criminal investigations against members of Gülenist network.

According to a report published in the web page of Turkish Presidency during the failed coup attempt, 179 civilians, 62 policemen and 5 soldiers lost their lives and 2,195 people were injured. The July 15, 2016 coup attempt can be viewed as a milestone in the history of Turkish democracy. It showed the whole world that the people living in Turkey can put their lives under danger for the independence of their country. 

Dr.Begum Burak
Dr.Begum Burak
Dr. Begüm Burak is an independent researcher. In 2015, Ms. Burak got her PhD degree. During her occupation as a teaching assistant, she got engaged in short-term academic activities in Italy, United Kingdom, Bosnia and Spain. In 2018, she became one of the founding members of www.ilkmade.com. For her twitter visit: @begumburak1984


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