Thursday 27 October 2016

A rushed coup put down - and Erdogan's near miss in the skies

Josie Ensor

Published 18/07/2016 | 02:30

Women watch the funeral of a victim of the failed coup. Photo: Getty
Women watch the funeral of a victim of the failed coup. Photo: Getty
A man uses his belt to hit soldiers involved in the coup attempt. Photo: Getty
Turkish riot police officers detain soldiers. Photo: Getty
People apprehend a soldier, centre in blue, who participated in the attempted coup. Photo: Reuters

It had been planned for weeks but in the end, even the coup plotters were taken by surprise. The 300 putschists had heard that the Turkish government was about to issue arrest warrants for soldiers accused of supporting Fethullah Gulen, an Islamist cleric and longtime foe of the president, who lives in self-imposed exile in the US.

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So, they advanced their plans to Friday night in what would turn out to be a doomed attempt to catch the government before it caught them.

While the government has been keen to suggest a small band of low-ranking dissenters were behind the coup, a new report and the released names of military figures linked to the plot suggests it ran much deeper.

Akin Ozturk, the man thought to have been the mastermind, is a former air forces commander and Turkish Supreme Military Council (YAA) member.

He led a group that included the president's own top military adviser, the commander of the main air base used by US troops to launch air strikes against Isil in Syria, and the commander of the powerful Second Army.

Read More: Fears Erdogan using coup to consolidate his power amid ruthless crackdown

The botched coup, which saw the parliament building bombed and tanks on the streets of Istanbul, was only put down when Erdogan loyalists responded to his calls to take to the streets to challenge the putschists.

The report, which appeared in the local 'Cumhuriyet' newspaper, would explain why the events unravelled so quickly.

"The beginning of the coup felt very rushed, but the planning of it was not. That's imp­ortant," Oktay Vural, an MP from the nationalist opposition party MHP, said.

It emerged yesterday that at the height of the attempt to topple the president, the rebel pilots of two F-16 fighter jets had Mr Erdogan's plane in their sights.

The Turkish leader was returning to Istanbul from a holiday near the coastal resort of Marmaris when at least two F-16s harassed Mr Erdogan's plane while it was in the air and en route to Istanbul.

"Why they didn't fire is a mystery," one former military officer with knowledge of the event said.

Mr Erdogan said as the coup unfolded that the plotters had tried to attack him and had bombed places he had been at shortly after he left. He "evaded death by minutes".

Around 25 soldiers in helicopters descended on his hotel in Marmaris on ropes, shooting, just after Mr Erdogan had left, in an apparent attempt to seize him.

The report was just another of the lingering mysteries of Friday night.

Around a dozen individuals have been named as among the coup plotters, but in Mr Erdogan's Turkey, it is difficult to distinguish between real foe and political challenger. Among the names was Ali Yazici, Erdogan's military aide, who would be the closest to Erdogan's inner circle to have been involved in the plot, if he was.

Eight soldiers who fled to Greece in a helicopter to seek asylum on Friday night claimed yesterday that they had had no role in the plot at all.

Their lawyer said the officers were ordered to carry injured people, and that shortly after hearing about the coup they were fired at by police and crossed the border, emitting a distress signal.

Greece has said it will now consider their claim of political asylum - no doubt taking into account the bloody justice that has so far been meted out to some of the coup's plotters by Erdogan supporters on the streets of Istanbul and Ankara, and Mr Erdogan's promise that he will now consider reinstating the death penalty.

A defiant president addressed a large crowd at a funeral of one of the victims yesterday, vowing to purge all state institutions of supporters of Mr Gulen.

He said Turkey would request an extradition order for the cleric so that he could stand trial in Ankara.

The thousands gathered bayed for revenge, calling for the return of the death penalty to punish the "Gulenist plotters".

"Let them hang, they are worse than Isis and worse than the Kurds," they said, referring to the minority group which has militias waging attacks on the Turkish state.

Mr Gulen has insisted that he had nothing to do with the uprising and suggested that Mr Erdogan could have staged the attack himself in order to legitimise a fresh crackdown on the judiciary and military.

He claims he has been away from Turkey for so long he has little connection to the men he is accused of directing to overthrow his one-time friend.

Mr Erdogan has frequently accused his former ally of trying to seize power from his American home, by using his secretive 'Hizmet' movement to infiltrate state institutions, including security forces, intelligence agencies and the judiciary.

The government spent the day convincing the Turkish public the putsch was over and that order had been restored. Prime Minister Binali Yildirim announced the coup had been completely defeated and that "life has returned to normal."

Mr Erdogan remained in Istanbul, the heartland of his supporters, since flying in from his Mediterranean holiday in the hours after Friday night's coup.

As a country promoted to the world as the most stable, healthy democracy in the Middle East, Friday's attempted coup was a shock.

The violence rocked the nation of almost 80 million, where living standards have grown steadily for more than a decade and where the army last used force to stage a successful coup more than 30 years ago. The West cannot afford to have another Middle Eastern state unravel, especially one that has the largest army in the region and is so crucial in the fight against Isil.

"Having uncertainty in Turkey is a serious threat to the region, but also the world," Daniel Nisman, an analyst with the Levantine Group, said.

"The realist response would be to accept that Erdogan is the democratically elected leader of the country, however much as some might criticise his leadership. He can satisfy huge amounts of the population, who have had plenty of chances to vote him out but haven't." (© The Daily Telegraph)

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