The Republic of Turkey has faced multiple coups and coup attempts during the last 50 years. If we include the Ottoman era, the military's attempts to control or manipulate civilian governments can be extended to the last 200 years. The failed July 15 coup attempt not only unified all segments of Turkish society against the coup, but also brought together all major political groups in defiance of it. Turkey's brave people, along with its leading politicians and security forces that respect democracy and rule of law, together stopped this coup attempt. Unfortunately, around 250 people died and over 2,000 civilians and pro-democracy forces were injured on the night of July 15-16.
Turkey, excluding the aforementioned interruptions, has been a multi-party democracy since 1950. However, due to the prominent place of the military in the state's institutional structure, the question has always lingered of whether the military would intervene again. Until the 2000s, the top generals saw themselves as the protectors of the government from internal threats, rather than seeing their role as solely defending the country against external threats. In the 2000s, this changed substantially as Turkey's reformist governments under Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's leadership took multiple steps toward strengthening civilian political institutions. These steps were also taken as part of and in accordance with Turkey's accession talks with the EU, which started in 2005. Thus, Turkey's military came increasingly under the control of democratically elected political institutions during this period, and the incumbent top generals have been those who respected democracy and rule of law.
However, the state - and the military within - failed to prevent infiltration by people from the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ), who have portrayed themselves as serving the general public's interests, mostly by opening schools. With this portrayal, they gained the people and politicians' goodwill toward them in Turkey and abroad. They used their public service face to cover their other agendas. As they grew, they established business conglomerates, controlled significant portions of the media and infiltrated Turkey's state institutions, in particular the judiciary, police and the military.
In recent years, it was understood that the group's top leadership had illegal activities alongside legal ones, and had an agenda of overthrowing the democratically elected government, taking control of the state by any means. Gülenists in state institutions showed loyalty to Fethullah Gülen rather than the state and followed his orders rather than those of the elected government. When President Erdoğan and the government realized the group's secret agenda a couple of years ago, they took measures to stop the infiltration and several prosecutors began investigations into some of the illegal activities that the group members directly connected with Gülen were engaged in. Since the group had been infiltrating state institutions for a few decades, by the time the government wanted to curb their activities, they were already too strong in the civil and security bureaucracy as well as in business and media, and thus were able to weaken the government's efforts. As they were controlling important offices in many state institutions, they often promoted and protected one another and were able to stay hidden. Nonetheless, as more of the group's illegal activities were detected, security institutions, in particular the military, were preparing for comprehensive investigations and possible expulsion of Gülen loyalists from the military. Gülenists knew it, and before they were weakened in the military, they attempted to take control of the state in a violent coup conducted by their members in the military who successfully hid themselves until July 15.
The coup attempt was bloody, as Gülen loyalists shot and drove tanks over unarmed civilians in order to terrorize and overcome the resistance. Even so, after a call from Erdoğan, millions of Turkish citizens went out to block the coup and bravely resisted the tanks, shooting from helicopters and bombing by warplanes. The military exists to ensure the security of the state and its people, but on July 15 the Gülenist faction in the military turned against the people and their democratically elected government. Many locations, including the headquarters of pro-democracy security forces and Parliament, were bombed on the night of July 15-16. However, this unified people from different political parties and ethnic and religious affiliations to say no to the coup. This shocking coup attempt angered the people so much that anti-coup/pro-democracy gatherings in many cities still continue to this today.
The people's resistance has shown that Turkey's democracy is no longer reversible, no matter how big the coup attempt. The Gülenist faction in the military and other state institutions that were involved in the failed coup directly or indirectly are being expelled. The government also started a new wave of reforms in order to place the military in full control of the democratically elected government like in Western countries, and to prevent any future coup attempt. Moreover, the political parties represented in Parliament showed their willingness to cooperate for further democratic reforms at the constitutional level.
With these reforms, the country's democracy is becoming stronger and more stable. Turkey is now leaving coups behind indefinitely.
* Assistant professor, Business Department Chair at the American University of Iraq Sulaimani