Middle class in defense of democracy on night of July 15


When we look at the reports analyzing the socio-demographic profiles of the people on the streets on the night of July 15, we can clearly see that the majority of the middle class was out to defend democracy against the coup attempt

It has been one full year since militants of the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ), who infiltrated in the Turkish military and state, perpetrated a coup and an occupation on the night of July 15, 2016. Although President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the democratically elected leader of the country, seemed to be the primary target of the coup, but it also took aim at all the democratic institutions, trying to dismiss the Constitution and install a puppet, semi-theocratic regime in the country.

The coup leaders, instructed by the terrorist group leader Fetullah Gülen, who lives in Pennsylvania, U.S., simultaneously attacked the pillars of the democracy.

Warplanes bombed Parliament, the military's central offices were raided and Chief of General Staff Gen. Hulusi Akar was taken hostage, there was an assassination attempt on the president, the police special forces building was heavily bombed and all the strategic institutions of the country's democracy were targeted on that bloody night.

Modern Turkish history has seen several coups, but none of them were like the one on July 15. On that night, millions of people took to the streets instinctively and on the call of the president to resist the coup.

For the first time in the history of modern Turkey a coup attempt was put down by the force of millions of civilians on the streets defending democracy. The coup leaders brutally treated the unarmed civilians trying to stop tanks and heavy artillery with their bare hands and bodies as shields.

Some 250 people were killed mercilessly, with the overwhelming majority of them crushed by tanks and hit in airstrikes, and another 2,193 were wounded. It was an undoubtedly heroic act, just like the one man who stood up to tanks in the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989. On Saturday night, this is what millions of people commemorated as Democracy and National Unity Day.

Scientific understanding of July 15Much has been said about that night, but I will try to talk about the scientific understanding of the people's heroic act on the night of July 15. The ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) has financed and coordinated a scientific research on the coup attempt, aiming to understand the factors behind the great civil resistance for democracy. The study, called "The Victory of National Will, July 15," was prepared by academics and experts with 148 field research teams who interviewed the relatives of 166 of those who died and 1,517 who were wounded. It has a 66 percent sampling rate, which is an impressive ratio for an academic study that provides a fair claim to truly represent that night.

In the study, the socio-demographic and economic profiles of the people on the streets on July 15 were analyzed and it tried to explain the role of the president and other institutions along with the psychological situation of the relatives of those who were killed and wounded.

From the urban populationI would like to give the most significant results of the extensive study here:

The findings show that the people on the streets that night came from almost all provinces of the country and there were dead and wounded from 75 out of the 81 provinces. The results also showed that even Turkish citizens living in European countries like France, Germany and Switzerland were involved in the civil resistance. This shows that all the cultural, ethnic, religious and social groups in Turkish society participated that night.

On the other hand, although the people came from diverse locations, 87.3 percent of those who were killed and 96.9 percent of the wounded lived in Ankara and Istanbul, the country's two biggest cities. This makes sense, as the most brutal attacks happened in these cities. When the houses of those who died were examined, it was seen that 87 percent of them were living in apartments compared 9 percent who lived in detached houses. When these results are compared with the general population's average in which 80 percent live in apartments, it is understood that the majority of the people lived in urban areas.

Median age of Turkey's populationAccording to the study, 4.2 percent of those who were killed were female versus 95.8 percent who were male. The same is also visible among the wounded as well, with 6.3 percent of them female and 93.7 percent male. It is not surprising at all for a patriarchal society, which has the mentality, that men defend the country while women defend the home in a case of emergency. Still, significant participation of civilian women was seen in the democracy protests on that night.

When we look at the family structure of those who were killed and wounded, 83.7 percent and 85.1 percent came from nuclear families, respectively. Here, it is important to underline that when compared to Turkey's average, 63.9 percent in 2016, it is quite high.

There are people aged nine to 83 among the dead and wounded. The youngest killed was a 15 year old and the average age was 36. Here, please take into consideration that Turkey's median age was 31 in 2016. Concerning marital status, 64.5 percent of those killed and 63.5 percent of the wounded were married, respectively, and 61.4 percent had children. The size of family households on average among the studied group is four compared to 3.48, the average household size of the general population.

Lower and middle classes on the streetsThe high school education status of those killed and wounded was 36.9 percent and 31.3 percent, respectively. As for higher education, 30.1 percent had undergraduate degrees and 25 percent had graduate degrees. These findings contrast the general education in the country where 19.2 percent are high school graduates and 13.6 percent have undergraduate degrees or higher. It is clearly visible that a more educated section of society flocked to the streets that night. There were also professors as well as the unemployed among them.

Of those killed, 31.3 percent were civil servants, 30.1 percent employees, 18 percent self-employed/tradesmen and 5.6 percent were unemployed. As for the injured, 11 percent were civil servants, 43.7 percent employee, and 25.1 percent self-employed/tradesmen.

The abovementioned findings show that a large majority of those killed and wounded earned less than TL 3,000 ($845) a month. These results show that the lower and middle classes, with an occupation or career, a fair income and good education, defended democracy when faced with the brutal coup attempt. Despite the claim by opposition parties that only the less-educated and lower classes vote for the AK Party, the results of the study say that the middle class and well-educated sections of the society stood with the government against a coup.

Heroic resistance against tanks and warplanesWhen the causes of death are examined; 47.5 percent were caused by gunfire, 21 percent by airstrikes, 9 percent crushed by tanks, 6.3 percent by helicopter fire and heavy artillery and 4.2 percent from shrapnel.

A significant portion of the wounded, 39.8 percent, was hit with gunfire, followed by 27.8 percent by shrapnel, 7.9 percent crushed underneath tanks, 6.9 percent by helicopter fire and heavy artillery and 2.9 percent in airstrikes. Of the wounded, 6.6 percent lost an organ or limb, thus becoming permanently disabled.

There was no looting, damage to public or private property or vandalism by the protesters on that night. There is no need to mention that no one was armed among the resisting groups.

The results also clearly refute the opposition and terrorist supporter claims it was a controlled coup, showing that Turkey was a complete war zone that night.

Erdoğan most prominent factorFinally, the last significant finding of the study regards the reasons that triggered millions to take to the streets to stop the coup. When asked why they were on the streets, the reasons were to "protect democracy, the president and prime minister as their elected leaders; feelings for the national flag, the state and the homeland; protecting the national will; following the call of the sala prayers and protecting the values of Islam."

"I joined the resistance for the future of my children" and "I ran to the street to not allow Turkey to be like Egypt, Syria and Iraq" were other answers the people on the streets gave. These reactions show that a conscious section of society knew what they were resisting rather than being the president's mob, as some claim. They were also highly conscious about the value of democracy and the importance of the national will.

A very important result is that 100 percent of those in the study describe Erdoğan's call to resist the coup as an "effective" factor and 98 percent think that it was "critically effective" to unite the nation. Additionally, the study shows that the religious feelings of the people played a big role in the resistance. The participants respond that the sala prayers for unity from the mosques during that night were 100 percent effective in forming strong resistance against the coup.

These are the most significant results of the extensive study of the victory of the national will on July 15.

As a first attempt of its kind in literature, the "Victory of the National Will, July 15" report contains many important findings that need to be scrutinized by political scientists and sociologists. Nonetheless, the heroic resistance of the people on July 15, which has been likened to the French Revolution by some regarding its effects on society, deserves to be examined in further empirical studies.


MSc in social policy at London School of Economics, Ph.D. student in political science at Boğaziçi University

* Inspector at Republic of Turkey’s Social Security Institution

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