At least 60 people were killed and some 1,000 more were injured during a violent uprising in Turkey that began late Friday night, Turkish officials said, plunging a critical NATO member and American ally into chaos.
The violence erupted after a faction within Turkey’s military attempted to stage a coup. Hours later, in dramatic fashion, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, made a public appearance to declare to his supporters that he was in charge and the coup would fail.
The Turkish prosecutor’s office referred to the unrest as an “attack,” The Associated Press reported, citing the private television channel NTV.
It’s unclear how many civilians were among those killed.
Turkey’s state-run Anadolu agency said 754 members of the country’s military have been detained across the country. The Ministry of the Interior said 29 colonels and five generals were relieved of duty.
The outlet has reported that some alleged plotters of the coup shot at police officers at their Ankara headquarters from a helicopter, which was subsequently shot down by Turkish F-16 fighter jets.
A no-fly zone was imposed over Ankara, Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said in a statement. Erdogan said Yildirim has given orders to “eradicate” those who are shooting from the air, according to AP.
“The government will shoot down every military aircraft in Turkish airspace,” Yildirim said.
Erdogan, whose whereabouts were unknown for hours throughout the night, called the events an “act of treason.”
“This insurgency is a blessing from Allah, because it will allow us to purge the military” from mutineers, Erdogan said in a statement from Istanbul, shortly after arriving there early Saturday morning.
Earlier Friday night, a faction within the Turkish armed forces calling itself the
“Peace at Home Council” said they had seized power, taken over the government, and declared martial law. They deployed forces onto the streets of Istanbul and Ankara, Turkey’s largest city and capital, respectively, and closed two major bridges leading into Istanbul.
“Turkish Armed Forces have completely taken over the administration of the country to reinstate constitutional order, human rights and freedoms, the rule of law, and the general security that was damaged,” the statement said. “All international agreements are still valid. We hope that all of our good relations with all countries will continue.”
A Turkish newscaster on Turkey’s state-run broadcaster TRT said she was forced to read the statement at gunpoint.
The military briefly took over Istanbul’s Ataturk airport and refused landing rights to Turkish President Recep Erdogan, who had been vacationing in Bodrum at the time of the uprising.
Erdogan initially sought asylum in Germany, a senior military official told NBC, but landed at Istanbul’s Ataturk airport early Saturday morning to crowds of supporters.
— Conflict News (@Conflicts) July 16, 2016
In the early stages of the attempted coup, Erdogan was forced to use FaceTime to
call into CNN Turk. Erdogan encouraged people to take to the streets and march on Istanbul’s Ataturk airport to protest the military uprising.
“Let them come with their tanks,” Erdogan said. “I am commander in chief in this country. Those who attempted a coup will pay the highest price.”
Soldiers also appeared to briefly
take over CNN Turk studios. A live picture of the empty set was being broadcast for a time. The station has since resumed broadcasting.
A bomb was reportedly thrown at Turkey’s parliament headquarters in Ankara at some point in the evening. CNN Turk has reported that at least 12 people were killed and two critically injured in the bombing, though that figure has not been confirmed by Turkish authorities.
Turkey’s deputy prime minister, Mehmet Simsek, told CNN that the coup attempt had “failed.”
Military leaders, politicians reject coup attempt
Erdogan has long suspected that Turkey’s Gulenists — followers of a transnational religious and social movement led by Turkish Islamic scholar and preacher Fethullah Gülen — have been plotting to overthrow his government.
But Gulen, who currently resides in the US, released a statement condemning “any military intervention in the domestic politics of Turkey.”
“We’re considering it as an uprising attempt, we will not allow it to succeed,” Yildirim said on private television channel NTV. “The insurgency by the military won’t be tolerated.”
A senior advisor to Yildirim told CNN that the coup was orchestrated by soldiers “acting outside the chain of command” and “was not authorised by military headquarters.”
“As the commander staff, we openly reject this coup attempt,” Turkish Navy Chief Bülent Bostanoğlu said in a statement.
Around 30 Turkish soldiers who were part of the anti-government faction reportedly surrendered their weapons after being surrounded by armed police in Istanbul’s central Taksim square, Reuters reported.
Turkish police have reportedly begun arresting others involved in the attempted coup:
— Negar نگار (@NegarMortazavi) July 16, 2016
Turkish police are arresting soldiers who took part in the attempted coup. https://t.co/m2kSGgGOkq
— David Daoud (@DavidADaoud) July 15, 2016
— Al Arabiya English (@AlArabiya_Eng) July 15, 2016
The White House condemned the uprising, releasing a statement that provided a clear signal of support to the “democratically elected government” of Turkey:
“The President spoke tonight by phone with Secretary of State John Kerry to discuss the events in Turkey. The President and Secretary agreed that all parties in Turkey should support the democratically-elected Government of Turkey, show restraint, and avoid any violence or bloodshed. The Secretary underscored that the State Department will continue to focus on the safety and security of U.S. citizens in Turkey. The President asked the Secretary to continue to keep him updated as the situation unfolds.”
Mass anti-military protests
After Erdogan’s call, Turkish citizens began flooding the streets in support of the government, photos and video showed. Footage emerged of protesters overrunning the military tanks rolling into Istanbul.
Soldiers reportedly opened fire at protesters attempting to cross Istanbul’s Bosphorus bridge in protest of the attempted coup. It was unclear if any casualties resulted from the gunfire.
Yıldırım, the prime minister, said intelligence agencies were cleared to confront the military in Turkey’s cities, and skirmishes reportedly flared up between government supporters and the military in Istanbul’s Taksim square.
“It’s clear the military is not having things its own way,” Istanbul-based journalist Andrew Finkel told CNN at around 2:20 a.m. local time. An American eyewitness in Istanbul told CNN that Istanbul was “relatively quiet” before Erdogan called on Turkish citizens to take to the streets in protest.
“Assuming this is a coup, don’t underestimate the power of the government to get its supporters into the streets,” Michael Koplow, policy director of the Israel Policy Forum and an analyst of Middle Eastern politics analyst, tweeted earlier in the night. “Erdogan has millions of true believers.”
YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter were reportedly blocked, and the military briefly seized and turned off the state-run TRT television station. Turkish police reportedly retook control of the television station and arrested the coup plotters involved.
At one point, the headquarters of Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) were surrounded by the forces attempting the coup.
Why this coup is different
NBC News’ chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel tweeted that US officials were “caught off guard” by the coup attempt.
US military sources, meanwhile, told NBC that the US-Turkish base at Incirlik, in Turkey’s southeast, were ordered to halt their missions and employ “Force Protection Condition Delta,” protocol typically enacted amid terror attacks.
Turkey granted the US permission to use its Incirlik airbase last year to launch airstrikes against the Islamic State in Syria. Turkey is a NATO ally, but “the US is legally barred from assisting any military that perpetrates a coup,” as CNN’s Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr pointed out.
Turkey’s military has a long history of coup attempts, with at least four since 1960.
Business Insider’s Elena Holodny reached out to Dr. Gonul Tol, the Director of Middle East Institute’s Center for Turkish Studies. He explained some of the differences:
“…the situation is still very fluid but this is a very atypical coup. In the past, the military acted on calls from the people and staged a coup against an unpopular government. That is not case today, the AKP and Erdogan might be very polarising and might have alienated an important segment of society but they still have the backing of almost 50% of the population. And we also have not seen large scale calls for a military intervention, security collapse, chaos, the factors that played an important role in past coups. Also missing in this coup is the chain of command. In the past, the top brass went on TV right after the coups and explained the public the reasons for the intervention. That has not happened yet. So this coup might not have the backing of the top brass.”
Indeed, a senior Turkish official told Reuters on Friday that there appeared to be “no broad support within Turkey’s military for the attempted coup under way.”
Erdogan has attempted to significantly expand his presidential powers over the past year in the wake of roughly 14 terror attacks on Turkish soil, which is why “if he survives this,
his hand will be even more strengthened and he will be able to convinced people more easily that a presidential system is necessary,” Tol said.
Still, some analysts have noted that the uprising seemed well-orchestrated and extensively planned.
In 2012, war correspondent Dexter Filkins outlined the mutual suspicion that has characterised the Turkish military’s relationship with Erdogan since he took power.
“When Erdoğan and his comrades in the A.K. Party came to power, there were widespread concerns that, as ardent Islamists, they were intent on foisting a religious regime on secular Turkey,” Filkins wrote for the New Yorker.
“Erdoğan, for his part, feared the resistance of what is commonly referred to as derin devlet, the ‘deep state’ —
“a presumed clandestine network of military officers and their civilian allies.”
As a result, Erdogan has been steadily shifting toward authoritarian rule, shutting down newspapers and arresting journalists and political figures critical of his government. His heavy-handed tactics have been condemned by the US and the international community.
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