TURKEY’S THIRTY-YEAR COUP
Did an exiled cleric try to overthrow Erdoğan’s government?
At nine o’clock on the night of July 15th, General Hulusi Akar, the chief of the Turkish Army’s general staff, heard a knock on his office door in Ankara, the nation’s capital. It was one of his subordinates, General Mehmet Dişli, and he was there to report that a military coup had begun. “We will get everybody,” Dişli said. “Battalions and brigades are on their way. You will soon see.”
Akar was aghast. “What the hell are you saying?” he asked.
In other cities, officers involved in the coup had ordered their units to detain senior military leaders, block major roads, and seize crucial institutions like Istanbul Atatürk Airport. Two dozen F-16 fighters took to the air. According to statements from some of the officers involved, the plotters asked Akar to join them. When he refused, they handcuffed him and flew him by helicopter to an airbase where other generals were being held; at one point, one of the rebels pointed a gun at Akar and threatened to shoot.
After midnight, a news anchor for Turkish Radio and Television was forced to read a statement by the plotters, who called themselves the Peace at Home Committee, a reference to one of the country’s founding ideals. Without mentioning the President, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, by name, the statement said that his government had destroyed the country’s institutions, engaged in corruption, supported terrorism, and ignored human rights: “The secular and democratic rule of law has been virtually eliminated.”
For a time, the rebels seemed to have the upper hand. Provincial governors and community leaders surrendered or joined in, along with police squads. In a series of text messages discovered after the coup, a Major Murat Çelebioğlu told his group, “The deputies of the Istanbul police chief have been called, informed, and the vast majority have complied.”
A Colonel Uzan Şahin replied, “Tell our police friends: I kiss their eyes.”
But the plot seemed haphazard. A helicopter team sent to locate Erdoğan in Marmaris, the resort town where he was vacationing, failed to capture the President, despite a shootout with guards at his hotel. The rebels took control of only one television station, and left cellular-phone networks untouched. Erdoğan was able to record a video message, played on CNN Turk, in which he called on Turkish citizens to “take to the streets.” They did, in huge numbers. Faced with overwhelming popular resistance, the troops had to decide between shooting large groups of demonstrators and giving up. By morning, the uprising had been broken.
Erdoğan declared a national emergency and, in the weeks that followed, made a series of appearances to remind the nation of the cost of the coup. Some of the plotters had brutally shot demonstrators and comrades who opposed them. One rebel major, faced with resistance, had texted his soldiers, “Crush them, burn them, no compromise.” More than two hundred and sixty people were killed and thousands wounded. The F-16s had bombed the parliament building, blasting holes in the façade and scattering chunks of concrete in the hallways.
In Erdoğan’s telling, the coup was not a legitimate sign of civic unrest. In fact, it did not even originate in Turkey; the rebels “were being told what to do from Pennsylvania.” For Turks, the coded message was clear: Erdoğan meant that the mastermind of the coup was Fethullah Gülen, a seventy-eight-year-old cleric, who had been living in exile for two decades in the Poconos, between Allentown and Scranton.
Gülen, a dour, balding proselytizer with a scratchy voice, had fled Turkey in 1999, fearing arrest by the country’s military rulers. From afar, though, he had served as a spiritual guide for millions and overseen a worldwide network of charter schools, known for offering scholarships to the poor. Gülen’s sermons and writings emphasized reconciling Islam with contemporary science, and promoted charity; his movement is called Hizmet, or “service.” For many in the West, it represented a hopeful trend in Islam. Gülen met with Pope John Paul II and the leaders of major Jewish organizations, and was fêted by President Bill Clinton, who saluted his “ideas of tolerance and interfaith dialogue.”
To many outside observers, Erdoğan’s accusation sounded like something out of an airport thriller: a secret cabal burrowing into a modern state and awaiting orders from its elderly leader on a hilltop half a world away. For Erdoğan, though, it was a statement of political reality. Gülen, once a crucial ally, had become the leader of a shadow state, determined to bring down the Administration. In the following weeks, Erdoğan’s forces detained tens of thousands of people who he claimed were loyal to Gülen. In outraged statements to the United States government, he demanded that Gülen be extradited, so that Turkey’s Thirty-Year Coup - The New Yorker: