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Turkey’s Failed Military Coup & the Purge


On July 15, 2016, a faction of the Turkish military attempted a coup d’état against President Recep Tayyip Erdoǧan and his government, nonetheless, was able to regain power and swiftly retaliate. Once the dust had settled, a total of 35,000 public servants were dismissed from their positions, and a substantial number of soldiers, judges, and prosecutors were arrested due to Erdoǧan’s claim that they had links to Fethullah Gülen, who is in exile in the United States, and the Gülen movement. In the aftermath of the coup, the Erdoǧan’s government accused former partner Fethullah Gülen of masterminding the coup to overthrow his government. The Gülen movement is a social movement led by Fethullah Gülen and is characterized by its pro-Western and technology friendly stance as well as its moderate view of Islam and secularism.

So, who is the clear winner in the coup? The obvious answer is Erdoǧan as well as the Justice and Development Party (AKP) because the failed coup has given them a carte blanche to purge the country of their adversaries, particularly, supports of the Gülen Movement. Erdoǧan was able to clean house, especially, within government institutions and organizations (charitable organization and foundations) that are critical of his regime. Additionally, the government was able to block various media outlets that are critical of its policies and actions. Following the coup, Erdoǧan moved with full force to remove Gülenist from key positions in the military, judiciary, academia, and police. In an unprecedented move, Erdoǧan even removed several members from the Constitutional Court.

Erdoǧan’s heavy-handed response to the coup is also connected to the December 2013 corruption scandal, where several individuals connected to the AKP government were accused of bribery, fraud, and a money laundering scheme to help Iranians evade US-led sanctions. According to Zasztowt, “Gülen’s sympathisers within prosecutor’s office prepared the arrest of the sons of four ministers in the AKP government, accusing them of corruption.” Responding to the corruption scandal at a press conference, Erdoǧan stated that “they [Gülen’s sympathisers] can use whatever ugly methods they like or turn to dirty alliances, but we will not bow to any hearts.” (Letsch, 2013). Thus, the anti-corruption investigation led by Gülen supporters had posed a threat to the credibility of the AKP government; and so, the coup and its aftermath became an opportunity for the government to remove potential threats to its power in the country.

Thus, the speed and degree Erdoǧan is moving to remove alleged individuals responsible for the coup should make the international community question whether the rule of law is being upheld through this process. From the looks of things, and perhaps a pessimistic answer, would be no.

On July 21, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, in a statement, insisted that “Turkish authorities, consistent with the assurances given, [do] their utmost to ensure that the constitutional order and international human rights law are fully respected in line with Turkey’s international obligations.”  Despite, this statement by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Turkey has bypassed the international community’s apprehension and instead has implemented a three-month state of emergency rule, which has essentially given Erdoǧan and the AKP government enough time to fully consolidate their power in the country. It should be noted that the state of emergency is regulated by Article 121 of the Turkish constitution.

Through this three-month state of emergency rule, Erdoǧan and his cabinet ministers are given greater political power in the country, where they can establish laws without needed Parliamentary approval as well as individual rights and freedoms are severely restricted. For example, individuals accused of supporting or engaging in the coup can be held for 30 days without due process. Despite Erdoǧan’s claim that the rule of law and democratic values are still being upheld, as an outsider, the opposite seems to be occurring. This situation brings a final a question to the table: what differentiates Turkey from other nondemocratic countries dealing with its critics and adversaries?



Letsch, C. (17 December 2013). Turkish ministers’ sons arrested in corruption and bribery investigation.






Patty Zakaria
Patty Zakaria is currently a consultant in international relations and research analysis. She completed a PhD in International Relations from Wayne State University, where she focused on international security, nuclear proliferation, and political corruption. She has worked as a researcher and lecturer in politics in the United States, Canada, and Croatia. Currently, she is a faculty member at University Canada West, where she teaches political science courses.

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