With thousands detained, concerns raised Turkey has moved further toward authoritarian rule
Following a failed coup against Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the government moved swiftly to shore up his power and remove those perceived as an enemy, saying Sunday it has detained 6,000 people.
The crackdown targeted not only generals and soldiers, but a wide swath of the judiciary that has sometimes blocked Erdogan, raising concerns that the effort to oust him will push Turkey even further into authoritarian rule.
Friday night’s sudden uprising by a faction of the military appeared to take the government — and much of the world — by surprise.
The plotters sent warplanes firing on key government installations and tanks rolling into major cities, but it ended hours later when loyal government forces regained control of the military, and civilians took to the streets in support of Erdogan. At least 294 people were killed and more than 1,400 wounded, the government said.
On Sunday, Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said the coup had failed and life has returned to normal.
“Another calamity has been thwarted,” Yildirim said in Ankara after visiting state TRT television, which had been seized by soldiers supporting the coup. “However, our duty is not over. We shall rapidly conduct the cleansing operation so that they cannot again show the audacity of coming against the will of the people.”
Yildirim said those involved with the failed coup “will receive every punishment they deserve.” Erdogan suggested that Turkey might reinstate capital punishment, which was legally abolished in 2004 as part of the country’s bid to join the European Union.
Speaking to a large crowd of his supporters in front of his Istanbul residence Sunday evening, Erdogan responded to frequent calls of “We want the death penalty!” by saying: “We hear your request. In a democracy, whatever the people want they will get.”
Funerals were held for some of those who were killed in the coup attempt, including Erdogan’s campaign manager Erol Olcak and his 16-year-old son, Abdullah Tayyip Olcak. The president, who attended the service, wept and vowed to take the country forward in “unity and solidarity.”
The government’s announcement that 6,000 people had been detained — including three top generals and hundreds of soldiers — suggested a wide conspiracy. Observers said the scale of the crackdown, especially against the judiciary, indicated the government was taking the opportunity to further consolidate Erdogan’s power.
“The factions within the military opposed to Erdogan who did this just gave him carte blanche to crack down not only on the military but on the judiciary,” said Aykan Erdemir, a former lawmaker from the main opposition party and now a senior fellow at the U.S.-based Foundation for Defence of Democracies. “The coup plotters couldn’t have helped Erdogan more.”
Even before the chaos in Turkey, the NATO member and key Western ally in the fight against the Islamic State group had been wracked by political turmoil that critics blamed on Erdogan’s increasingly heavy-handed rule. He has shaken up the government, cracked down on dissent, restricted the media and renewed fighting with Kurdish rebels.
The rapid suppression of the putsch was greeted by Turks across the political spectrum with opposition parties joining quickly to condemn it. In a half-dozen cities, tens of thousands marched throughout the day after officials urged them to defend democracy and back Erdogan, Turkey’s top politician for 13 years.
At nightfall, flag-waving crowds rallied in Istanbul’s Taksim Square, Ankara’s Kizilay Square and elsewhere.
The Yeni Safak newspaper used the headline “Traitors of the country,” while the Hurriyet newspaper declared “Democracy’s victory.”
“Just a small group from Turkish armed forces stood up against our government ... but we, the Turkish nation, stand together and repulse it back,” said Gozde Kurt, a 16-year-old student at a morning rally in Istanbul.
The failed coup and the subsequent crackdown followed moves by Erdogan to reshape both the military and the judiciary. He had indicated a shakeup of the military was imminent and had also taken steps to increase his influence over the judiciary.
It is not clear what effect the post-coup purge will have on the judiciary, how the government will move to replace the dismissed judges and prosecutors, or where the trials for those detained would be held.
Supporters of the Turkish president wave flags in Istanbul’s Taksim Square Sunday. Observers worry the crackdown post-coup could lead to more authoritarian rule.