The lessons to be learned from Turkey’s failed coup

The country does not belong to a certain segment of society, but belongs to every citizen.

Attempted coup d''etat in Turkey
Politicians attend an extraordinary assembly at the Turkish parliament on July 16. All parliamentary parties denounced the coup attempt [EPA]

Events that are critical to Turkey’s recent political history took place in the coup attempt of July 15. Not a single opposition party supported the attempt. Some members of parliament immediately rushed to parliament.

In addition to contemplating the thousands of people who took to the streets and how politicians from opposite ends of the political spectrum stood together, there are many other issues that need to be considered.

Ideological cause, not handouts

The opposition parties have important lessons to learn from this attempted coup. I tried to understand how the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) members view those who support the ruling party in a study I conducted on the CHP over the past two years in Anatolian cities.

In a nutshell, I saw that CHP members think that most of those who support and vote for the ruling party do so because of the food, coal and other types of social welfare handouts they receive.

Another issue frequently raised was that the ruling party has created networks of favouritism, and that these networks were the most important part of the party’s grassroots organisation.

However, on the night of the coup, we saw the grassroots of the ruling party fill public squares, face down heavy machine-guns and give their lives.

One must understand that these people are united by a common cause and that they are willing to give their lives for it if necessary.

If the state is viewed as belonging to a certain group, and if some segments of society are systematically excluded from the state and from power, one day the people who looked like they were on your side will want more.


The CHP and other opposition parties will have to win the hearts of those voting for the ruling party if they want to come to power since they cannot import voters from other countries.

It should be noted that half of the voters supported the Justice and Development Party (AKP) in the last election.

The only way to win the hearts of the electorate is to properly understand the ruling party’s base. Voters are not supporting the AKP for food and coal, but because it meets their expectations.

These voters and their demands deserve to be respected and understood.

Respected and strong opposition

The most important lesson for the ruling party is connected to its relationships with the opposition. The AKP has the most to gain from the polarised political environment in the country.

The existing political and social division and faultlines that shape Turkish politics ensure the electoral majority of the ruling party.

Naturally, this encourages the AKP to exacerbate the polarisation and to build thick walls of division separating it from the opposition.

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However, one of the primary factors that makes the AKP powerful against the recent coup attempt is the support of different segments of society that are not natural allies of the party and different political parties that unite for the cause of the continuation of the democratic order.

The government party has criticised the opposition for a long time of “not being national and native” or of “being controlled by the parallel structure of the Gulen movement”.

A hostile relationship with the opposition may make the AKP more successful in elections, but it weakens the foundations of Turkish democracy.

The opposition is only respected and strong in a true democracy. Let’s hope that this truth has been understood.

Holding the same worldview

Another lesson is related to the nature of the state and partisan appointments within state bureaucracy.

The Gulen movement’s so-called “parallel state structure” and their members’ efforts to infiltrate bureaucratic institutions began in the late 1970s.

For the first 10 years of the AKP’s rule, Gulenists were able to get appointed to critical positions within the state intelligentsia. Many have been appointed in areas such as the judiciary, police, bureaucracy and the army.

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On the other hand, efforts to corner the AKP, such as the e-memorandum from the Turkish Armed Forces on April 27, 2007 and the closure trial of the party that was brought by the Constitutional Court in 2008, were among the factors that created this opportunity for the Gulen movement.

The alliances arrayed against the AKP pushed it even closer to the Gulen movement, which it thought shared “its worldview”.

However, the relationship got so close that between 2010 and 2013 members of the Gulen movement were in positions of power in almost every critical state agency.

Anti-coup demonstrators celebrate their victory at Istanbul's Taksim Square [Reuters]
Anti-coup demonstrators celebrate their victory at Istanbul’s Taksim Square [Reuters]

So, why did the ruling AKP turn a blind eye to this development? Why was it silent in the face of the movement’s takeover of the state?

The truth is something that members of the AKP have difficulty admitting even to themselves.

Up until 2012-2013, when the AKP clearly saw the danger of the movement coming to power, it behaved as if it shared the “same worldview” as the Gulen movement.

Actually, this is directly related to the nature of the state and who the state belongs to. In a democratic country, the state belongs to everyone, and state authority is used for the common good.

However, the ruling party discarded this approach and treated the state that should belong to everyone as something that belonged to their supporters and those with views similar to their own. This is why the ruling party regarded members of the Gulen movement as faithful and reliable allies.

The lesson that must be learned is directly connected to this misunderstanding. If the state is viewed as belonging to a certain group, and if some segments of society are systematically excluded from the state and from power, one day the people who looked like they were on your side will want more.


In fact, as we have seen with the Gulen movement, their desire for more may result in bloodshed.

If the positions vacated by those in the Gulen movement today are replaced with people “close to the AKP” or “with a similar worldview”, there is no guarantee that these people will not make a similar attempt in the future.

The Turkish government must quickly demonstrate to the country that the state does not belong to a certain segment of society, but belongs to every citizen, and it must regain the support of segments that feel excluded.

This is the way to increase the number of friends on the inside.

Yunus Emre is a professor at the international relations department of Istanbul Kultur University.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.