Two years on, how the coup changed Turkey as we know it
The 2016 coup attempt may have ended the modern republic of Turkey, analysts say
On Sunday Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is expected to deliver a speech on Istanbul’s Bosphorus Bridge to mark two years since a bloody attempted coup that marked a turning point in the country’s history.
The bridge that was once a symbol of Turkish mordernity has now been renamed the July 15 Martyr's Bridge, in commemoration of the night on July 15 2016 when soldiers shut it down. Soon after F-16 jets appeared over Istanbul and Ankara. President Erdogan himself narrowly escaped capture by coup plotters. It was a night of uncertainty and destruction, and two years later the details of exactly what happened and who exactly was involved are still murky.
What is clear, however, is that Turkey will never be the same again. The attempted coup paved the way for a number of radical changes causing far-reaching social, economic and political consequences.
“The coup may have ended the modern republic of Turkey as we knew it,” said Ezgi Basaran, a journalist, author and programme co-ordinator for Oxford University’s contemporary Turkey programme.
Since then, the country has been under a state of emergency – due to end on July 18 – that has allowed for widespread arrests, purges and alleged human rights abuses. Over 100,000 probes have been launched into people accused of being supporters of Fethullah Gulen, the exiled Muslim cleric who Turkey holds responsible for the coup.
Over 20,000 people have been arrested for being part of Gulen’s "terror organisation," known as Feto, and 661 aggravated life sentences have been handed out, according to Turkish daily Hurriyet. Over 100,000 people have lost their jobs and 319 journalists have been taken into custody.
Critics have accused Mr Erdogan of using the search for those responsible for the coup as cover to crack down on opponents and dissent.
And last year, Mr Erdogan took the country to a referendum on the transition from a parliamentary system to a presidential one, which he narrowly won with just 51 per cent in favour. He was last month elected to become the inaugural head of that system, giving him unprecedented powers.
“I think the coup really helped Erdogan consolidate his constituency,” said Ms Basaran.
“The referendum that enabled the executive presidency was won by a very small margin of 600,000 votes. If it had not been for the coup, I don’t think the referendum would have been won by the yes camp.”
Fervent nationalism followed in the uncertain months that followed the attempted coup. Mr Erdogan and his Justice and Development use the failed coup to reignite a deep-rooted paranoia that already existed in the Turkish psyche – the belief that the world, and especially the West, was out to get them.
“It’s Turkey’s foundational argument – that Turkey is all alone. That the British and French have plans over Ottoman lands … The Arab World were ungrateful because the Arab revolt toppled Turkey and it is one of the greatest treasons of the Ottoman Empire.
“The rhetoric sits together with that of Russian or of [Hungary’s] Victor Orban — the popularist rhetoric of ‘us versus them’, which usually means Western values against the ‘real people’ of that country. That is the antagonism that they use.
“Turkey believes now that it is under attack,” said Ms Basaran. “It’s a useful tool but for the electorate it’s real and they believe it … They gather all the magazine covers where they call Mr Erdogan an autocrat or a dictator and they say ‘this is why the dollar is five liras’.”
Turkey has been suffering from high inflation of more than 12 per cent, coupled with high unemployment and a currency that is declining daily.
“Turkey made an economic policy choice favouring economic growth over price and exchange rate stability. Today, we are seeing the detrimental effects of neglecting the last two,” said economist Ali Kincal. “Turkey has also been suffering from chronically high current account deficits.”
“In macroeconomic terms, the existing vulnerabilities became even more visible after the coup attempt. According to my calculation, the Turkish Lira lost about 40 per cent of its value since the coup. Of course, a depreciation this big can throw some companies that owes debt in US dollars into insolvency. We haven't seen a series of bankruptcies yet, but that is a possibility,” he said.
But it is the Turkish state of mind where the biggest changes may have taken place. Ms Basaran says that she no longer writes about Turkey in the press, and no longer tweets, because with the growth of nationalistic fervour comes a fear of reprisal for those who do not tow the line.
"I have become the person that they want me to become. And that's the sad part," she said.
Updated: July 15, 2018 10:59 AM