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Türkei Ankara Zerstörungen Polizeihauptquartier nach Putschversuch
Image: Reuters/O. Orsal

Turkey on edge after failed coup

Hilal Köylü, Ankara and Aram Ekin Duran, Istanbul
July 18, 2016

In light of Friday’s unsuccessful military coup attempt, many Turks fear continued intervention in the press and the judiciary. Discussions on the re-introduction of the death penalty are also troubling.


After 36 years, Turkey has experienced another military coup. Even though it failed, the attempt left many unanswered questions, especially in the wake of the continuing arrests. On the night of the failed government takeover, funeral prayers were broadcasted from the mosque minarets all over Turkey. The Head of Directorate of Religious Affairs, Mehmet Gormez, explains: "While bombs were raining down from war planes, we first tried to keep the morale of the people high. Later we read the funeral prayers for our democracy martyrs."

This could pave the way for a dangerous wave of radicalism, according to political science professor Ayse Ayata from Ankara's Middle East Technical University. "The reading of funeral prayers from mosques paves the way for radicalism by absorbing politics into religion. This situation runs the risk of creating alienation among people and segregation within society," Ayata said.

Freedom of the press

In addition to an increasingly polarized society, protecting freedom of speech remains a serious concern. CNN and the state-run TRT channels were raided by the coup plotters, and a number of opposition internet news portals were blocked by the government.

"I'm afraid that heavy-handed measures will be used against the press and against journalists using the excuse of thwarting the coup," said Ahmet Abakay of the Modern Journalists Association (CGD), which published a declaration stating the association's opposition to both the coup attempt and authoritarian-style rule. The CGD emphasized that a free press is the guarantor of democracy and urged the government to stop putting pressure on journalists.

"The press is not responsible for what happened. It is here to ensure the survival of democracy. The government must refrain from terrorizing the press and must abandon its efforts aimed at creating a single voice," Abakay said.

Türkei Aufständischer Soldaten werden vor Gericht in Mugla gebracht
A wave of arrests followed the July 15 coup attemptImage: picture-alliance/abaca/T. Adanali

Major operation within the military

Immediately following the coup attempt, which the government referred to as an uprising by a group within the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK), it began a major liquidation operation in the military. One in five generals have been taken into custody or formally arrested on charges of violating the constitution and attempting to overthrow the government.

"We have to condemn the attacks against innocent people in the same manner that we condemn the coup attempt," said retired military officer and security expert, Professor Atilla Sandikli.

"The public does not want violence. Efforts to create the perception that the coup attempt was supported by the entire Turkish military must be cast aside," said Sandikli, adding that the notion of a victory of the people against a coup attempt should not turn into the notion that the people and the military are on opposing sides.

"Indicating that the Turkish military is pro-coup would not only harm the military but Turkish democracy as well," he added.

Cleansing of the judiciary

Following the failed coup plot, another serious liquidation took place within the judiciary, resulting in the removal of thousands of judges from their positions. Arrest warrants have also been issued for many of them.

"If the coup attempt was successful, they would have suspended the legal order," said Union of Turkish Bar Associations (TBB) President Metin Feyzioglu. "We are obligated to stand together to ensure that this doesn't happen. Everyone must be guaranteed the right to a fair trial. Resorting to the 'they were going to do this to us' mentality is not right. We as 79 bar associations are against the coup attempt just as much as we are against the suspension of the legal order."

Can death penalty be reintroduced?

The failed revolt of July 15 shocked Turkey. Anti-coup demonstrations were replete with those shouting slogans calling for the death penalty for coup orchestrators. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan responded to this call by saying that every request in a democratic society should be considered, and that the issue could be evaluated in parliament.

Türkei Aufständischer Soldaten werden vor Gericht in Mugla gebracht
Some demonstrators have called for a reinstatement of the death penaltyImage: picture-alliance/abaca/T. Adanali

Turkey abolished the death penalty completely in 2004 during its EU accession efforts. The last time that the death penalty was applied dated back to 1984. As a member of the Council of Europe, Turkey is bound by its commitments under the European Convention on Human Rights and therefore has banned capital punishment. If the Turkish government wanted to reintroduce the death penalty, it would require a constitutional amendment.

The issue could be brought to a referendum with 330 votes, or could bypass one with 367, said political science Professor Ersin Kalaycioglu.

"With the current numbers in parliament, if such a constitutional change was supported by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the opposition Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), but was opposed by the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) and the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), we can say that it wouldn't be mathematically possible," Kalaycioglu said. "But if it goes to referendum and the people say yes to the death penalty, it could pave the way for a very harsh political shift."

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