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The Domestic and Global Impacts of the 15 July Coup Attempt in Turkey

by Ayşe Özcan

September 6, 2016


15 July 2016 marks a historical date for Turkey in many ways. Turkey faced a coup attempt that mobilized millions of citizens for one common goal: to save the nation from a military takeover.

On the night of July 15, the Turkish public was informed of several tanks blocking the Bosphorus Bridge in Istanbul. Then the Prime Minister described on live TV an unexpected coup attempt by some rebel groups in the army. People then followed the developments instantly on TV channels, and began to circulate information and comments on the events on social media. Soon after this, President Erdoğan appeared live on CNN Turk via Facetime and made a statement calling on Turkish citizens to come out on the streets to defend their democracy. As he was addressing the nation, President Erdoğan was on the move from his residence in Marmaris to Istanbul. People were out on the streets, holding flags and trying to peacefully stop the tanks right after President’s call. They received a violent response, though. F-16s bombed the Parliament building, and tanks opened fire against unarmed civilians, leaving around 200 dead at the time and many others fatally injured.

The post-coup attempt situation

As the main source of information for the public outside of Turkey, international media has been the focus of attention in the aftermath of the foiled coup attempt. There are clear differences in how events were portrayed by mainstream Western and Turkish media outlets. While the former focused on the maintenance of democracy and the rule of law during actions against alleged plotters, Turkish media celebrated the defeat of the military coup by the civilians. Both approaches provide problematic insights into this major incident. Within the the first minutes of the coup attempt, some of the Western news outlets reported a made-up story that President Erdoğan was on his way to Germany on the night of the coup attempt to seek asylum [1]. Also, Western media raised concerns over the state of emergency enacted in Turkey soon after the attempted coup, with a heavier focus on that attempt than on measures taken by France during the state of emergency declared right after a single terrorist attack, measures that have been criticized by Human Rights Watch and International Amnesty [2]. Turkish media has generally concentrated on presenting the civilians’ victory over a violent coup attempt rather than on impacts of actions within Turkey on human rights. This divergence in international and domestic Turkish media coverage may have contributed to a reportedly growing anti-Western sentiments among the Turkish people [3].

Despite these problematic aspects of the post-coup attempt period, Turkey has certainly passed a democracy test successfully by averting an existential threat aimed at throwing an elected government thanks to the unprecedented efforts of a unified nation since World War I. The nation has long been deeply divided along several lines such as the makeups of the nationhood, which are mainly secularism, religion and ethnicity. Nevertheless, supporters of the ruling Justice and Development Party, secularists, ultra-nationalists, and Kurdish citizens [4] have all gathered for nationwide pro-democracy rallies, united against a military takeover intended to constrain the nation’s path by use of physical force. However, this unity is still fragile considering that as soon as the country has been stable again, the long-lasting debates and conflicts between the above-mentioned groups will restart.

The political outcome of the coup attempt has implications for global power dynamics. Disappointed by the indifference and lack of support from its Western allies, Turkey has recently taken a critical step to mend its ties with Russia, which makes the European Union and the U.S. governments highly concerned. According to Turkish strategy experts, there are now two possible options for Turkey to take a position vis-à-vis the West. Turkey could either establish a strong alliance with Russia and China against the Western block, which is likely to alter the current power mechanisms worldwide; or Turkey can remain aligned with the Western block by negotiating a deal with the EU that would advance its membership progress, and with the United States that would solidify U.S. presence in the region.

Ayşe Özcan, Ph.D., is the Turkish Program Coordinator and Lecturer at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.




[3] According to a recent survey conducted by SETA (Foundation for Political, Economic and Social Research), anti-Western sentiments are on the rise among the Turkish public.