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The January Crisis
Part of Operation Poisoned Well
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Date 16-24 January 2021
Location Republic of Turkey
Result A total military takeover
  • President Erdoğan is arrested and kept in an undisclosed location
  • Most of the senior ruling party officials are either shot dead or imprisoned for life
  • Nationwide martial law and curfew are imposed
  • Parliament is disbanded
  • Constitution is suspended
  • All political parties are banned
Belligerents
National Will Council Government of the Republic of Turkey
Commanders
Hulusi Akar Recep Tayyip Erdoğan


The January Crisis became known as a series of events that unfolded in Turkey beginning on Jan. 16th with an unsuccessful coup attempt from a small faction within the Armed Forces which named itself "Committee of Peace", the attempt was foiled by the National Intelligence Organization (MİT), the pro-government security and paramilitary forces, and the popular resistance. Later the emergency rule was implemented and all the alleged conspirators detained, thanks to a tip-off from the "loyal" high command.

Under the emergency rule, loyal corps were assigned to patrol the main population centers with the approval of the presidential office and the parliament. The reasoning for the move was the fear of another uprising orchestrated by the alleged secretive cell within the army or even terrorist attacks. Tanks, military helicopters and armoured vehicles were dispatched on the streets of many key cities with aim of "securing stability and peace for the citizens".

Later on Jan. 24th at 3AM local time the security forces assigned to patrol the streets were reported to be spotted doing unusual movements and leaving their positions. Later that morning multiple state buildings were reported to be seized in the alleged uprising including: MİT HQ, TRT TV station, General Staff HQ, Ministry of Interior building, National Assembly, the Presidential Palace, etc.. The military also captured the Gölbaşı Ground Station in Ankara which served as the main satellite connection point, thus the coupists were able to cut off any and all satellite communication across the country. On the morning of Sunday many citizens were shocked to see the President Erdoğan officially resigning and acknowledging his misdeeds on a footage which was broadcasted on all TV channels across the country.

Around 11AM the TRT broadcasted a live statement by the former General Chief of Staff and current Minister of Defence Hulusi Akar acknowledging the existence of the secret group inside the military by declaring that "the state is now under full control of the National Will Council". He also declared Martial law and curfew which will be implemented right after the broadcast. Immediately, hordes of angry government supporters went out to the streets demanding the return of the "democratically elected" government. Many were attacking the military outposts and standing officers with blunt weapons and occasionally firearms, apparently emboldened by the last failed coups and civilian empowerment agenda of the AKP government. Unsurprisingly, the attacks and riots didn't last long after the military received orders to shoot and if possible arrest the suspected "counter-insurgents" on spot.

The coup started the process of the now infamous "Great Step" which was the junta's program to nationalize the agricultural and manufacturing sectors, also introducing strict social rules and instilling secular values to the next generation. The program also included many controversial policies including the "You hear? You tell" act which was aimed at religious extremist and separatist movements inside the country, the government encouraged people to report to authorities about witnessing suspicious behavior of their neighbors, friends or even relatives for which they were rewarded a certain amount of money and a rise in the state-funded nationwide digital social ranking system "SkyWeb".

History

Turkey has a long history of military coups, every takeover had its roots in the secularist military establishment which formed after the death of the country's founder Mustafa Kemal Atatürk in 1938. The military for a long time sought to protect Atatürk's legacy and his founding principles of secularism and western oriented democratic structure, although most of the time coups turned into mass purges and human rights violations, the military especially targeted Islamist and leftist elements. As the cold war intensified the coups changed in nature, instead of upholding to the founding doctrines the military adopted a more pro-NATO stance in regards to its anti-Communist sentiments and based on fears of a Soviet sponsored regime change or a civil war. Turkish army started rooting out mostly leftist and Kurdish separatist movements especially after the 1980 coup d'etat, while consequentially giving way to the rise of the nationalist and Islamist movements during that era, most notable of which is the "Hizmet Movement" or the "Gülen Movement"- a reformist Islamic society, which will in later years become known as "FETÖ" and recognized as a terrorist organization.

'Tanks rolling on the streets of Ankara' February 28th, 1997

During the 1990's Turkey was experiencing a surge in violent separatist terror and economic decline due to the unstable political and social environment, coalition governments were unable to control the situation in the state, coupled with the rise of political Islam, specifically the rising popularity of the Islamist "Welfare Party" or "RP" and its leader Necmettin Erbakan, who's movement was growing bolder day by day. For the military and the judicial establishment these developments were unacceptable, they were forced to pressure the coalition government to resign in 1997. Erbakan and many of his fellow party members were banned from any political activities, including the mayor of Istanbul Recep Tayyip Erdoğan who in 1998 was arrested and sentenced to ten months in prison for reciting a religious poem before a crowd in 1997, of which he only served four months. Due to his convictions his mayoral position was revoked and his political activities curtailed.

AKP Era

In 2002 the party Erdoğan and other former reformist members of RP formed called "Justice and Development Party" or the "AKP" won a landslide victory in general election surpassing all previous ruling coalition parties. Erdoğan became the Prime-minister in 2003 after his political ban was lifted by the constitutional court. His tenure started a new political era in Turkey, many things were accomplished during the early days of the AKP: deepening relations with the EU and making Turkey a candidate country for the membership in the union, economic liberalization program which elevated Turkish economy to growth levels never seen before in the history of the republic, rapprochement with the separatist Kurdish militias, recognizing Kurds as a separate ethnic group and granting the right to use or teach the Kurdish language, lifting of many religious restrictions most notable of which was the "headscarf ban" which banned wearing headscarves inside state institutions including schools, universities and government buildings. Many saw those developments positively especially in the west.

Western support for the new government was stemmed from the ambition that Turkey might become an example for the Islamic world as a moderate Islamist country based on the assumption that things won't get out of control and slide into autocratic tendencies, which it did. The U.S tried to tame the Islamic world under the control of presumably "moderate" but still religious forces, by supporting groups like the aforementioned "Hizmet Movement" and the "Muslim Brotherhood". In the following years the AKP government with the support of Hizmet started the now infamous coup trials against many known secularist military officials based on fabricated evidences, many old-guard cadres were replaced by the Hizmet loyal officers. But things didn't go quite as planned, before too long a serious power struggle between Gülenists and the ruling party broke out based on many disagreements on how to rule the "New Turkey". All started in 2013 with the arrests of many pro-government officials and business people including Erdoğan's son, as part of an "anti-corruption" campaign by the Gülenist law-enforcement officials. As a result the government had an "official divorce" with the movement. The following year all military officials who were imprisoned by the sham coup trials were released with some even resuming their positions in the army, a move that gave the secularist establishment a green light to clear out its ranks.

Heavy police presence in eastern Turkey

In the following years after losing the support of Hizmet, AKP struggled under immense pressure from various factions inside the state apparatus including the army, nationalists, liberals and the Islamists. To maintain their grip on power they decided to opt a secret "cohabitation" agreement with the military brass. The government would then abide by the military's will especially concerning domestic security and its ideological policies, which resulted in the resumption of the decades old conflict with the Kurdish separatist terror cell "PKK" in 2015. Many liberal-oriented policies of the previous years under AKP were reverted in order to curb threats from outside and inside. Although Erdoğan still having maintained his religious image, the party had transformed into a technocratic bureaucracy with a vague ideology only in name. The renewed war on the PKK and the escalating war in Syria have created a dreadful atmosphere and fear in the Turkish society, with terror attacks occurring every week if not everyday, coupled with many disloyal military and law-enforcement officials the situation quickly spiraled into chaos. All until one fateful night of July 2016.

July 15 Putsch

Coup soldiers on July 15th, 2016

On July 15th, 2016 news broke out around the world of an attempted military takeover in Turkey and a failed assassination of President Erdoğan. The plotters revealed themselves as the "Peace at Home Council" on live television and stressed their loyalty to the founding republican ideals including secularism, attempting to disguise themselves as Kemalists. The plot was previously discovered by a MİT operative and news reached to the National Intelligence HQ quickly, the head of MİT Hakan Fidan, who was already notified about the upcoming operation to clear out the state from Gülenists completely which was discussed on the Supreme Military Council meeting a day prior. So MİT stood silent without notifying the government, as doing otherwise would've potentially compromise the double-play operation and enable plotters to act more carefully and wary. The news about the upcoming purge was meant to provoke the plotters into panic and cause them to take rash actions, in which the government and the top brass eventually succeeded. Originally the coup plot was planned for July 25th, but was executed earlier fearing an upcoming purge, for the plotters it was victory or death either way.

Civilians standing in front of a tank protesting the coup

What government didn't anticipate was the scale of the attempt and desperation of the plotters. As a result the situation although largely under control was getting more intense by an hour. The government's aim was to reveal the rot in the system for all to see and come out as heroes of the "New Turkey", decimating the rebels' hopes and demonstrate to those who wish to see Erdoğan gone what they're capable of. Government's mass mobilization strategy also showed successful results, masses of civilians among whom were government supporters, ultra-nationalists and intelligence agents acting as provocateurs for the crowds managed to stop dozens of tanks and disarm and lynch many soldiers. Civilian backlash against the coup prompted the plotters to seek desperate solutions in order to quell the masses, further escalating into violence, bombing the parliament building and the presidential palace, shooting at the masses from attack helicopters or sniper positions and etc.

'President Erdoğan delivering a speech in front of a massive crowd of supporters at Atatürk Airport in Istanbul' July 16th, 2016

Although the rebellion was squashed, the government's gamble had costed more than 300 lives, thousands of injuries and considerable damage to infrastructure and multiple state buildings. The trauma that night left on the nation will be remembered forever, as will be the man who was one of the leading actors in this whole affair, who was loved and idolized by many during his rule but despised and loathed after he was deposed.

National Security Council meeting was over, it was July 20th, 2016. The decision the council members took will be marked in the future Turkish curriculum as the beginning of the infamous July Republic regime.

July Republic or the New Turkey

Following years saw massive purges in almost all sectors of the state including: military, judiciary, academia, the press, state bureaucracy, and many private enterprises ranging from banks to private media companies. Scale of which country haven't seen since the days of the military rule of 1980's. Now with tens of thousands of people dismissed at best, or imprisoned at worst. While the the now "hero of the people" President Erdogan consolidated even more power as the key state figures were being replaced by his supporters and sympathizers, except only the parliament, although in which AKP still maintained a majority of seats it still was posing threat to the position of the President.

Nationalist MHP leader Devlet Bahçeli and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan

The key point for Erdoğan to not purge the assembly was the awareness of his party's position as the former ally of the movement he is now actively fighting against, as many of his party members had close relationship with Hizmet. If the investigation into the political leg of the movement would've proceeded even if only aimed at the opposition, this could undoubtedly lead to questions being raised, and even lawful action into some AKP members. So instead the government chose to create an alliance with nationalist movements as they have been recently more closely aligned with President's aims since resumption of the decades old conflict with the PKK, and the more recent botched coup.

Erdoğan's alliance with the MHP was a previously foreshadowed possibility as the AKP government was getting less popular with the moderate half of the electorate, despite succeeding in consolidating his base, Erdoğan was still pretty vulnerable to political pressure. And at this precise moment was a perfect chance to strike. A long envisioned plan that was in unofficial preparation phase since 2014, a full presidential system. A dream of AKP since its inception, was now possible as the secular and military establishment has been weakened to the point of submission. A resolution to put the proposed new system on public vote was proposed by Bahçeli, and despite many protests and boycotts from the opposition party members the resolution was passed. Referendum was set to take place in April of 2017.

New rules in New Turkey

After months of campaigning AKP successfully won the referendum, although with lower votes than they anticipated, a victory was still a victory. The system was to be formally implemented after the next presidential election, which originally was to be held in November of 2019 but was moved to an earlier date. And in the following election in 2018 Erdoğan won with a massive electoral support, but lost his party majority in the parliament. As of that date Prime-ministry was disbanded, and its executive authority was transferred to the Presidency, as well as other governmental bodies.

As all of it went down Turkey was starting to experience a major economic crisis particularly attributed to the devaluation of its currency and worsening relations with western nations. This sparked a new challenge for the Erdoğan's administration, as it was still struggling to cripple the influence of various subversive groups in the country and maintain a productive relationship with the military brass. The 2019 local elections were seen as a concrete proof of AKP's slow decline, elections in which the ruling party lost 3/4 of its major cities to the opposition including the capital Ankara, and the largest city Istanbul. The crisis left the majority of the country exacerbated and in despair. The corruption within the government wasn't helping either. Things indeed needed to change.

The Trouble in Paradise

Turkish soldier near the city of Tel Abyad

In late 2019 Turkey launched another large-scale military operation into Syria to rid its border regions of Kurdish separatist militias of American breed or as it was called-Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). This decision didn't bode well with the US establishment and the military brass in D.C. Turkey was starting to seem as a belligerent rogue state in pursuit of its ambitions, which unfortunately overlapped with those of the US and other "allied" actors. As the western media establishment couldn't miss such an opportunity it started pumping out a ludicrous amount of propaganda and misinformation concerning this operation, further tarnishing Turkey's global image. Despite all that the operation was successful, with minimal losses on the ground, practical annihilation of SDF's military capabilities, withdrawal of US troops from the region, and firm control over most of the NE Syria. This was one of many impending crises that would befall on Turkey and its government.

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