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A Historical Perspective on the July 2016 Coup Attempt in Turkey

This paper sets out the historical background to the July 15 coup attempt. It outlines the Turkish armed forces’ age-old interventionist tendencies and argues that this is driven by three overlapping impetuses. The first is concerns over its civilian colleagues’ policy towards external threats and internal dissent. The second is the military’s promotion of its own version of Islamic practice and identity. The third is its determination to protect and, where possible, advance its economic interests.

A Historical Perspective on the July 2016 Coup Attempt in
Chief of Staff, General Hulusi Akar greets the crowd on August 7, 2016 at Yenikapı rally. AFP PHOTO / OZAN KÖSE
 

The fact that a faction of the Turkish military took up arms against the government on July 15 this year is perhaps not quite as surprising and extraordinary as many have suggested. Despite their rigid hierarchies, militaries are not the unitary, undifferentiated organs that they are often assumed to be – nor do these internal divisions remain permanently subsumed beneath civilian authority. Instead, there are endemic tensions between the forces of state and the force of arms. Some political systems manage these better than others, but all are – given the right set of circumstances – vulnerable to sections of their armed forces taking direct action. As this paper will demonstrate, Turkey is no different, and has been no different for as far back as you might wish to go. In the following pages, I will set out this background of interventionism, before going on to discuss the challenge that the AK Party has presented to both the armed forces’ internal unity and their political role. It then presents three key imperatives which explain the coup attempt itself – the resistance of external pressure/internal dissent, the promotion of a certain version of Islam and the promotion of the military’s commercial interests. As we shall see, none of these is new and each has been a regular driver of similar interventions in the past.

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