My wife and I were already nervous when our teenage daughter walked alone through the security portal to board a late-night flight on Turkish Airlines. In Istanbul she would have to negotiate passport control and then make her way through Ataturk Airport to the attached domestic terminal, passing through the arrival lobby that was the scene of a jihadist massacre barely two weeks earlier. She speaks some Turkish, but we didn’t want her asking random strangers for directions, and so prepped her about what to do, even going so far as taking a virtual street map tour of the Ataturk main terminal with her.
We anxiously waited to hear from her after she landed, but never did. It seemed the promised international service for her cell phone wasn’t working. We held our breath for another six hours to see if she would emerge from her connecting flight into the bosom of her Turkish relatives. It turned out that she did, and in good spirits, proud of herself for finding her way to the right gate. We exhaled.
And then we got word of the military coup d’état that was launched while she was airborne that rocked Turkey and the world. Had our kid had a slightly later connection, she would have been out of luck because Ataturk Airport was shut down for about the next 24 hours. She would have to sleep there and then be jostled by thousands of anxious passengers all trying to get the hell out at the same time. Thankfully, that was not to be, and with our personal concerns out of the way, my Turkish wife and I stayed glued to all channels trying to understand what in Allah’s name was going on in the fatherland.
We were never fans of Recip Tayip Erdoğan and his Justice and Development Party for how it egged on fundamentalists, but paid grudging respect for his early efforts as PM to clean up corruption and stabilize the foundering Turkish economy. Much earlier than pundits started taking him to task for overreaching, we saw him attempting to undo Kemalism and secularism, as he packed judgeships with fellow ideologues and purged ranks of the military of potential enemies to replace them with his minions. And then he campaigned to change the constitution so he could govern indefinitely from the thousand-room palace he built for himself. He didn’t win that one, but we’re sure we’ll see him try again and probably succeed this time.
Too many Turks and pundits were surprised by the coup, even after rumors—planted or not—have circulated for months about such a possibility. And too many have yet to see the coup attempt as the self-serving ruse that it was, but I am sure they will, and soon. You see, this was no officers’ plot. The operation was described within military ranks as a war game, a training exercise, no big deal. It was deliberately kept small-scale and played out mostly in Istanbul and to a lesser extent in Ankara, the capital. All in all, it amounted to a few tanks rumbling along streets, blocking bridges and intersections, one or two low fly-overs, and occupying and shutting down two airports. Oh, and invading the headquarters of Turkish State Broadcasting and telling newscasters what to say, which wasn’t much—but not the independent stations. As coups go, it was pretty wimpy, but hundreds of people died nevertheless, including a score of gendarmes machine-gunned from a military helicopter in their headquarters.
As the coup unfolded, Erdoğan was vacationing in a Bodrum resort, on the southwest coast. The Air Force, which seemed to lead the uprising, could have scrambled over there and blown him to bits had they been as seriously opposed to his emasculation of secular democracy as they claimed to be. From Bodrum, his plane flew north to circle around near Marmaris (not Ankara) for hours with its transponders on. From on high, Erdoğan tweeted desperate pleas for the Turkish People to rise up to quash the insurrection, which a lot of them apparently did. While he up there—a sitting duck on a magic carpet—he was even more vulnerable to being picked off by a fighter jet or a missile. At least, jets could have escorted his plane to an airfield and taken him into custody. Why would he take such a chance if he was at all unsure about what was going on? The answer can only be that he knew what was going on because he had planned it.
Coups are mostly nasty affairs that occasionally can lead to a better future, as a couple of previous ones in Turkey seem to have eventuated, but Reichstag revivals like this one always bode ill. As a result of this inside job of a putsch, we will soon see further purges, more unconstitutional acts, total intolerance of dissent, and accelerated Islamification of public life under the Sultan of Ankara.
Meanwhile, my daughter vacations with her family in southern Turkey. During her time there, some truth will come out. Perhaps members of the military will publically announce or anonymously breathe that the orders came from the top, and that while the exercise may have been illegal, it was not disloyal. Forget Erdoğan’s favorite punching bag, Fetullah Gülen. His loyalists in Turkey will be but a small part of the protests that will go down once the truth of the coup is known or widely suspected. It’s sure to lead to civil unrest and dissension in the ranks as purges proceed, with many possibilities for blowback, most of them bad.
I’m extremely sad to see this happen in my adopted country. My in-laws, who rued Erdoğan’s rule, feared a coup might come—but as just desserts, not this artificial flavor. Now I’m eagerly looking forward to the day my kid slips away from all that madness and comes safely back to asylum in the madhouse we call the United States of America.